DSL Pirates Report: Shortstop Adrian Valerio is Starting to Heat Up at the Plate

After the first week of the Dominican Summer League season, we mentioned how the team’s pitching was so bad, that it was overshadowing a strong effort on offense. The pitching was still rather poor in week two, but the Pirates went 4-2 this past week, so you could say the offense overshadowed the poor pitching.

The Pirates had the worst ERA in the 36-team league until one of the Mets affiliates passed them by 0.02 on Saturday. The Pirates 7.03 ERA is fueled by a 2.01 team WHIP, which is easily the worst in the league. In fact, the Pirates have allowed both the most hits and most walks. The offense has kept the team from totally falling apart with their .798 team OPS, which is the fourth best total in the league.

While the record this week is obviously a good sign, they are going to need the pitching to step up if the team expects to compete this season. From a prospect standpoint, you want to see the team excelling on both sides of the ball, as well as on defense. They have allowed 21 unearned runs to score, which puts them in the middle of the pack.

As for the players this week, the best sign was the offense from 17-year-old shortstop Adrian Valerio. As we mention every time with him, his defense is outstanding for this level. His bat had question marks prior to this season and he will need to hit enough to get to the top levels because the glove alone can only carry a player so far. If this week is any indication, Valerio could be answering some of those questions surrounding his bat. In 24 plate appearances this week, he had a 1.335 OPS and hit his first career homer.

Felix Vinicio was the best hitter on the Pirates this week, but as far as being a prospect, he has a few flaws that make him suspect. He didn’t start playing until age 19, which usually isn’t a good sign in this league. He’s also on the small side and has been in the lineup as a designated hitter and not playing everyday. If he continues hitting all year, then you might want to keep an eye on him. The 1.436 OPS he had this week will surely draw attention.

The top prospect for the Pirates is Jeremias Portorreal, who signed for $375,000 during the July 2nd signing period last year and at age 16, he is the youngest player on the team. That last part is important to remember when judging his early season stats. Portorreal went 3-for-17 this week with a double and three walks. He has a .211 average and .664 OPS on the season.

The other top signing from last July 2nd is outfielder Edison Lantigua. His struggles on the year are about the same as Portorreal, though his .212 average comes with a higher .704 OPS. Lantigua went 3-for-16 this week and he is 3-for-3 in stolen bases this season.

Besides Vinicio, two other 19-year-old rookies have looked good early. Second baseman Raul Siri and center fielder Victor Fernandez are 1-2 in OPS for the Pirates. Unlike Vinicio, these two came with a little hype and both play important defensive positions, so starting at age 19 for them isn’t as big of a deal. Siri has a 1.141 OPS on the season and he put up a 1.059 OPS this week thanks in part to six extra-base hits. Fernandez is the fastest player on the team, but he has also shown some pop in his bat and a good eye at the plate. He has eight extra-base hits, seven stolen bases and an 8/6 BB/K ratio.

Catcher Mikell Granberry got more playing time this week than he did last week, though things didn’t go so well. He went 2-for-14, with six strikeouts and runners went 9-for-9 against him in stolen bases on Thursday alone. He’s the top prospect among catchers for the Pirates, but he is also a bit raw and the early results aren’t that good.

Third baseman Johan De Jesus really struggled last year as one of the youngest players in the league. His defense at shortstop was well below average and he had a .456 OPS. With Adrian Valerio around, De Jesus has been pushed to third base, getting just two starts at shortstop when Valerio wasn’t in the starting lineup. De Jesus has shown great improvements with the bat, though he still leaves something to be desired early on. He has a .699 OPS through 12 games this year, helped out by ten walks. He has 12 strikeouts and just one extra-base hit, so there is still work to be done. De Jesus signed for a $200,000 bonus in August 2012.

As for the pitching, there obviously isn’t much to talk about for prospects. Only two pitchers really qualify as prospects, Luis Escobar and Richard Mitchell. Both had tough starts this week. For Escobar, he has now had three poor starts, but he is still considered the best pitching prospect on the team and his early woes could just be nothing more than a learning experience for the 18-year-old righty from Colombia.

Mitchell had a great first start this year, throwing five shutout innings, while allowing just one hit. In his second start, he allowed five runs and eight hits in 3.2 innings. His next start is on Monday and Mitchell said he will stick to the same game plan as he did in each of his first two games, “I’m focused on the first pitch in the zone and pitching to contact.”

The Pirates stress that with pitchers from the start, trying to get them away from running up high pitch counts and worrying more about keeping the ball down, pitching inside and getting quick outs. For most players, the results are secondary while working on fastball command. Mitchell has a nice fastball that reaches 91 MPH and he is still young, so there is potential there.

Starter Francis Rodriguez was again the best pitcher this week, throwing five shutout innings for the second time. He is already 21 years old and a third year player, so there doesn’t seem to be much upside to him. A lot of pitchers from last year were moved to the United States and he obviously wasn’t one of them. If he continues to dominate all year, he could become a legit prospect. Some players don’t turn the corner as quick as others, so hopefully for the Pirates, Rodriguez is just a late bloomer.

Finally, I got a good report on Yeudy Garcia, who has a 4.50 ERA in three starts. As a starter, he runs his fastball up to 95 MPH, making him the hardest thrower on the team. Reliever Edgar Santana can hit 96 MPH, though he hasn’t made his pro debut yet. I talked to someone who mentioned that the 22-year-old Santana was dominating during the Dominican Spring Training and he could easily move up, but he is currently injured at this time and not playing.

Outfielder Rudy Guzman also hasn’t played this season. He was called the best player on last year’s team, though that came with the caveat that he was already 22 years old. He is scheduled to go to the U.S. and isn’t injured, so his lack of playing sounds like it’s just a visa issue and waiting for that to clear up.

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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Suddenly the system is deep in shortstops. Remember when Polanco and Marte were skinny gangly kids with projection when the Pirates got them.

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