DSL Pirates Season Preview: Young Guns and Strong Outfielders

The 2014 DSL Pirates finished last year with a 34-36 record. They had a young team last year and they are even younger this year, both in age and experience. It could be a long year for the team due to that youth, but there are interesting prospects to watch and the reports I’ve received have mostly been positive except for the injuries. You can read last year’s season recap here, complete with scouting reports on every player from the team. Many of them are listed below as well, as more than half the team returns this season.

We put together a top ten prospects list after talking to numerous sources last year and then added three more players to watch. As it turned out, the Pirates liked 11 of those players enough to promote them to the States, where they will play for either the GCL team or Bristol, or in the case of pitcher Yeudy Garcia, make the incredible jump all the way to Low-A ball.

With a total of 15 players making the jump this spring, that immediately left 15 open roster spots. Teams usually carry 35 players, plus a couple extra that might be injured, or very raw players that are training at the facility, but not yet seeing game action. At the end of the year, they had 38 players, but Leandro Rodriguez has been cut after missing two seasons with injury, Patrick Reyes maxed out his DSL eligibility (four years) and was cut, Luylli Miranda was released after last season and Johan De Jesus was suspended for the entire season due to PED’s. They also have Rudy Guzman there, who is a talented outfielder that has had visa troubles since last year, otherwise he would be in the GCL (or higher) by now.

That means that between 15 leaving and the roster being two short, there will be at least 17 rookies this year. Of the players that are currently in the U.S., everyone in last year’s starting rotation was promoted. The Pirates also brought up the starting double play combo of Adrian Valerio and Raul Siri, plus the backup at both spots, Luis Perez. De Jesus was the starting third baseman, splitting time with Jhoan Herrera, who was promoted. They also promoted Victor Fernandez and Edison Lantigua, the starting center field and left fielder and two of the better players (we rated Lantigua as the best and BA agreed). Sandy Santos was the third best outfielder last year and he is gone too. I think you get the picture by now, the Pirates basically gutted the lineup and starting rotation of the 2014 DSL team.

The 2015 Roster

So that brings us to the 2015 roster. Behind the plate, talented second-year catcher Mikell Granberry will split the catching duties with Gabriel Brito. Granberry has played a little first base during DSL Spring Training, so he could see time there as well. Brito signed for $200,000, which was the second highest bonus this July 2nd signing period, so he should see a lot of time. He is currently injured, but should be back soon. I wouldn’t expect much from Brito as far as performance, as he is considered very raw (he signed at 16 in July). He has missed about a month of training camp and the reports from camp before the injury weren’t good. He will get playing time though due to his upside.

Three other catchers are in camp, although one of the international signings from last year is already gone. Robert Noguera, signed out of Colombia in July and was with the team during their Fall Instructional League last September/October. He had vision-related medical issues when he came back to the Dominican academy and that ended his time with the Pirates before he could play any real games.

The Pirates signed a Dominican catcher named Julio Gonzales to replace Noguera and he is dealing with shoulder issues now. They also signed Venezuelan catcher Raul Hernandez in August and he, too, is currently injured. That means, they signed four catchers during the off-season and the only two healthy catchers they have right now are Granberry and Ramy Perez, who was the third-string catcher last year. Like Granberry, Perez has played some first base when he isn’t catching. He will also see time at second and third base, serving as a utility player once the catching depth returns.

As for the infielders that aren’t normally catchers, shortstop Christoper Perez, who signed for $150,000 in July, will be the big name player among this group. He is currently injured, so there isn’t much left of note in the infield. That doesn’t mean there won’t be anyone worth following though. Raul Siri came out of nowhere last year to be one of the best players in the entire league, so it could happen again. That unknown may come from two players signed in December, middle infielders named Melvin Jimenez and William Calderon. Jimenez is a solid defensive shortstop with good hands and he makes consistent contact at the plate, driving the ball well at times. Calderon will most likely end up at second base. He’s a switch-hitter that also puts the ball in play often. Both should see plenty of playing time.

Huascar Fuentes will see time at first base after missing most of his first season with a broken wrist. He only signed in November of 2013, but he is already 23 years old. He might be too old now to be considered a prospect, but he has the potential to be a big bat in the lineup. Jesus Ronco returns for his fourth and final season. He’s a utility player that can fit just about anywhere and they even used him on the mound last year when the bullpen needed a break, so that is never a good sign for prospect status. Early in the year, he will see a lot of playing time. There are only four healthy infielders right now and two catchers that can play infield, but one will obviously be catching each day.

