Check out Part One: The VSL Hitters
The VSL Pirates were stacked with young first year players this year so it is no surprise that the team won the league title based more on offense than it did on pitching. They finished 5th in the six team league in ERA with a 4.19 clip and they had a 1.43 WHIP which tied them for third. The team put up a decent strikeout total finishing 2nd in the league with 414 and they were the 2nd best control team issuing 258 walks. They also had the most shutouts with six and gave up the 2nd fewest homers with 23 allowed.
The team was filled with first year players but they were led by five returning players who had the five highest total amount of innings pitched for the team this year. Players gone from last year’s club include Orlando Castro, who has pitched well in the states this year, and seven pitchers who were released including Jose Acosta, who was suspended for 50 games last year and Ericdavis Marquez who is pitching well for the DSL Blue Jays team this year.
Roberto Espinoza led the team in innings pitched with 68. The 3rd year 6′ 1″ RHP is still just 19 and he has been a starter all three years of his VSL career. He finished 6th in the league in innings pitched and was second in strikeouts with 60. The downside to him is that his ERA is getting worse each year from 2.74 his rookie season to 4.37 this year. He posted a nice groundball rate and batters hit just .250 off him. I would expect him to make the jump to the states, 37 starts is a lot for a VSL career.
Oderman Rocha made huge progress this year over his rookie campaign in 2010. The 6′ 3″ RHP pitched just 8 times in relief last year posting a 6.30 ERA. Moving to a starting role this year he posted a 4-2 3.29 record in 13 starts and one relief appearance while striking out 52 in 54.2 IP, a very strong total for the VSL which is a high contact league. One huge caveat to his season is that all but one game he pitched this year was at home and the Pirates park seems to be slightly more pitcher friendly, especially over the Rays park which is a huge hitters park.
Luis Campos had an impressive debut last allowing just 24 base runners in 29 innings with a 3-0 1.24 record. This year he was much worse posting a 1-3 5.26 mark over 51.1 innings. As a player who turns 21 shortly in a league that is mostly in the 18-19 year old range those numbers would usually mark the end of his pro career. With Campos I’m not so sure it will for one simple reason, just like Rocha’s numbers were helped by pitching only at home, Campos made all 9 of his starts and 4 of his 8 relief appearances on the road this year including four starts against the Rays team. Basically his stats are likely inflated.
Jose Marrujo fell short of qualifying for the ERA title, but only 14 pitchers in the whole league had enough innings to qualify so maybe the limit of at least 57 IP is set too high. If his 45 innings were enough for consideration he would’ve won the league ERA crown by 73 points. The 18 year old 5′ 10″ RHP is probably low on the prospect scale despite those numbers because of his size and the fact he has only pitched in relief during his two seasons plus he is a fly ball pitcher. Still, just 33 hits allowed, seven walks and 40 strikeouts in 45 innings is impressive.
Luis Ortiz is a 19 year old 6′ 2″ RHP who was in his second season this year. He was a starter last year and did fairly well albeit with a low strikeout rate. This year he was moved to the bullpen and showed a slight improvement in his K rate and ERA but you would expect that in a relief role. Like Campos, he pitched a lot on the road and got bombed one time against the Rays recently so his season performance was likely a little better than it looked.
Andy Otamendi turned 18 right as the season started, and he got the most pitching in for the Pirates this year among all the rookies. The 6′ 0″ LHP made 9 starts and 2 relief appearances totaling 40 innings of work. He showed good control, got a good amount of ground balls and didn’t allow a home run all year. Despite posting nice overall numbers, 2-1 3.15 ERA, he had two bad appearances in which he allowed 9 of the 14 earned runs he gave up all year. Which means he posted a 1.50 ERA in his other 9 outings.
Carlos Ruiz is a 20 year old RHP who signed last year but pitched only 2.1 innings. This season he posted a 4-3 2.08 record in 18 relief games covering 39 innings. He was tough to hit with a .194 BAA but he was wild at times walking 18 batters. His groundball rate was an amazing 4.71 GO/AO and he didn’t allow a home run all year. He also pitched well at home posting an 0.86 ERA in 9 games.
Julio Vivas is a big 17 year old rookie. At 6′ 2″ and 227 the RHP was at the top end of pitchers as far as size. Only 3 of the 19 pitchers used by the Pirates this year were younger than him but he pitched the most of that group. He made just 3 starts but got in 14 relief appearances and totaled 35.2 innings. His numbers were not impressive at 1-4 5.55 and just 18 strikeouts but he showed good control and got his share of groundballs and he didn’t allow a home run. He should be one to watch next year.
