Earlier today, John Dreker released his 2014 DSL Pirates preview, complete with a ranking of the top players to follow in the international rookie leagues.
The DSL is for hardcore prospect followers. A majority of those players won’t make it to the US, and out of the guys who do make it stateside, only a handful will make it to an upper level. The odds are small for success, but when there is a success story, it can be huge. If you need me to tell you this, then you haven’t been paying attention to all of the hype surrounding Gregory Polanco, who played in the DSL in 2009 at the age of 17.
Polanco looks like a future star, which isn’t a fair expectation you should have for any young prospect. He’s not the only prospect the Pirates have developed recently from the international rookie leagues. Starling Marte, Alen Hanson, and Joely Rodriguez are all currently on the 40-man roster, and they are all either currently in the majors, or have the upside to play key roles in the majors.
Max Fogle wrote an article today, comparing the makeup of the Pirates’ system with the average MLB team. The results showed that the Pirates have more international prospects in their top 20 than the average team. That’s not a big surprise, considering the success that the Pirates have had in the international market.
The success the Pirates have had, ranging from Polanco to the best guys in the next wave of international prospects, is due to the scouting of Rene Gayo and his entire team. Their approach is extremely thorough, going to areas where teams don’t usually scout, and unearthing talent in areas where you don’t usually find talent.
The result of this approach is that the Pirates land top prospects for minimal prices. Polanco, Marte, Hanson, and Rodriguez combined to cost $380,000. Even some of the more expensive prospects, like Colombian outfielder Harold Ramirez, came at a value. Ramirez cost $1.05 M, which was low at a time when top guys received $2-3 M or more. Teams were down on Ramirez because he didn’t fit a specific mold. The Pirates thought he could do enough things well to eventually be a starter somewhere, and justify the money they spent.
A few years later, he’s starting to prove them right, and the rest of baseball is seeing what they saw. Ramirez was named the top prospect in the NYPL last year, and just finished the month of May with a .286/.374/.364 line in West Virginia. He turns 20 in September, and still has plenty of time for his power to kick in. Until then, his ability to hit for average, plus his advanced plate patience, makes him a solid prospect. He could eventually make that signing bonus look like a value.
The good thing about this approach for the Pirates is that it is CBA-proof. The latest Collective Bargaining Agreement restricted the spending for every team in baseball, based on their record the previous year. The Pirates have a low-budget for signing prospects this year, due to their winning season in 2013. Even when they finished middle of the pack and drafted 14th overall last year, their budget was lower than the $3 M a year before the new CBA. The benefit the Pirates have is that they don’t need a ton of money to be successful internationally. They’ve shown the ability to get value signings, and a restriction on spending won’t change that much.
With almost every international player, the career with the Pirates starts in the DSL. I’m looking forward to a few of the guys John featured in his top prospect list. The guy who really stands out to me is Adrian Valerio. Every report I get on him says his defense is amazing. Some reports have said he’s the best defensive shortstop in the system — not just the minors, but the majors too. Until I personally see him, I’d still give that honor to Gift Ngoepe. But I’ve heard reports on his defense from enough people, that it seems legit that he’s good. So if he can show some potential with the bat, that would be an exciting prospect to follow.
The Pirates tend to focus on hitters more than pitchers on the international side. They’ve got a lot of high upside guys in the DSL this year. That’s probably going to lead to more top prospects like Hanson and Ramirez down the line. And if they’re lucky, there will be another Gregory Polanco in there.
Links and Notes
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.