In the past for the DSL prospect list, we have done the top ten prospects to watch. I planned to do it that way this year until I started it and couldn’t even decide on the first spot. Usually a few players separate themselves from the pack, so you have a general idea about the top 3-5 spots. This year, there is no consensus top pick, there isn’t even a small group of players that seem better. It’s a highly flawed group below, with no one who currently looks like they have huge upside. The good part about that is that they are all young players with time on their side, so a lot can change.
Last year, the Pirates had a lot of talent in the DSL, so the prospect list was strong 1-10, and I included three extra players to watch because they felt like top ten talent, there just wasn’t room for them. If I included this year’s group and could put them into last year’s for a mixed 2014-15 list, the top seven would definitely all be from the 2014 team. I had a couple ideas for the top two spots this year and figured they would have ranked #8 and #9 on a mixed list from the last two years. That was before I got the final reports Saturday and those top two players I had in mind didn’t get strong scouting reports.
So instead of trying to put ten similar players into order, I decided to just give 12 players to watch, listing them in alphabetical order. If you like number systems, I apologize, but in reality they could all just be 1a, 1b, 1c, etc because there is no standout player this year. While the reports last year were glowing, this year the player’s flaws seemed to be the main story. You can read the season recap from the DSL that was posted on Sunday, which covers 41 different players.
With help from multiple people down in the Dominican, here’s the list of the top 12 players to watch from the 2015 DSL Pirates:
Gabriel Brito, C – He had a strong rookie season at the plate, but he didn’t get in the time behind the plate that the Pirates hoped he would. Before the season started, he hurt his throwing shoulder. That led to him being used as a DH when he first came back. Shortly after he returned to catching, he injured his left hand, which caused him to miss two weeks. In 19 games after the All-Star break, the 17-year-old backstop posted an .890 OPS. At 5’9″, 170 pounds, he is small for a catcher. His defense needs some work, but he did a decent job handling the running game, throwing out 29% of runners. He didn’t get an invite to the Fall Instructional League(FIL), so that should make for an interesting situation next year with catcher Samuel Inoa coming in, one of the top signings for the Pirates this July.
Yondry Contreras, CF – His $400,000 bonus was the highest the Pirates gave out during the 2014-15 international signing period. That made Contreras the top player to watch this season and he did not impress. He set a DSL/VSL Pirates’ record with 84 strikeouts. He had ten extra-base hits, only 17 walks and he went 2-for-8 in stolen bases. Basically, nothing went right on offense. On defense, he played a strong center field and his arm was rated the best on the team. Contreras turns 18 in a couple weeks, which means he was young for the league. Only five players out of the 41 covered in the preview yesterday, are younger than Contreras and all five are within three months of his age. So while you expected better from their top bonus player, there is still plenty of time for him to prove why the paid/liked him so much.
Mikell Granberry, C/1B – He was rated #8 on our list last year due to his bat and some good things that were said about his defense behind the plate. He also missed some time with a back injury, so there was room for improvement just by being healthy. Granberry returned this year and showed a little more power, but didn’t get on base as much. His offensive stats improved, which you expect from a second-year player, yet it was just a slight improvement. Early in the season, the young pitching staff was doing a horrible job of holding runners on base and that led to some bad caught stealing numbers from Granberry. His throws became rushed to try to makeup for the pitcher’s shortcomings and his throwing mechanics were out of whack.
He started playing first base more often after the throwing problems became too much, but he was still going through all the catching drills and eventually started playing behind the plate again. The stolen base numbers went down against him and his overall defense was praised. He was invited to the FIL, where extra catchers are always necessary for all the pitchers in camp. If Granberry can stick behind the plate, then his prospect status goes up, because the bat is strong. As a first baseman, he will need to hit more, though if he continues to play both spots, the added versatility will help. He is a very good athlete, who runs well for a catcher.
Miguel Hernandez, RHP – He’s a 19-year-old, with good size at 6’5″, and room to fill out. That could mean big things for him because his fastball was rated as the second best among all Pirates in the DSL. Hernandez sat 93-94 mph in a starting role, and mixed in a slider and a change-up. He didn’t get an FIL invite, which is hard to believe based on stats alone. His 3.54 ERA was one of the best on the team, to go along with a strong 2.54 GO/AO ratio. In 61 innings, he had a 19:51 BB/SO ratio and he allowed just one home run all season. The problem for Hernandez is that he is considered a thrower, not a pitcher. Some things that work in the DSL, won’t work at higher levels. He doesn’t pitch to a batter’s weakness, rather he tries to get fancy when it isn’t necessary. When he becomes better at attacking hitters, he could really become a strong pitcher with the ability to succeed at higher levels.
Melvin Jimenez, SS/2B – He was signed last year, a little later than the top wave of international signings, who are the ones that usually get the most attention. Jimenez was also 19 when he signed(he turns 20 on September 9th), so that is usually a bad sign. He turned out to be the best all-around player on the club, getting named the team MVP. The switch-hitting middle infielder isn’t big, so he’s not going to hit for power, but he could be a doubles hitter. He has excellent plate patience and makes solid contact. He’s got good speed on the bases and that helps with his range in the field.
