Last week, we named our players of the month, picking All-Star second baseman Raul Siri as the top hitter and right-hander Richard Mitchell as the top pitcher. Mitchell threw five shutout innings in his only appearance, while Siri suffered a right hand injury on Monday and the only action he saw in the last five games of the week was a pinch-running appearance on Saturday. He wasn’t the only key player out though, as starting catcher Mikell Granberry and left fielder Edison Lantigua each missed the entire week. Granberry has been bothered by a back injury, while Lantigua’s absence goes back to the previous Thursday when he got sick during a game and began to suffer from dehydration days later.
The Pirates were already without two bench bats that are done for the season, Huascar Fuentes and Jesus Ronco, so they were severely short-handed this week. That didn’t stop them from going 4-2 and putting up 15 runs on Saturday. The season has just two weeks left and it’s going to take a miracle for the Pirates to make the playoffs. They are 29-31 with 12 games left, eliminated from the division title and 13th in the wildcard race, 10.5 games back. They are a very young team this year, as the Pirates called up more players than usual to help fill the GCL and Bristol rosters, so the record shouldn’t come as a surprise.
This week’s offense was highlighted by first baseman Yunelky Adames, who went 8-for-17 with four walks, hitting for the weekly cycle with one double, triple and homer. Adames is a solid hitter, but he is a couple weeks away from his 24th birthday and a fourth year player in the DSL, so he is far from a prospect at this point. This may be his last season in pro ball due to the four-year rule in the DSL. He needs to be sent to the U.S. next year, or released. The Pirates had a few four-year players make the move to the U.S. this year, but that was mainly due to the extra roster to fill out and none of those players were considered prospects.
Outfielder Sandy Santos had a good week, posting a .947 OPS and showing off his above average arm by collecting outfield assists in three straight games. He’s having a solid season, but he also turned 20 before the season started, so he is a little old for the level. Infielder Luis Perez went 7-for-16 this week and has been on a tear recently, raising his average to .330 through 31 games. He has a 21/11 BB/SO ratio and he’s 10-for-11 in stolen bases, so he is doing a lot right. He’s also a 20-year-old rookie that isn’t showing any power, so there are flaws to his game as well.
As for the actual prospects on the team, we start with gifted shortstop Adrian Valerio, who went 10-for-26 with a triple. The 17-year-old switch-hitter is batting .251/.298/.348 through 50 games. In 207 at-bats, he has just 29 strikeouts, showing excellent contact skills. Many younger players in their first year don’t show any power, but Valerio had 16 extra-base hits already. With outstanding reports on his defense anytime we ask, he is having a solid rookie season and is likely to move to the U.S. next year, where he should be the starting shortstop for the GCL club.
Portorreal’s Struggles at the Plate
With Lantigua, Siri and Granberry all out, it left the team short on prospects this week, so we focus on a player that isn’t living up to his potential. The Pirates signed 6’3″ lefty outfielder Jeremias Portorreal almost a year ago to the date. He had to wait until his 16th birthday on August 7th before he could sign. That makes him one of the youngest players in the entire DSL this year, so maybe it’s too much to expect him to just jump in and succeed right away. He did sign a $375,000 bonus, just behind Adrian Valerio for the highest last year, so that raised the expectations.
Portorreal has struggled all season, hitting .175/.288/.257 through 51 games. If you don’t count the 1-for-5 in the only May game, he has hit below .200 in every month, so the slump has been season-long. The bad part is that his scouting report said his best tool was his bat. He didn’t begin to hit for any power before being signed(got the projectable tag) and he was listed as a corner outfielder with no speed. Portorreal has basically lived up to that report, with just nine extra-base hits and no stolen bases, plus he has played strictly in right field.
The one tool that was supposed to be plus for him, has been a minus. Only third-string catcher Ramy Perez has an OPS lower than Portorreal’s .545 mark. Portorreal has 68 strikeouts in 183 at-bats, the third highest strikeout total in the league. The contact issue is a big one for him. He has struck out in 19 straight games and in 41 of his 51 games. He has also had a very difficult time with lefties, going 5-for-42 with 20 strikeouts. Another tough situation for Portorreal is batting with runners in scoring position. He is 6-for-71 with 35 strikeouts. No matter how you put it, he has had a very difficult debut in the pros and coming from someone who got such a large bonus, it adds up to a disappointing rookie season.
More Big Bonus Players
The Pirates have three players that received six-figure bonuses, who get very little mention because none of them are performing well. Outfielder Eliezer Ramirez gets a slight pass out of this group, because he is a rookie this season and the Pirates outfield is crowded, especially with Lantigua and Portorreal getting regular playing time. The other two are second year players, infielders Johan De Jesus and Jhoan Herrera, and both of them haven’t lived up to their potential.
Herrera has been especially disappointing, because he was in the U.S. to start the year, but an ankle injury shut him down before the regular season started. Once he was healthy, he was transferred back to the DSL, where he has put up a .651 OPS in 23 games. Herrera’s problem is that he is already 19 and you don’t expect someone at that age in the DSL, who received a large bonus, to still be treading water at this point.
Johan De Jesus was a shortstop last year and did very poorly, both at the plate and in the field. With Valerio around, he has moved to third base, seeing a few games at second base and shortstop as well. The defense seems improved and his offensive numbers are better, but he still has major flaws. De Jesus was very young last year, turning 17 on August 1st, so it was tough to be critical of his play at shortstop. Like with Portorreal though, big bonuses usually equal big expectations.
De Jesus has a .632 OPS this year, not good obviously, but not as bad as the .456 mark he put up last year. He had just 14 walks last year and already has 41 this season, so that accounts for a good portion of the difference in OPS. He has also gone 9-for-9 in stolen bases attempts, bettering his 6-for-10 mark from last year. The downside is 59 strikeouts in 161 at-bats, which is 13 more than he had last year in seven more at-bats. De Jesus still has a lot of work to do before he can be considered a prospect at this point.
Eliezer Ramirez has seen sporadic playing time, getting into 31 games with just 96 plate appearances. He is hitting .203 with two doubles, though he does have 17 walks, so he is showing some decent plate patience. That’s not something you always see from players who have limited chances to make a good impression. I expect Ramirez to see much more playing time next year, so I’ll save judgement on him until then. If he isn’t seeing regular playing time, or the numbers don’t improve, then you begin to worry.
Weekly Pitching Updates
As mentioned at the top, Richard Mitchell threw five shutout innings in his only appearance this week. He picked up his seventh win and lowered his ERA to 2.78 through 58.1 innings. Mitchell hasn’t allowed a home run all year and he is holding batters to a .208 BAA. You can read more on Mitchell in the link at the top of this article, which includes a scouting report and a recap of his impressive season so far.
Yeudy Garcia has been the best pitcher on the Pirates this year, posting a 2.05 ERA over 52.2 innings, with an impressive 2.65 GO/AO ratio. He gave up one run on two hits and no walks over five innings in his start this week. Garcia is a hard-thrower and was the only Pirates pitcher in the DSL All-Star game last month. He is 21 years old, so I’d expect him to move to the States next year and get challenged above the GCL, possibly at Bristol.
Luis Escobar made two starts this week and didn’t allow an earned run in one game, then gave up four earned runs in the other. He failed to get through five innings in two of his last three starts and it’s possible that he is beginning to wear down as the season winds down. Escobar began pitching just two years ago and he is up to 55 innings this season(plus whatever he threw during Spring Training) so he could be tiring, as the recent performances don’t match his mid-season dominance.
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.