The outfield will be the most interesting to watch. The Pirates seem to find talented outfielders in the Dominican that totally fly under the radar, but they also have some high-priced players out there this year. Yondry Contreras signed the biggest deal during this July 2nd signing period, getting a $400,000 signing bonus. The reports have been good so far on him, so he will likely spend one season in the DSL before moving up, if all goes well.

The returning outfielders include Jeremias Portorreal, who signed for $375,000 in 2013 and had an awful rookie campaign last year. Eliezer Ramirez, who signed for $120,000 out of Venezuela, also returns. He was considered very raw and saw limited playing time last season. Reports on both players are positive out of Spring Training.

Eddy Vizcaino was signed out of the Dominican Prospect League in December and is a corner outfielder with good range and a strong arm. He’s a line drive hitter with occasional power. Felix Vinicio also returns after an unspectacular rookie season in 2014. He’s on the small side, doesn’t have much speed and he’s already 20 years old, so there seems to be limited upside and space for him to play. The other four outfielders should be key hitters at the top/middle of the lineup.

Talented Young Pitchers Aplenty

The Pirates didn’t spend a lot on any one particular pitcher last year, but they did sign five of them in the $100,000 to $175,000 range and the early reports have been very good. Three of them, lefty Domingo Robles, and right-handers Brian Sousa and Adonis Pichardo will be in the rotation. All three of them have added 4-5 MPH since they signed, with Pichardo now hitting 96 MPH. Robles has good sink and downhill action on his pitches, while Sousa has already pitched two seasons in the Panamanian winter league. He faced competition much older and experienced there and he held his own against the league.

The other two rotation arms were signed without any fanfare, 20-year-old lefty Jerry Agustin and righty Miguel Hernandez. That not only gives them a brand new five-man rotation, they are all first year players, so the bullpen could be important early in the season.

The bullpen is loaded with players returning from last year. They will have Armando Bustamante returning as a pitcher that can be used in numerous roles, whether it’s 3-4 innings, key spots or closing out games. Eumir Sepulveda will return later in the season, he is on rehab for a shoulder injury. Julian Villamar has a good arm, but struggles with command and his season stats from last year were really bad, even with a strong six-game stretch in the middle. Jherson Esqueda is a rare third-year player on this team and he could see some spot starts or move into the rotation if someone falters, but not right away. He is one of the many players that is currently injured.

Luis Brun returns for a third season too, hoping to show some command that has eluded him his first two years. He has a great arm, but very little idea where the ball is going. Cesar Santos will be a lefty out of the pen. He showed some promise as a rookie last year, but injured his hand during a collision and missed most of the season. Ramon Garcia is a righty that throws low-90’s and has a great curve, plus gets a lot of grounders, but he’s already 23 years old, so the upside seems limited. Edgardo Leon could be a pitcher that makes a jump, as he has a good frame with room to fill out. He was mainly a fastball pitcher last year as a rookie, relying heavily on the pitch because his off-speed pitches were below average.

Raymond Rodriguez is a lot like Leon with his heavy fastball approach, though Rodriguez has poor control. He is still young and throws low-90’s, so there is potential. Finally among returning pitchers, Angel Vasquez is a 21-year-old righty with limited experience due to signing late and an injury last year. He has a plus curve and pitched great when healthy, so he too has potential.

Lefty Roger Santana and righty Jerry De Los Santos are the top newcomers. Both were 16 years old on July 2nd last year and signed for matching $100,000 bonuses. They also have an under-the-radar signing named Saul de la Cruz, who throws hard and has a nice curve, but he is currently injured. One last new bullpen arm, Argenis Romano, who throws high-80’s with a nice curve and good control. He was recently added to the roster after a successful tryout. One late addition just signed in the last day or so. Oddy Nunez, an 18-year-old 6’5″, lefty out of the Dominican Republic. He arrived just over a week ago for a tryout. Also there is Ivan Cespedes, who was around last season, but never played. He’s a 20-year-old righty and he’s currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery he had last year.

  • Thanks john, that’s a lot of names to sort through, your efforts are greatly appreciated.

    • John Dreker
      May 31, 2015 1:54 am

      I’m lucky enough to have multiple people that will go over all of them, so I’m getting more than one opinion on each player.

  • John,
    can’t say I’m a dyed-in-the-wool baseball fan, but have to say I always appreciate your thorough and concise reporting on players I have little chance of seeing but whom, of course, I root for ‘cuz they’re Bucs – at whatever level.

    • John Dreker
      May 29, 2015 10:48 pm

      Thanks, I like putting reports to the players that for years were just names and numbers. Gives you a much better idea about how good they are and in some cases, why the players are struggling or not playing.