Jimenez made just two errors in 35 games at shortstop and he was voted the best defensive infielder on the team. Two errors in that much time is unreal, considering he’s playing on DSL fields, surrounded by teammates who are far from high quality defensive players. For comparison, Cristopher Perez(see below) made 24 errors in 39 games at shortstop, and Adrian Valerio, who has Major League Gold Glove upside, had 19 errors in 59 games last year for the DSL Pirates. Jimenez can also play second base well and saw some time at third base, which enhances his value. He was invited to the FIL. We will get a chance to see if he is really a player that slipped through the cracks for two years, possibly being a late-bloomer, or if he is someone with limited upside, who ends up being a solid player at the lower levels.
Cristopher Perez, SS – He started the season late due to a shoulder injury and never really got going until the last couple weeks. He made 24 errors at shortstop in limited time, but he isn’t as bad as those numbers suggest. Perez really needs to fill out and that’s something that should happen over the next couple years, with a return trip to the DSL next year and possibly the GCL in 2017. He was one of three position players the Pirates gave a six-figure bonus to during the 2014-15 international signing period, so there were some expectations coming into the season. His .541 OPS was the second worst among the 15 regulars, and he had some help with his OBP from 12 HBP. Perez finished strong at the plate and looked much better in the field at the end, so something may have clicked. The hope is that he can add a little muscle/weight and his late success can carry over into next year.
Adonis Pichardo, RHP – Coming into the season, there were reports than Pichardo was hitting 96 mph. He was already on the radar because he received a six-figure bonus last July, but this really put him on the map. As the season started, he was sitting 91-92 mph in a starting role, so while the reported 96 number may have been true, he wasn’t close to that on a regular basis. Unfortunately, he never really got a chance to get going because he missed time with arm fatigue and a lat strain. When he returned from the second injury, he was used in a relief role. Pichardo was signed a little later than normal(he turned 19 in April) so you expect him to be more polished than players two years younger, but he ended up with a 7.24 ERA and a 1.95 WHIP. Next year, he will get a chance to start again and if he can remain injury-free, then we get to see what type of upside he really has in that big arm.
Jeremias Portorreal, RF – He signed for $375,000 in 2013 and had a difficult rookie season in 2014, something similar to what happened with Yondry Contreras this year. The difference is that Portorreal has very little defensive value and he doesn’t run well, so he needs to hit a lot better to have strong overall value in right field. He showed improvements in his plate patience this year and hit for a little more power, but he also batted .230 with 67 strikeouts. His 2015 numbers would have looked okay if it was his first season, but you don’t expect a high-priced signing to struggle for two seasons. The good part is that he was one of the youngest players to sign in 2013 due to his August birthday, so he was actually younger than many of the 2014 players that signed. Portorreal was invited to the FIL.
Domingo Robles, LHP – He’s another player that had strong velocity reports coming into the season, that turned out to be far from the numbers he worked at as a starter. Robles was supposedly hitting 92 mph prior to the season, but he worked in the 87-88 range. While the velocity wasn’t good, the 17-year-old lefty became a much better pitcher as the season went along. He became more aggressive in attacking hitters and that helped him go from a 5.88 ERA in May, down to 2.63 in July and 2.95 in August. Robles has good downward plane on his pitches and he mixes in a curve and change that both have potential. He’s listed at 6’2″, 170 pounds, so there is room to fill out and add muscle, and hopefully that translates to better velocity in the future.
Roger Santana, LHP – From the beginning of the year until the end, Santana was the most improved pitcher. The 17-year-old lefty finished with a 5.66 ERA and a .308 BAA this season. He wasn’t as good as those numbers suggest early in the year, but by the end of the season, they didn’t look like they belonged to him. His BAA and WHIP went down each month and he finished with a 1.26 ERA in August. He learned to attack hitters better as the season went along and saw the results, with everything finally coming together at the end. Santana throws a fastball that sits 89-90 with a lot of movement. He actually improved his velocity as the season went along, which resulted in a lot less hard contact. Santana also throws a curve and a change, which he will be able to work on next year in the DSL, probably in a starting role.
Brian Sousa, RHP – If he didn’t get hurt twice(shoulder), there was a good chance he could have been the top prospect. Sousa throws low-90’s, touching 93 mph. He throws on a downward plane and has an advanced feel for pitching. That second part was probably helped by the fact he has played winter ball in his native Panama the last two years, facing much older competition. Unfortunately, the 18-year-old only got in five games this season and didn’t pitch after July 4th. He put up a 3.44 GO/AO ratio in his brief time. He should be in the starting rotation next year, with a chance to have a breakout season.
Julian Villamar, RHP – I have a rule about including relievers with high walk numbers, it’s called using common sense. That went out the window with Villamar when I found out he had the best fastball on the team, while also throwing a hard-breaking curve with plus potential. He also threw in extended relief, so he wasn’t just airing it out for an inning each time. His command is very bad at times and can look real good at other times, so the potential is there. If the Pirates can get more of the strike-thrower out of him, then you could have a big upside reliever. It’s also possible that he could go from throwing three innings to building up to a starting role, especially if he can limit his pitch count. You can’t find many pitchers with a mid-90’s fastball and a plus curve, but Villamar has shown that potential. He received an FIL invite and the coaches down in Bradenton now have a chance to help harness his abilities.