The Venezuelan Winter League began play on Thursday night(recap below), kicking off our coverage that usually runs into the first week or so of February. Just a reminder that any player in the Pirates system at the end of 2014 will be covered, including free agents. Once a player signs with a different organization or gets released, we will drop them from the coverage. Also, just because a player is on a roster, it doesn’t mean he will play. Teams reserve players and hold their rights even if they don’t play. Pedro Alvarez was recently traded(for Johnny Cueto) and he has never played winter ball. More players will likely join the league in Venezuela as the year goes along, but so far the following players are on the Opening Day rosters.
Bravos de Margarita– Jose Osuna, Matt Nevarez
Osuna will be one of the more interesting players to watch this winter. He broke out in the second half at Bradenton and ended up with the highest slugging percentage among players with enough plate appearances to qualify for the league title. Josh Bell ended up leading the league when adjustments were made to his numbers(they added an 0-for-15 and he still led), but that doesn’t take away from the season Osuna had. Last year, he saw sporadic playing time in Venezuela, so we will see how much progress he has made by how much playing time he gets and how he performs. Osuna is still just 21 years old, younger than many draft picks from this year. Matt Nevarez signed out of independent ball and pitched well in his brief time with Altoona, though he did issue too many walks.
Leones del Caracas – Ramon Cabrera
Cabrera was once considered a prospect, but he seems to have stalled at AA. The Pirates originally signed him in 2008, then traded him away in December 2012 for Andy Oliver. Cabrera was picked up off waivers late in the 2014 season and played 12 games for Altoona.
Navegantes del Magallanes – A.J. Morris
Morris looked like he could be working his way towards the majors when a forearm strain shut him down and caused him to miss nearly five weeks. When he returned to Indianapolis after a few rehab appearances, Morris wasn’t as sharp. If he can get back to where he was prior to the injury, he could be an interesting player.
Tiburones de La Guaira – Jeanmar Gomez
Gomez pitched 44 games in relief for the Pirates, posting a 3.19 ERA, but his overall stats weren’t that good. He had a .292 BAA and just 38 strikeouts in 62 innings. His 1.40 GO/AO ratio is impressive.
Aguilas de Zulia – Julio Vivas
Vivas put up strong stats in the GCL this year and got a brief call-up to Bristol to finish the season. The 21-year-old righty had a 1.01 ERA in 26.2 innings, with a 29:2 SO/BB ratio. He held batters to a .212 BAA and didn’t allow a homer. Including his three seasons of play in the foreign summer leagues, Vivas has allowed just one home run in his career. His experience/level is fairly low compared to most players in Venezuela, so chances are he won’t see much time. The average level of play early in the year is equal to AA, but as more players join the league, it’s at least equivalent to AAA, so it’s hard for someone like Vivas to see much time.
Cardenales de Lara – Jhondaniel Medina
Medina put up an incredible streak this regular season by not allowing an earned run over the last four months. That was a stretch of 40.2 innings and perhaps just as impressive was his 0.00 ERA at home this year. This is a good test for him because the level of competition is what he should see next year at Altoona.
The Dominican Winter League begins play on October 17th and the regular season runs until December 21st. Among the players from the Pirates going are Tony Sanchez and Alen Hanson. Gregory Polanco has said he would like to play and Starling Marte usually plays as well. Four Pirates players were drafted by Dominican teams last month.
The Mexican League starts on October 10th and there will be plenty of Pirates in the league. The headliners are Stetson Allie and Luis Heredia, who are part of a group of eight Pirates players on the Venados de Mazatlan roster. Heredia will play for about six weeks, so that should give him about 7-8 appearances if all goes well.
The Puerto Rico winter league starts on October 30th and the only Pirates player so far is Yhonathan Barrios, who usually plays in his home country of Colombia. He still could pitch in the Colombian League, which usually starts mid-November and runs later than the other Caribbean leagues.
In Australia, they also begin play on October 30th. No Pirates players have been announced yet, but expect a few with some Australian players and recent ABL members in the system
Thursday Night’s Recap
Jose Osuna was the DH in his team’s opener. He had a rough game, going 0-for-5 with a strikeout.
Ramon Cabrera caught his team’s first game. He went 0-for-3 with a walk.
A.J. Morris came in during the fourth inning and went two innings, allowing three runs(two earned) on three hits, a walk and one strikeout. He faced Jose Osuna once and got him to ground out to third base, though Osuna reached on an error.
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.