On Sunday, we posted about the winter league roster from the Mexican Pacific League that has eight Pittsburgh Pirates players on it. On Pirates Prospects, we provide daily updates on the winter leagues in the Dominican, Venezuela, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Colombia and Australia, or wherever there are Pirates players taking part in winter ball and we can find stats.
The main players announced on Sunday were Stetson Allie and Luis Heredia. There is really no telling how much these two will actually play. Players are put on the roster so they are reserved for the entire season. Some guys will show up the first week and play all winter. Some will show up at other times and play shortened years. Last year, Matt Hague played for the first month or so and that was the plan from the start. Joely Rodriguez played one game and that wasn’t the plan, but after he hit 97 MPH in relief, he was shutdown after just one inning.
Starling Marte played part of last year and he was supposed to play more, but he kept getting minor injuries and he was shutdown. Gregory Polanco was supposed to end his season earlier, but he was doing so well and his team was the best team, so he was allowed to play longer. You might hear a specific plan for a player, but things can change at any time. Jose Tabata received permission from the Pirates to play winter ball last year and then he never played a game even though he was on a roster all year. It sounds like he will play this off-season as a recent article mentioned him negotiating to play with two different teams in Venezuela.
Someone like Collin Balester is probably going to Mexico to make up for lost innings, so he could see extended time on the mound. He had surgery last year and only returned during the second half of this year. It should be noted that during our winter league coverage, we cover every player that ended the year in the Pirates’ system, even if they are free agents. As soon as they sign elsewhere, we stop mentioning them in our coverage. Any player signed during the off-season, will be added during the winter league coverage and that happened a few times last year.
Another great part of the winter league coverage is finding possible breakout players. Elias Diaz was seeing regular playing time in Venezuela last year and doing well, so we talked about him often. In Colombia last winter, Tito Polo saw some decent playing time in a league that was advanced for a player coming from the DSL. That was a sign that he could be a sleeper prospect and he had a strong season in the GCL this year. Harold Ramirez was one of the best hitters in Colombia, which made it seem like this year could be his big breakout season. He finished with a 23-game hit streak before shin splints shut him down. Ramirez also missed time with a hamstring injury, so winter ball could be a chance for him to make up for lost time.
Getting back to Elias Diaz, he will be going to the Arizona Fall League but that doesn’t mean he won’t play winter ball. Last year, Alen Hanson played in the AFL and then saw time in the Dominican Winter League. Hanson should see regular time this year in the DWL and will get a chance to play some more second base, so he can get used to the position. Last year he played a couple games at second base in winter ball, but this year that should be his main position. Andrew Lambo made the move to first base last year in Venezuela, seeing regular playing time there for the first time in his career. Just like Hanson with second base, Lambo had some previous experience at the position, but winter ball signaled(at the time) his move to first base.
It will be interesting following Heredia this year because he will be pitching in a league with a lot of players will Major League experience and even more than spent the season playing in the Mexican League, which is a AAA equivalent league. We saw last year that some players really struggled against older players, such as Danny Arribas and Sam Kennelly in the Australian Baseball League, where both players finished with batting averages well below the .200 mark.
There will be a lot to follow this winter with Heredia, Hanson and Allie, as well as many other players that will show up during the year. It’s possible we see Polanco and Marte again, though that is up to the Pirates. Polanco has expressed his desire to play winter ball this year already.
It should be an interesting off-season regardless of who shows up on the rosters. Someone will show potential, while you could also get something like Andrew Lambo from last year, where he slumped all winter and that carried over into Spring Training and into the start of the AAA season. The winter seasons start in early October and from now until then, we will hear and report more names coming out for winter ball.
All this shows that the title of this article is a bit misleading, because you don’t know what to expect from winter ball other than there will be a lot to follow.
Pirates Game Graph
Pittsburgh: The Pirates are 4.5 games behind St. Louis for the NL Central lead and a half game ahead of both Atlanta and Milwaukee for the second Wild Card spot. They are 3.5 games behind San Francisco for the first Wild Card spot.
Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates won Sunday. They now go on to Philadelphia for a four game series with Jeff Locke pitching the opener. He has faced the Phillies once this year and it was perhaps his best outing. He threw eight innings on July 6th, allowing one earned run on three hits and a walk. The minor league season is over. Bradenton was the only affiliate to make the playoffs. They lost their series Wednesday night. 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. We will post other season recaps soon.
MLB: Pittsburgh (74-68) @ Philadelphia (66-76) 7:05 PM
Probable starter: Jeff Locke (3.75 ERA, 69:32 K/BB, 108 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)
With the minor league season over, it’s time to take a look back at some recent video from the GCL, which we will continue to do over the next few days. All videos are courtesy of the GCL Pirates fan page. Below is a video of left-handed starter Gerardo Navarro, who will be playing winter ball this off-season in Mexico.
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
Six former Pittsburgh Pirates players have been born on this date, including Russ McKelvy, who played one game for the first team in franchise history, the 1882 Alleghenys. Also born on this date was pitcher Jim Bagby Jr, who played for the 1947 Pirates. His dad was a member of the 1923 Pirates, making them one of the few father-son combos in team history. You can read the bios of all six players, plus the recap of a special game from Roberto Clemente during the 1958 season, in this link here.
On this date in 1909, the Pirates lost to the Chicago Cubs by a 4-2 score. That was was significant in that they wouldn’t lose again for nearly three weeks, winning sixteen straight games. At the end of the streak, the Pirates had a 106-36 record and they were just one game away from clinching first place with ten games left in the season.
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.