On Baseball America this afternoon, Ben Badler posted his list of Ten International Prospects To Watch. It is a subscribers only article, but don’t worry if you don’t subscribe, yet want to know who the Pittsburgh Pirates are linked to among that group, he doesn’t mention them once. In most years, that has been the case with the Pirates. There have been a few exceptions recently, the two obvious ones are Miguel Sano and Luis Heredia. Otherwise most of the team’s top targets have been toolsy players who are ranked a little lower. Players that scouts are usually split on, but the Pirates seem to really like and there are some examples of that working out so far.
The Pirates have a bonus pool that places them in the middle of the pack, though they will have less money to spend this year as opposed to the current 2012-13 International signing period, which is still going on. According to Badler, he sees about 15 players who could get a bonus of $1,000,000 or more, so that could still mean the Pirates go heavy on one player. This current signing period, they signed two players for $700,000 each, Michael de la Cruz and Julio de la Cruz, and no, they are not related.
In last year’s Baseball America rankings, Julio de la Cruz was ranked #16 in their top twenty. Miguel de la Cruz wasn’t ranked, yet got the same bonus. Now initially that would seem like they may have overpaid for the latter, but at the age these kids are signing(16 years old for most), their stock can change drastically with a strong showcase in front of scouts. Even in the MLB amateur draft, High School kids that are two years older, can see their stock rise dramatically with a couple added MPH, or an amazing day at the plate during a heavily scouted game. When dealing with kids even younger, the Pirates tend to go towards players with tools. Going quantity over one big name.
In 2011, Pittsburgh had two big signings, Elvis Escobar for $570,000 and Harold Ramirez for $1,050,000. Baseball America predicted that Ramirez would get the 15th highest bonus in that International class. They didn’t actually rank the players by talent, rather by how much they would get paid. Elvis Escobar was ranked 23rd in that same group. Last year both of those players skipped right over the Dominican Summer League and went right to the Gulf Coast League.
Both players are on the small side, though they have grown a little since signing. They were both considered toolsy players, above average defense and speed, good hitters with gap power as of right now. They also both performed well for their age in the GCL, earning the #29(Escobar) and #31 spots in Pirates Prospects Top 50 prospect list. Pittsburgh also signed catcher Jin-De Jhang for $250,000 and he went right to the GCL, where he put up excellent numbers as a 19-year-old, earning him a top 20 ranking in both the Pirates system and among players in the GCL.
There are other examples recently of the Pirates picking up players that look good for lower bonuses. Alen Hanson, Gregory Polanco, Jose Osuna and Willy Garcia are all playing regularly for Bradenton this year. Polanco is the oldest at age 21, which is very good for the league. None of them were big profile signings, signing for $785,000 combined.
In the same year they signed Luis Heredia, they also signed shortstop Dilson Herrera for a $220,000 bonus. Herrera is now a 19-year-old second baseman playing everyday for West Virginia, hitting .288/.353/.449 and last year he was named the GCL Player of the Year by Topps and the 7th best prospect in the league by BA. We had him ranked 12th overall in our Top 50 list.
The most obvious example of not needing to spend a lot to get something worthwhile, is Starling Marte. He was signed for $85,000 in 2007 by Rene Gayo, who is still the Pirates International Scouting Director.
So while it may seem a bit disheartening to not see the Pirates connected to any big names as of now, it is important to remember two things. One is that is still very early in the process of identifying the top players and at this age, a lot can change quickly with these kids. The second is that the Pirates have proven recently that you don’t have to spend a fortune on one player to pick up a good player. It certainly helps your chances, but for every high-priced Sano and Heredia type that look like they are future stars, there are players who go nowhere despite getting those huge bonuses.