Morning Report: Getting to Know the New Players in the Instructional League

The Pittsburgh Pirates released their second Fall Instructional League roster on Monday and the team is loaded with interesting prospects, including 15 players from the Dominican Summer League. The roster has seven of the DSL Ten Prospects to Watch and an eighth(Luis Escobar) is at Pirate City, but not playing due to a late season appendectomy. The two players from that list that didn’t get an invite to the Instructional League were Jeremias Portorreal, who was the youngest player on the DSL Pirates this year, and catcher Mikell Granberry, who is playing on a team in Mexico right now.

With seven of the top ten players getting invites to the FIL, there is obviously some very talented players in Bradenton for the first time.  There are two players who have tools that are near the top of the organization. Shortstop Adrian Valerio is an outstanding defensive player and he is only 17 years old. The other player that people with the DSL team raved about was center fielder Victor Fernandez, who has game-changing speed on the bases and in the outfield. Here is a brief summary of all 15 players from the DSL. For more information on most of them, you can check out our DSL season recap, which has scouting reports on everyone with the team this season.

Edison Lantigua, left fielder who hit really well this year and established himself as the top prospect. He’s an aggressive hitter at the plate and makes good contact. Lantigua has solid speed and above average range in left field, where he has an accurate arm with average arm strength. He got a lot of praise for his baseball smarts and he’s only 17 years old.

Adrian Valerio is a gifted shortstop, who will go as far as his bat takes him in the pros, because the glove is already among the best in the system. Everyone I talked to had high praise for all aspects of his defense. His bat is a little raw, but as a 17-year-old switch-hitter this year, he held his own. Valerio showed a little bit of pop and didn’t strike out much, so there is definitely potential for him to be more than just a no-hit, defensive star in the majors.

Lantigua hit his way to the top of the prospect list this year
Lantigua hit his way to the top of the prospect list this year

Raul Siri had the best season at the plate in the DSL, was named to the All-Star team and won the game MVP with a two-run homer. He is a well-rounded player that does a little bit of everything. He is a solid second baseman, with good speed and he’s a terrific hitter. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him skip over the GCL next year due to his age. His upside is probably limited due to his small stature and the fact he has had some injury issues in the past. At least for the short-term, he will probably look like the best prospect from this group.

Sticking with the offensive players, Jhoan Herrera is actually returning to the States. He was supposed to play with Bristol this year, but an ankle injury set him back. When he was healthy enough to return to action, the Pirates shipped him back to the DSL, where he could play full-time. He is a bat-first third baseman, who signed for a six-figure bonus in 2012.

Victor Fernandez was called “easily the fastest player with the DSL team” and one person went as far as saying that Fernandez was the fastest person he has ever seen. He was a little old for a rookie, but he hit well and played above average defense in center field. He also causes chaos on the bases for the opponents. Fernandez had a hamstring injury that slowed him down in the second half.

Luis Perez is a poor man’s Raul Siri. They are both about the same size and age, both make excellent contact and play solid defense at second base and both have good speed. The difference between them is that Siri really drives the ball well, while Perez is more of a slap hitter. Perez has the ability to play shortstop in a pinch, but he will probably be limited to second base due to his arm strength.

Sandy Santos is a toolsy outfielder that showed a lot of improvements his second season in the DSL, though he was one of the oldest position players. Santos has good size at 6’3″ and room to fill out. Right now his best tools are his arm and speed, but his hitting really came along this season.

On the pitching side, all five of the starting pitchers were invited to the FIL. As mentioned above, Luis Escobar is there, but not on the roster. Richard Mitchell and Yeudy Garcia are the two best pitching prospects. Mitchell has excellent control and he excels at pitching to contact, pounding the inside corner and the bottom of the strike zone. He throws 91 MPH, with a change-up that showed great improvements this year and a curve that is an average third offering.

Garcia is a power pitcher, hitting 95 MPH and he has the frame to put in a lot of inning. Not only did he have a good strikeout rate this year, he also recorded a lot of a ground ball outs. At age 22, he was old for a rookie, but he is definitely an interesting prospect to watch with high upside.

The other two starters were Francis Rodriguez and Nestor Oronel, two very different pitchers. Rodriguez was in his third year this season and put up strong results. He throws a ton of off-speed pitches and his fastball is below average, which usually isn’t a good sign for future success, though it works well in the lower levels if the pitcher has strong control, which Rodriguez does. Oronel is a young lefty that relies heavily on his fastball that tops out in the high-80’s and has a good sink to it. He allowed too many hits, but showed some improvements as the season went on. He is a surprise addition to the FIL due to poor results and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him return to the DSL next year.

