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Winter Leagues: Polanco and Ramirez Lead Pirates Winter Class


With an extremely slow day in Winter League action on Sunday, now is a good time to catch up on all of the Pittsburgh Pirates players who are taking part in leagues around the world. During our daily updates, we normally cover players that were in the Pirates system at the end of the 2013 season and are still free agents, such as Ivan De Jesus Jr. and David Bromberg, but all of the players mentioned below are still in the Pirates system.

Gregory Polanco leads the DWL in OPS
Gregory Polanco leads the DWL in OPS

We start with the Dominican, where the Pirates top prospect has been tearing up the league, but has also missed some time with illness. Gregory Polanco has been strong all season in the DWL, except when it comes to staying on the field. Early in the year, he missed four days with the flu and then he missed this entire past week with a stomach virus. He is expected to return to action on Tuesday, when he could possibly be joined in the outfield by Starling Marte. If he isn’t in the lineup on Tuesday, Marte will be there shortly thereafter. Polanco has been as good as anyone when he’s in the lineup, leading the league with a .924 OPS. He has four homers and 22 walks, showing both power and patience. Polanco is third in the league with 24 RBIs and tied for second with 21 runs scored.

Alen Hanson only joined the Dominican League this week and has played just one game off the bench. He took a month off after playing in the Arizona Fall League and is now back with the Toros del Este club he played for last year.

Carlos Paulino has been catching regularly recently and while he isn’t hitting, his defense has been praised. Paulino has a .509 OPS through 17 games.

Matt Hague hasn’t played recently and his Winter season is likely over. He is scheduled to give hitting lessons with the Indianapolis Indians this month and next, so I don’t expect him to return to the Dominican. In 17 games, he hit .313 with two homers, ten RBIs and an .831 OPS.

Others in the Dominican include, Mel Rojas Jr., who has played just three games since late October. Andy Vasquez has played just one game off the bench. Pitchers Stolmy Pimentel and Joely Rodriguez have each pitched in relief once. Pimentel joined the league last week and gave up one unearned run in 1.2 innings, while Rodriguez made his lone appearance in October and allowed one run in one inning.

In Venezuela, Andrew Lambo is the big name among Pirates players. Jose Tabata has been given permission to play Winter ball, but for now he remains absent, with no recent news of when he could start playing. Lambo hasn’t found his stroke yet, hitting .170 through his first 14 games, with a .557 OPS. He has been clutch in key situations, driving in 12 runs on just eight hits. More importantly, playing Winter ball has allowed him to get some more time in at first base. He has made four starts at first base, including each of the last two games.

Thanks to a four hit game on Saturday, Elias Diaz is hitting .323, with an .834 OPS in 13 games. The 23-year-old catcher had his best season at the plate with Bradenton in 2013 and good things were said around the Florida State League about his defense.

One of the better stories from the VWL is Elvis Escobar, the 19-year-old outfielder. He is a possible sleeper prospect for this upcoming season, a toolsy center fielder, who is playing at a level much higher than what he saw with Jamestown this season. Not surprisingly, his playing time has been limited to five appearances off the bench, but the fact he is in the league to begin with, is a noteworthy accomplishment.

Jhonathan Ramos spent most of this past season with Altoona, where he showed good control and a nice strikeout rate, but he got hit around at times. Ramos had a rough start in Venezuela, but has really put it together recently. He has nine straight scoreless appearances and in his last seven games, every out he has recorded has been from either a strikeout or a ground ball.

Jose Osuna looked good in limited time early on, but he hasn’t played a game in four weeks. He’s gone 3-for-7 with two doubles and two walks in eight games.

Junior Sosa has been seeing some action recently and he is doing well. In nine games, he is hitting .320, with an .833 OPS.

Andy Oliver has been wild in both of his starts. He has lasted a total of 2.2 innings, giving up six runs on five hits and five walks. About the only highlight has been his six strikeouts.

Jhondaniel Medina has pitched just once in the last five weeks. In his limited time, he had some control issues, giving up six walks in 5.1 innings. He has only given up runs in one of his seven appearances, so he was still effective despite the lack of control.

Harold Ramirez is near the top of the Colombian League in hitting (Photo Credit: David Hague)
Harold Ramirez is near the top of the Colombian League in hitting (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Carlos Ruiz has pitched four years for the Pirates in the VSL/DSL and usually pitched well. He’s a little righty, that doesn’t throw hard, but he gets the job done with a submarine delivery. Ruiz just joined the league and has pitched one scoreless inning over his two appearances.

In Colombia, Harold Ramirez has been hitting well against some good competition. The Colombian League isn’t as good as the leagues in the Dominican, Venezuela, Mexico and Puerto Rico, but the level of play is better than what Ramirez saw in the NYPL this year. The league has a mix of young players and minor league vets, with a few major league players mixed in there. After a 1-for-4 game on Sunday, in which he hit a double and scored a run, Ramirez is hitting .358 through 18 games, with four doubles, two triples and five stolen bases. He is fourth in the league in batting average.

Tito Polo has had some good games when given the chance to play and he has been in center field over Ramirez, who has been playing left field. The young outfielder has only played pro ball in the Dominican Summer League, though he did attend the Fall Instructional League this year. Polo has played 11 games, going 8-for-29 at the plate. He will be a player to watch in the GCL next season.

Yhonathan Barrios made the switch from infield to the mound this year and turned some heads, putting up good results in his limited time in the GCL and hitting 99 MPH in the Instructional League. He looked good in his first appearance in Colombia, throwing a perfect inning of relief, but it has been sharply downhill since. In three total innings over five outings, Barrios has allowed ten runs and 18 base runners. That’s not a misprint, he has been bad in all five games.

Oderman Rocha has pitched three times in relief, though he hasn’t played in the last couple weeks. He had some issues in each appearance, but nothing near as bad as Barrios. Rocha has given up two earned runs over 2.2 innings.

In Puerto Rico, Jerry Sands has had some issues with strikeouts. He showed power early, hitting four homers, but in his last ten games, he is hitting .167 with 11 strikeouts. Sands is hitting just .238 through 25 games, though it comes with a respectable .770 OPS. He has showed off a strong arm, picking up three outfield assists in one game, then two more in another game shortly after.

Benji Gonzalez has only recently started playing regularly. In six games, he is hitting .385 with a .923 OPS. He has been the double play partner of Ivan De Jesus Jr. three times this past week.

The only Pirates player in the Mexican League is Jay Jackson, a reliever signed this off-season. He has been very good this year, giving up one unearned run over 20.1 innings. Jackson has ten saves in ten chances, 19 strikeouts and an 0.89 WHIP.

In Australia, Danny Arribas and Sam Kennelly are the only two Pirates currently playing. Neither is hitting well, both hitting under .200 while seeing regular playing time. Kennelly has been splitting his time between second base and first base, while Arribas has been seeing time at catcher and first base. Kennelly is still only 17 years old, so it’s a good sign that he is getting regularly playing time in a league where most players are much older.

Carlos Esqueda was the only Pirates player in the Veracruz League, but he hasn’t played recently. In 21 games, he has hit .236, with 12 runs scored and 14 walks.

Finally, Adolfo Flores is pitching in Nicaragua. He is a name that is unfamiliar to even the most die-hard Pirates fans. Flores was signed last year, but still hasn’t made his pro debut due to personal issues. He can get it up to 95 MPH, so he is a player of interest if he can ever get out on the field. In 12 appearances, he has given up four runs in 10.2 innings.

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John Dreker
John Dreker
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.

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