We hear a lot of talk about how the Pittsburgh Pirates have gone too heavy with their approach of taking pitchers in the draft. In the last few years, the Pirates have taken very few position players in the upper levels of the draft, flooding the lower levels with projectable pitching prospects. If you’re looking for hitting prospects, you’re better off checking the international ranks.
The Pirates promoted a lot of players from the foreign rookie leagues to the Gulf Coast League in 2011, and a lot of those guys are young hitting prospects. They’re much more raw than the guys you’d see drafted in the top ten rounds, but they also have the chance at more upside. The approach in the draft is to get projectable pitchers and hope that a few of them develop in the system and become above average pitchers in the majors one day, and maybe even aces. The same approach is used with the projectable hitters from the international ranks, although in this case, velocity is usually replaced with power potential.
Here are the hitters who played for the GCL Pirates this year, broken down by age group. The first group represents a young age for the level. This is where you will find most of the prospects. The second group is around the average age for the league, although this group would need really strong stuff or very good numbers to be considered a top prospect. The third group makes up the organizational players.
This group is heavily dominated by international players. In fact, the only exceptions are Jared Lakind, a 23rd round pick who signed last year out of the draft for $400 K, and Candon Myles, a 12th round pick who signed for $125 K this year. There are two big trends with the international players. First, you’ve got tall, projectable outfielders. You’ve also got smaller, speedy, defensive minded infielders in the other group.
Of the outfielders, Jose Osuna had the best season, numbers wise. Only Jonathan Schwind had better numbers, at the age of 21, and coming out of college. Osuna showed some power, highlighted by a month of July when he hit for a .392/.467/.620 line in 79 at-bats. He slumped in early August, but finished strong, with a .415 average and a 1.000 OPS in his last ten games.
In the tall, projectable category you’ve got Luis Urena, Willy Garcia, and Gregory Polanco. Garcia had the best season of the three according to the numbers, although all three players are raw. They’re all about the same in that they have tall, skinny frames, giving them projectability to potentially add power down the line. They’re also speedy options, particularly Garcia and Polanco, two guys I was impressed with when I saw them in Bradenton this year.
The big names from the infield, coming in to the year, were Yhonathan Barrios and Jodaneli Carvajal. Both players received large international bonuses in 2008, and for that reason, came with higher expectations. However, a big surprise was that Alen Hanson was given so much playing time, especially at shortstop, playing over two guys who are strong defensively at the position. Hanson started off strong, with a .400/.488/.800 line in 35 at-bats in June. By late July, he was struggling, and carried his struggles in to August. He did finish up strong, with a .297/.409/.459 line in his last ten games.
Carvajal did the opposite, starting off slow, then gradually picking up the pace. He hit for a .307 average in August, with a .371 on-base percentage, and seven stolen bases in eight attempts. He’s strong defensively at shortstop, with good speed, making him a good leadoff candidate. His small frame will prevent power, so he will need to get by with his glove, his speed, and a high average/on-base percentage. Barrios had a good year at the plate, and showed some promising power potential, considering he had hamate surgery last year, a procedure that can sap a player’s power for up to a year. His build probably makes him a third baseman in the future, which means the power will be much needed.
Jared Lakind had a bit of a disappointing year, but did show some power potential. He’s very raw, but has that potential to hit for power. He might even be the next Wes Freeman in that regard, taking a while to overcome his plate patience issues. Candon Myles really didn’t see much action, as he signed too late in the year. Exicardo Cayonez was demoted from State College, after a poor start to the year. He came in to the season looking like a promising prospect, but was absolutely overmatched in the NYPL.
Guys from this group can be prospects, but you want to see strong numbers, or a promotion to the upper levels. Very few players from this group stuck around all year with the GCL Pirates. A lot of players were either promoted or released.
Of the guys who were released, we’ve got Daan Cornelissen, Ping-Hung Chi, and Joey Schoenfeld. The big surprise here was Schoenfeld. He was a 10th round pick in 2009, but quickly fell behind in the depth charts, losing playing time last year to Elias Diaz (who is now in West Virginia), and getting passed up this year by guys like Jonathan Schwind, Ryan Hornback, and Dylan Child.
The Pirates saw a few players from this group get promoted. Ashley Ponce, Dan Gamache, Junior Sosa, and Rodarrick Jones have all moved up to State College. Gamache and Jones were both 2011 draft picks out of college, and were really just starting their careers here. Gamache was starting here due to an injury, and Jones started here to get his feet wet. Sosa is all speed, but is very raw otherwise, with some bad plate patience. Ponce shows some good defensive abilities at shortstop, but he’s mostly a defensive minded player, despite what his numbers look like in limited playing time in the GCL this year.
Jorge Bishop was demoted from State College, just like Exicardo Cayonez. Also like Cayonez, Bishop came in to the year with a lot of promise, following up on two great years to start his career. Considering his poor numbers in his return to the GCL, and the depth of infielders from the younger group of prospects, we might not see Bishop in the organization next year.
The guys who remained at the level all year are catchers Ryan Hornback and Jonathan Schwind, infielder Francisco Aponte, and outfielder Gavi Nivar. Aponte is more an organizational player. Nivar has the tall, projectable frame like Polanco, Urena, and Garcia, but is 2-3 years older, which limits his prospect status. Hornback and Schwind were both later round draft picks in the 2011 draft. Hornback signed later in the process, and didn’t get as much playing time. Schwind is an interesting story, as he played a lot of positions in college, but never played catcher. He’s athletic enough that the Pirates decided to try him behind the plate. He hits well, although his success at this level can be chalked up to being a college player. It will be interesting to see how this experiment works in the upper levels.
The Pirates didn’t have any hitters over 21 years old, which is a good thing, as these guys are usually organizational players.