The Dominican Summer League season is about to enter the final week and the Pirates have been eliminated from the playoffs already. Their record sits at 32-34 and is indicative of the youth on this team. There is a higher number than usual of first year players this year because the Pirates called up so many players with the extra affiliate(Bristol) in the United States, plus the team released eight players that were in the DSL in 2013 right before the start of this season.
With so much playing time available for new players, there were bound to be some breakouts they we didn’t expect and the two biggest ones have come from a pair of 20-year-old infielders. Raul Siri and Luis Perez have been the two best hitters on the team this season, doing it in different ways. Since day one, Siri has been the best hitter, while Perez came on mid-season and really started to hit. Early on, he was on the bench, but his play has been so good that he has forced his way into the lineup full-time. Perez actually got a recent boost in playing time when Siri missed a week due to an injured right hand.
Both players were signed at the same time last July with little fanfare, part of a group announcement with no scouting reports or bonuses mentioned. Both are already 20, which means they signed later than normal. Considering all that, it is a bit of a surprise how good they are doing. Siri made the All-Star team and won the MVP. He was also picked as the top hitter for July and he’s having a strong August as well. Basically, his entire season has been great. Siri is fourth in the DSL with a .950 OPS, third with a .522 slugging, third with 117 total bases and first with 23 doubles.
Perez has played second base when Siri has either been out or in the DH spot, plus he has seen time at shortstop when Adrian Valerio isn’t there. In 35 games this year, Perez is hitting .311/.350/.459, with 10 stolen bases in 11 attempts. He also has an outstanding 24:13 BB/K ratio. Through the end of June, Perez was hitting .190 and had seen action in just six games. Once July started and he got a chance to play more, he took off. In 20 games, he hit .340 and carried that into a .344 average this month.
For Perez, his defense plays better at second base due to an average arm, so it will be interesting to see what happens with both players next year. Siri is good enough that the Pirates could have him make the jump to Bristol, similar to what Pablo Reyes did this year. Reyes is very similar to Siri, besides the fact they both play second base. They each have the same approach at the plate and can hit well enough to handle the jump. That would open up second base in the GCL for Perez if he also makes the anticipated jump to the States.
Defensive Catcher Sees Extra Playing Time
The Pirates have three catchers in the Dominican and a recent survey of some pitchers revealed that all three of them can hold their own on defense, but veteran catcher Patrick Reyes is the best of the group. That shouldn’t come as a big surprise to those that follow the team closely. Reyes is in his fourth and final season in the DSL due to the four-year limit the league has in place. Nearing 22 years old, he obviously hasn’t been kept around for his bat, with a .165 average and only three extra-base hits(all doubles) prior to this season. His all-around game behind the plate was praised, from blocking, to throwing, to working well with the pitchers.
Reyes has recently been getting extra playing time with starter Mikell Granberry out with a back injury. Granberry will return on Monday, hoping to get in some action over the final week. Not only was their starter out, but third string catcher Ramy Perez was also out with an injury(shoulder injury, done for the season), leaving all of the catching this week to Reyes, who is having his first decent season at the plate to go along with his strong defense. Reyes is hitting .240 this year, with five extra-base hits, including his first career triple and homer.
He seems like an obvious addition to the Fall Instructional League roster due to the four-year rule and the fact that a team isn’t going to give up on a strong all-around defensive catcher that works well with pitchers. If he isn’t in Minor League Spring Training Camp next year, then he needs to be released. With extra catchers needed for Spring Training, that doesn’t seem like it should be an issue. We have seen this year with catching prospect Elias Diaz, that the bat is usually the last thing to come around with catchers and strong defense can carry them through the bottom of the system. From that point on, they go as far as the bat takes them. Reyes already has the defensive skills, his future will depend on his all-around game continuing to improve.
Weekly Recap of Top Prospects
Not surprisingly, Raul Siri had the best week at the plate. He went 8-for-20 with four doubles and five walks for a 1.138 OPS. Luis Perez was near the bottom with a week that consisted of 3-for-12 with three walks.
Edison Lantigua returned to full-time playing after missing ten days due to sickness and dehydration. They took it a little easy on him this week, giving him one day off and playing him two partial games, one at DH. He didn’t take it easy on pitchers though, putting up an .885 OPS in 15 plate appearances. Lantigua has been on a downward trend you don’t like to easy. Earlier in the year, he had a 16:14 BB/K ratio and I asked a few people with the team about his approach. They called him an aggressive hitter at the plate, which didn’t make sense with those numbers, specifically the 16 walks in his first 20 games. Since the end of June, he has six walks and 17 strikeouts, which seems more in line with the batter that was described to me. It’s not a trend you like to see, but he is still putting together an impressive rookie season as a 17-year-old, so he could be the top prospect at the end of the season.
Jeremias Portorreal came into this year as the top prospect and hasn’t lived up to the hype. He has struggled all season, going 1-for-13 this week to continue his 2 1/2 month slump. Portorreal is hitting .168/.282/.245 in 196 at-bats and leads the team with 71 strikeouts. His bat was supposed to carry him because his other tools were average at best. On Saturday, he stole his first base of the year and got injured on the slide. He was taken out in the second inning and with the off-day today, I was told that the injury was minor and he shouldn’t miss any time. Portorreal only recently turned 17, which makes him the youngest player on the team, so it’s hard to be too critical. Still, when you get great reports about a player’s bat and they end up as one of the worst hitters on the team, it’s going to have an effect on their prospect status.
Shortstop Adrian Valerio saved his week with a three-hit game on Friday. He still finished the week 5-for-25, so it wasn’t a good six game stretch for the 17-year-old defensive phenom. He is hitting .246/.288/.336 in 232 at-bats, which leads the team. Valerio has 17 extra-base hits, which was more than was expected when we were told that his bat needs work and power won’t be part of his game. He has made 18 errors this year, which sounds high, but it isn’t for the DSL. The reports on his defense have been glowing by everyone we have asked from day one.
Third baseman Jhoan Herrera had a four hit game this week and collected three other hits, plus drew two walks during the rest of the week. He was scheduled to play in the States this year, but an ankle injury put him out for an extended time and he was returned to the DSL once he was healthy. Herrera is hitting .270/.351/.350 in 28 games. Those numbers are a step up in all three categories from last year, though he is striking out a bit more than last year, with 24 K’s in 100 at-bats this season.
On the pitching side, Richard Mitchell continued his impressive season, allowing one earned run over five innings in his only start this week. During the Prospect Watch that night, we reported that he had not allowed an earned run in that game, but a scoring change led to him being credited with an earned run. Even with that added run, he has given up just five earned runs over his last eight starts combined. Mitchell has embraced the “pitch to contact” style the Pirates teach more than any player in the system. He is having success without picking up strikeouts, going deep into all of his outings on a limited pitch count. He pounds the strike zone with excellent control and throws plenty of first pitch strikes. Mitchell is holding batters to a .211 average, hasn’t allowed a homer all year and has given up just 14 walks over 13 starts.
All-Star pitcher Yeudy Garcia had a tough start this week, giving up three runs on five hits and four walks in four innings. He is still having a fine season overall, with a 2.38 ERA, 2.15 GO/AO ratio and a .231 BAA. Just like Mitchell, Garcia hasn’t allowed a homer this year.
The other top pitcher, Luis Escobar saw his season come to an end early. Stomach pain caused him to skip his start and it turned out to be appendicitis, which has now ended his season. He finishes with a 4.75 ERA, though most of the damage came in his second start and his last one. That final one was shortly before his operation and might explain why he pitched so poorly after a great run of nine starts with a total of nine earned runs allowed.