Each year we post a top ten prospect list for the DSL and call it a “Prospects to Watch” list because it’s tough to pick a top ten prospect list when the players are so far from the big leagues. The last couple years, we have had many more first-hand scouting reports to go on, so the lists have become more than just educated guesses based on age, scouting reports, stats and signing bonuses. With just one DSL affiliate this year, the players on the list aren’t as good as last year, but it’s still an interesting group and it was tough to leave three players off the list(see notes at the end) Below are the previous Prospect to Watch lists, as well as the 2014 season recap, which includes scouting reports for every player on the team:
1. Edison Lantigua, LF – Lantigua was ranked second among prospects behind Jeremias Portorreal coming into the season, but he hit his way to the top of the prospect list. The 17-year-old lefty batted .299/.390/.433 in 47 games, with 12 doubles and five triples. He had just three stolen bases, but Lantigua has good speed, which also gives him defensive value in left field. His arm strength is average at best, but his throws are accurate. In June, Lantigua wasn’t hitting great, though he was drawing plenty of walks. He’s naturally an aggressive hitter, so when he started to attack pitches in July, the average rose and he hit .314 the rest of the way. Lantigua is a line drive hitter that uses the entire field and as he fills out, he should add over-the-fence power. His baseball intelligence was praised, which is a great sign at such a young age. I would expect Lantigua to move to the U.S. next year and due to his age, he will probably spend the year in the GCL.
2. Adrian Valerio, SS – Valerio is an advanced defensive player, who might be the best fielding middle infielder in the system already at 17 years old. Each time I talked to someone about Valerio, they raved about every aspect of his defense, from foot speed, to glove, to range, to quickness, to his arm. His bat came with a big question mark and he hit better than was expected. Valerio batted .240, showed some pop in his bat and he showed good contact skills. He is a switch-hitter that fared much better from his natural righty side, though most of his at-bats obviously came from the left side. With more reps at the plate from the left side, he should become a much better hitter as he moves along. Valerio projects as a Gold Glove shortstop that should hit enough to keep him in the Majors. If he can improve enough at the plate to exceed those expectations, then you have a future All-Star. Like Lantigua, he should land in the GCL next year and start regularly at shortstop.
3. Raul Siri, 2B – Siri was the best player with the DSL Pirates and one of the best players in the entire league this year. Despite his small stature at 5’9″, 175 pounds, he led the league with 25 doubles and also added five triples and four homers. His .324/.434/.521 slash line placed him fourth in the DSL in OPS. The 19-year-old was a rookie this season, so he signed later than normal. It’s not unusual for the player to have a breakout season at his age in this league, though they usually have prior experience. Siri signed later because some injury issues held him back in the past. With his small size, there are going to be questions as to whether he can handle the rigors of full-season ball. He had a hand injury that cost him a week this year, but other than that he was healthy and hit well all season. Siri is similar to Pablo Reyes, who made the jump from the DSL to Bristol this year and I could see him doing the same. Both are small second baseman, almost a year apart in age and both are pure hitters that run well. Siri’s defense is better and he showed more power, so he should be able to handle the jump over the GCL.
4. Jeremias Portorreal, RF – If you just looked at stats and nothing else, you would wonder how Portorreal got on this list. Only third-string catcher Ramy Perez put up a worse OPS than Portorreal. He is here because the scouting reports pegged him as a future impact bat in right field. He was actually even worse than the .529 OPS and 73 strikeouts suggest, because he also showed no other values on the field. His defense was average at best and he doesn’t run well. Portorreal was the youngest player on the team, turning 17 in August. That alone gives him some leeway, but due to high praise prior to the season, expectations were also high. He’s a 6’3″ lefty, who should fill out nicely and add pop from a corner outfield spot, possibly first base down the line if the defense is as bad as people say. Portorreal was supposed to make strong contact at the plate, but with a team-leading 73 strikeouts in 204 at-bats, he obviously didn’t show it this year. I expect him to return to the DSL next year because he has a lot to work on.
5. Luis Escobar, RHP – Escobar is another player that rates higher than his stats would suggest. He was raw as a pitcher due to the fact he was a third baseman just two years ago. His coach decided a position change was best for him and after he showed some great improvements, including a fastball that reached 94 MPH, the Pirates signed Escobar to a $150,000 bonus. The 18-year-old righty still needs to develop a feel for pitching before he takes off, but he ran off an impressive streak after an early season game that saw him give up ten earned runs in 1.2 innings. He had a 1.57 ERA in five July starts and threw four innings without an earned run in his first August start. Shortly after his second August start, which didn’t go well, Escobar needed to have an appendectomy, which ended his season. Like any young pitcher, Escobar needs to work on fastball command and his secondary pitch lack polish, though they do have good projection. With another year of pitching under his belt next season, he could really break out.