Oscar Calderin is a 20 year old 6′ 4″ LHP who showed major improvements over last year. I honestly didn’t think he would be back this year as he showed no control and was bombed to the tune of a 14.73 ERA in 7 games last year. This year however, he gained control walking just 9 batters, one less than last year in 27 more innings this year. He also induced a ton of groundballs posting a 2.39 GO/AO. He posted a 4.19 ERA which is just okay, it seems like he was either unhittable or getting bombed but he finished on a strong note throwing 11.1 innings without an earned run.
Andres Mendoza was another first year pitcher on this team. The 19 year old 6′ 2″ RHP started off the year decent but was hit hard as the season got deeper and he walked 16 batters in his 33.2 innings. He had a nice strikeout rate and got a lot of groundballs but posted a 5.08 ERA and only pitched in relief.
Alexander Gutierrez is an 18 year old 6′ 3″ lefty who made 8 starts and 5 relief appearances. His time was limited as he pitched just 31.1 innings but that was mostly due to high pitch counts. He allowed 31 hits which isn’t a bad rate but his control was horrible as he walked 33 batters while striking out just 8 all season. He pitched almost exclusively on the road and got punished a couple times while playing at the Rays facility.
Jesus Barraza is a small righty who has been around for three years. He had an 0.54 ERA last year with just 5 walks but returned to the league again which wasn’t a good sign for his future. He is a flyball pitcher who doesn’t strike out many and at this point his size and age play against him. In 22 relief games he posted a 5.02 ERA and he has never started in his three seasons in the VSL.
Luis Rico is a 17 year old 6′ 1″ LHP who made 8 starts as a rookie. He posted a 3.76 ERA in 26.1 innings with 23 strikeouts. He had two very impressive starts to begin July allowing just one run over 11 innings with 14 strikeouts but in his last start on July 18th he lasted just one inning and did not pitch again the last three weeks. He definitely seems like an interesting pitcher to watch for next year with this team.
Francisco Vilchez is a 4th year player in the VSL which means he either goes to spring training next year with the Pirates or his career is done. His stats this year were not impressive in the VSL but he also pitched in the DSL which is the better league of the two and did much better there. His stats were skewed a bit by the start he made on August 2nd when he allowed 7 earned runs in 4.1 IP. At the time he had just rejoined the VSL team after leaving for the DSL in mid-June.
Dan Urbina is a 17 year old 6′ 3″ RHP, the 2nd youngest pitcher on the team. He made 3 starts and pitched 6 times in relief but was shutdown for all of July after a very tough outing on July 29th in which he gave up 7 runs on 10 hits in 3 innings. He came back for 2 outings in August and threw 2 scoreless innings in each. He had trouble with control early on allowing 8 walks in his first 7 innings but he got better as the season went on.
Jovany Lopez has been around for three seasons now and like Vilchez he spent time in the DSL this year too He posted decent stats including just one earned run in his last 11 appearances (2 in the DSL) but he is a small pitcher at 5′ 10″ and 155 and he turned 20 prior to the season plus he is strictly a reliever so that all doesn’t speak well to his future.
Jesus Paredes is an 18 year old 6′ 2″ LHP who made his debut this year. He pitched 12 games, all in relief and got in just 15.1 innings total. His numbers were not good, 7.04 ERA, 24 hits, 14 walks, 4 homers and just 4 strikeouts but he is a young lefty with good size so I wouldn’t write him off yet.
Richard Montilla pitched 13 times last year and was very bad. He pitched twice this year, both times in May and he was even worse. I can’t explain why he is still listed on the active roster but he is.
Finally, we get to a 6′ 2″ RHP named Jorge Mendoza. He is the youngest player on the team and he pitched just one inning on July 22nd. I have to think that if he wasn’t hurt he was just limited due to his age and he should be one to watch next year.
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.
They must’ve dropped my comments some how that I made this morn.
John……..do you have a top 3 of pitchers? Thx again for your top 3 batter list.
Rocha would be #1
Rico would be #2 based on his strong finish and youth plus hes a lefty
Otamendi #3 , young/lefty full-time starter his first season is a big deal at 18
I think they return a lot of these pitchers next year