The four relievers all have strong velocity, with Edgar Santana and Alex Martinez touching 95 MPH, while Delvin Hiciano hit 94 MPH. The fourth pitcher is Mister Luciano and he hits low-90’s, with a curve that he throws hard with a good break. All four are inexperienced pitchers with limited innings. Santana is the oldest and has the best control of the group, while Martinez really needs to work on his control. They all have good arms, but as inexperienced relievers, they have limited upside at this point.

The group of new DSL players in Bradenton has a lot of strong prospects, just like most years. The top position players to watch are definitely Adrian Valerio, Edison Lantigua and Raul Siri, while Richard Mitchell and Yeudy Garcia give you two starting pitchers with high upside to follow. The rest of the players include some hard throwers and possibly the fastest player in the entire system. The scouting reports we have one these players are from multiple people that saw them all year, so the FIL allows us to focus in on the best players and see what we have been told about all season. Expect video of these players soon, which will be shown in the highlight section below.

Pirates Game Graph


Source: FanGraphs

Playoff Push

Pittsburgh: The Pirates are 2.5 games behind St. Louis for the NL Central lead. They are five games ahead of Milwaukee for the second Wild Card spot. The Pirates are tied with San Francisco for the first Wild Card spot. Pittsburgh holds the home field advantage if the two teams should finish tied.

Today’s Schedule

Today’s Starter and Notes:  The Pirates won 1-0 over the Braves on Monday night. Gerrit Cole will make his 21st start of the season tonight and second against Atlanta. On August 20th, Cole helped beat the Braves by a 3-2 score, by going seven innings and allowing two runs on five hits and four walks. In his last start, Cole allowed two runs over seven innings. He gave up six hits, no walks and had seven strikeouts. You can read the DSL season recap here complete with scouting reports for each player and the top ten players to watch list can be found here. The Indianapolis season recap and top ten. The Altoona season recap and top ten. Bradenton recap and top ten.

MLB: Pittsburgh (85-71)  vs Braves (76-80) 7:10 PM
Probable starter: Gerrit Cole (3.85 ERA, 118:38 K/BB, 124 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (73-71)

AA: Altoona (61-81)

High-A: Bradenton (78-61)

Low-A: West Virginia (54-81)

Short-Season A: Jamestown (35-40)

RK: Bristol (22-46)

GCL: Pirates (20-40)

DSL: Pirates (34-36)

Highlights

With the minor league season over, it’s time to take a look  at some recent video from the Fall Instructional League. On Friday, we posted a brief recap from Thursday’s action, along with some videos. Below is another video from Thursday’s action. This one is of catcher Ramon Cabrera. He was picked up off waivers in August and hit .239 over his last 12 games. Cabrera was once a catching prospect in the Pirates organization before being traded to the Tigers for Andy Oliver. He has played 40 games over two seasons in AAA, but has not played in the majors and his chances could be slipping away.

Recent Transactions

9/16: Pirates activate Charlie Morton from disabled list.

9/8: Pirates release Ernesto Frieri.

9/7: Michael Martinez and Chris McGuiness clear waivers and were outrighted to Indianapolis.

9/2: Pirates recall Gregory Polanco, Jeff Locke, John Holdzkom, Casey Sadler and Bobby LaFromboise.

9/2: Chase d’Arnaud added to 40-man roster and promoted to Pittsburgh. Michael Martinez designated for assignment.

9/1: Pirates recall Gerrit Cole and Tony Sanchez. Stolmy Pimentel activated from the disabled list

9/1: Pirates designate Chris McGuiness for assignment. John Holdzkom added to 40-man roster.

This Date in Pirates History

Nine former Pittsburgh Pirates players have been born on this date, including a member of the 1979 World Series champs. Starting with the most recent first:

Pitcher Dennis Lamp, who played for the 1992 NL East champs. In the last season of his 16-year career, Lamp had a 5.14 ERA over 21 relief appearances. He was released in mid-June, finishing his career with a 3.93 ERA and 96 wins in 639 games.

Pitcher Jim Winn, first round pick of the Pirates in 1981 and he played for the team from 1983 until 1986. Winn had a 4.47 ERA in ten starts and 86 relief appearances. He was traded to the White Sox for John Cangelosi.

Jim Morrison, third baseman for the Pirates from 1982 until 1987. His best season was 1986, when he hit .274 with 23 homers and 88 RBI.  Morrison had a .764 OPS in 552 games with the Pirates.