6. Richard Mitchell, RHP – The Pirates teach pitchers to throw down in the zone, work inside, pitch to contact and throw strikes. No pitcher on the DSL team embraced those teachings better than Mitchell. In his third year in the league, the 19-year-old was the most consistent pitcher, throwing a 91 MPH fastball, while complementing it with a plus change-up and a curve that is at least average. He threw 65 innings and completed 11 of his 14 starts in the DSL sense. Pitchers are allowed to throw either 75 pitches or five innings, whichever comes first, unless they reach 30 pitches in one inning, then their day is over. Mitchell had no problem completing starts while throwing 65 or less pitches. He seems like the type that could make the jump to Bristol next year, due to three years experiences and advanced command of his fastball, plus a change-up that he can use in any count. Pirates have young pitchers focus on the fastball command down in the zone and developing a change-up and Mitchell already has a good handle on both areas of his game.
7. Yeudy Garcia, RHP – Garcia was the best pitcher on the team, but he is held back on this list by his age. He turns 22 in October, which is too old for the DSL. He was also a rookie this year, which means he was really a late-bloomer. Garcia features a fastball that hits 95 MPH and he has excellent command of the pitch, overpowering DSL hitters, while also showing good separation in velocity between the fastball and his off-speed offerings. Garcia seemed to tire at the end of the year, but still ended up with a 2.41 ERA and a team-leading 47 strikeouts. He also had an impressive 2.10 GO/AO ratio, to go along with a .225 BAA. He has good size at 6’3″ and should fill out a little more. At his age, with strong fastball command already and a willingness to go right after hitters, Garcia should be in the Bristol rotation next year. His upside could make him the best pitcher from this DSL squad.
8. Mikell Granberry, C – Granberry showed great improvements as the season went along, so it was tough for him to go down for three weeks with a back injury in late-July. He was hitting well and working hard on his defense, especially trying to control the running game. He has a strong arm and quick release, but early in the season, runners were taking liberties against Granberry. Some of that blame was on the pitchers, who weren’t doing their job holding runners, but the percentages were bad. By the end of the year, his success rate improved and runners were testing him less often on the bases. Granberry posted a .760 OPS, sixth best on the team and an impressive total from a rookie catcher. He’s a very athletic player and runs well for a catcher. His strikeout totals need work, going down once every 3.5 plate appearances, but he’s a hard worker and should move up to the GCL next year. The Pirates signed three catchers during this July 2nd signing period, one to a six-figure contract, so they will need to make room for them. Granberry showed that he can swing the bat, he blocks pitches well and pitchers praised his defense, so a move to the GCL seems possible.
9. Jhoan Herrera, 3B – Herrera wouldn’t even be on this list if it wasn’t for an ankle injury he suffered during Extended Spring Training in the U.S. this year. When the ankle healed, Herrera was returned to the DSL so he could get extra playing time. Herrera has the bat to be one of the better players on this team, though he may not be able to stick at third base, so that bat might need to carry him at a more offensive-oriented position. He had a .720 OPS in 31 games, but he finished very strong, showing that there was probably some early rust from all the time off. The Pirates signed the 19-year-old, 6’1″, left-handed hitter to a $200,000 bonus in 2012 and did it because of his bat. If he was originally slated to be at Bristol this year, then it wouldn’t be surprising to see him there next season, likely starting at third base.
10. Victor Fernandez, CF – Fernandez is easily the fastest player on the DSL Pirates, showing game-changing speed both on the bases and in center field. What wasn’t expected based on the pre-season reports, was the way Fernandez hit this year. He batted .289/.407/.461 with 17 extra-base hits. He turned 19 years old before his first game, so that always hurts a player’s prospects status. Fernandez stole 14 bases this year, but would have had more if it wasn’t for a hamstring injury that sidelined him for two weeks. When he returned to action, he went 7-for-11 in steals over his last 29 games, after going 7-for-8 in his first 16 games, so there were some lingering effects from the injury. When healthy, Fernandez was showing power, getting on base and had no problem creating havoc on the base paths. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him hitting lead-off next year in the States. His placement could depend on where Michael de la Cruz ends up, since both players are above average defensive center fielders.
Others To Watch
If this list included players signed during the current July 2nd signing period, outfielder Yondry Contreras would rank fourth on this list. He’s a toolsy 16-year-old outfielder, who lacks plate patience, which holds him back from a higher ranking. He got the top bonus among Pirates players this year, signing for a $400,000 bonus. Contreras is very athletic, with a strong arm, quick bat and he runs well. He’s probably the only new signing that would make the top ten if they were included, though a few of the pitchers would be considered for the 8-10 spots.
Three players were tough to leave off the top ten list, but judging by the opinions of everyone that helped with the scouting reports, they were just outside the top ten. Second baseman Luis Perez missed out because of his small size and the fact he didn’t show any power. He still hit well and does a lot of things right on the field. Perez is already 20 years old and limited to second base, so that also hurts him. Outfielder Sandy Santos is also 20 years old, so that’s ultimately what put him in the 11-13 range. He is 6’3″ and very toolsy, doing a lot of things right in the field and at the plate. Due to his age and overall package, he could look like one of the better players for awhile, but his upside isn’t elite like many of the others. Starting pitcher Francis Rodriguez is a very smart pitcher, with an advanced feel and great secondary pitches, plus strong results. His downside is that he doesn’t throw hard and relies too much on off-speed pitches, which works well at lower levels, but players like that usually get weeded out at the higher levels. He too could look like one of the better players from this group for a few years, but he will have a hard time reaching the Majors without added velocity and a willingness to throw more fastballs.
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.