Jim Rooker was a lefty starter for the Pirates for eight seasons. During the 1979 season, he went 4-7, 4.60 in 17 starts and two relief outings. During the World Series, Rooker started game five with the Pirates down 3-1 in the series. He gave up one run over five innings and the Pirates ended up winning the game 7-1. In game one, Rooker threw 3.2 shutout innings in relief. He went 82-65, 3.29 in 187 starts and 26 relief appearances for the Pirates.

Dino Restelli, outfielder for the Pirates in 1949 and 1951. He hit .241 over 93 games. Restelli was sold to the Senators in September 1951. The Pirates were his only big league club.

Lino Donoso, lefty reliever for the 1955-56 Pirates. Was a 32-year-old rookie from Cuba in 1955. Had a 5.21 ERA in 96.2 innings.

Johnny Mokan, outfielder for the 1921-22 Pirates. He hit .262 in 50 games, with a 14:6 BB/K ratio. He was sold to the Phillies in July, 1922.

Joe Kelly, 1914 outfielder. He hit .222 in 141 games during his only season with the Pirates. He was a .224 hitter over 376 big league games.

Cy Neighbors, played one game without an at-bat for the 1908 Pirates. He played left field during the final inning on April 29th and never played in the majors again. Neighbors spent 14 seasons in the minors.

In 1956, the Pirates drew 44,932 fans, the highest crowd in Forbes Field history. The Pirates lost 8-3 to the Dodgers, although the game was suspended due to rain in the ninth inning and finished the next day. The paper the next day said that between 8,000 and 10,000 fans were turned away at the gate and one fan died during the game. Here’s the boxscore.

  • Good stuff, John.

    The organization continues to have success finding position players in LA, and seems to be doing just fine developing pitchers stateside. Yet it sticks out as odd that they haven’t been able to develop a single quality LA pitching prospect, let alone Major League contributor, during Huntington’s tenure.

    Caveats about rawness of LA kids and time it takes to develop aside, any thoughts as to why?

    • They focus more on bats in LA, except for Luis Heredia. Other than him, they haven’t paid more than $190,000 for any pitcher in LA over seven signing periods. That second highest one was Hector Garcia, who looks like a possible sleeper prospect, pitching well as an 18-year-old with Bristol this year. Since 2008, they have spent more than $190K on 19 position players. If you count Cesar Lopez as an International signing out of Cuba(you would count outfielder Carlos Mesa too), then he falls into that group, but he was already older and a polished pitcher with pro experience in Cuba, so that isn’t quite the same. Leaving him out, the Pirates Int’l spending since the new group took over in 2008 has the following pitchers among the top 20 bonuses, Heredia at #1 and that’s it, so of course it would seem like there are more hitters because that is where the focus is.

      • Appreciate the response, John.

        With all due respect, Hanson, Marte, and Polonco turned out alright for being low cost signs, so I’m not sure money is enough of answer to explain the situation for me. Now it’s entirely possible that the Pirates got “lucky” with those three, but your answer – that the organization specifically focuses on position players over arms – begs the obvious question: why?

        Is this something they talk about with specific reasons in mind? Would be interesting to hear about the decision making. Not necessarily criticizing, mind you. But as I alluded to above, it would seem like they have they scouts and development staff to do something.

        • It seems like they go heavier in the drafts with arms and heavier in LA in bats. You really can’t name a bat they drafted that exceeded expectations since 2008. Alvarez had a nice season, but considering his draft status, I think many people consider him below expectations. Tony Sanchez definitely hasn’t lived up to his selection and the others to make the majors were d’Arnaud, Hague, Grossman, Holt and Mercer. Jordy Mercer is the best(maybe Holt), but as a 3rd round pick now in his prime years, he isn’t exactly putting up huge numbers with that .695 OPS. All of them were top ten round picks, so they haven’t really done well developing draft hitters that were further along in their progress than the LA kids they sign.

          • The other answer could be that the better pitchers get scooped up quick and with a limited international budget the last three years, the Pirates aren’t willing to put too much in one boat. Pitching is a game of attrition and the more arms you sign, the better chances you have. They didn’t go for any real big pitching names this year, but they did sign five guys to six-figure deals already. It could also just be too early to judge most of them. I heard great things about Garcia and Mitchell and Escobar has a great arm, so they are all possibilities. Joely Rodriguez still has a chance to be something, Hector Garcia has huge upside and Dario Agrazal has potential. Yunior Montero had huge upside until MLB screwed around with him for three years and now he is trying to work his way back. There are still plenty of possibilities and for most, it’s early in the process.

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