Pittsburgh Pirates Release Another Large Group of Minor Leaguers; Espinal Signs with Tigers

A day after we announced that the Pittsburgh Pirates released eight minor league players, Pirates Prospects has learned that the total group was expanded to 15 players released this week. Here are the seven additional players, along with a brief write-up on each of them.

Julio de la Cruz is the big ticket name in this group, signing for a $700,000 bonus in 2012, which is more than the other 14 released players received in combined bonuses. De la Cruz never turned into the power hitting third baseman that the Pirates thought he could be when he signed. The odd thing about him is that he was one of the best hitters at Pirate City each of the last two years in Extended Spring Training, but couldn’t hit against the same level of pitching once the real games started. De la Cruz hit .218/.286/.315 in 231 games over five seasons, making it as high as Morgantown.

Dany Hernandez is the second player from Cuba released this week, with both of them signing earlier this year. He received a $35,000 bonus and showed promise as someone who could hit 95 MPH, but once the games started, he had a lot of trouble getting batters out at Bristol. For someone who supposedly became a better pitcher after spending time in the Cuban Major League, he should not have had any difficulties with the hitters in the Appalachian League.

Sandy Santos is the most disappointing player on this list, although the writing was on the wall when the Pirates switched him to pitching in the Fall Instructional League. Santos had the tools to be a legit prospect, but he always played the game out of control and made a lot of mental errors, so he never came close to reaching his potential. He has above average speed, arm and raw power, along with the ability to make spectacular plays in center field. He posted a .693 OPS in five seasons, topping out at West Virginia.

Henrry Rosario is a somewhat disappointing one, only because he’s an easy player for fans to root for as a small player who didn’t catch any breaks. He put up a .932 OPS last year and a .903 OPS this season, plus brought a lot to the table on defense and the bases, as well as some surprising pop for a player his size. His upside was always limited, but he worked hard to become better. Rosario was extremely excited to finally make it to full-season ball late this season, where he got in 12 games with West Virginia.

Luis Benitez is an under-sized outfielder who never really hit at any level. He was very fast, had a strong arm and could play defense, but he put up a .588 OPS in six seasons, never going above Bristol. If he returned in 2018, he would have been competing for a short-season outfield spot in his final season before minor league free agency.

Eumir Sepulveda spent three seasons in the DSL and this year in the GCL, with a brief stop in Bristol. He had a terrific winter last year in Mexico and finished strong in the GCL this season with one run on two hits in his last 9.2 innings. He had decent stuff, but a fourth-year player being used as a GCL reliever is never in a good place.

Jose Delgado was a very wild pitcher, who was a danger to those in the batter’s box. The best story I can tell about him is the time he hit one Pirate hitter three times during one “at-bat” in a simulated game this spring. He also threw very hard, so it was never a comfortable at-bat against him. Delgado walked 52 batters in 45.2 innings over two seasons.

The Pittsburgh Pirates lost Edwin Espinal, who signed as a minor league free agent with the Detroit Tigers. The interesting part about that signing is that he is Rule 5 eligible now, so if the Pirates have any remorse, they can get him back next month. That’s obviously very unlikely, since they could have added him to the 40-man roster before he became a free agent and then they could have sent him down to Indianapolis. Taking him as a Rule 5 pick would mean they have to keep him on the 25-man roster and pay $100,000 to select him, so don’t expect that to happen. More on him in the next winter article, which will be his farewell one.

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.

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Travis P

I think we kind of forget too that Espinal had a hand in this as well at the end…and he “earned” that right to make a decision after he reached minor league FA. The Pirates organization has (hopefully) a top 5 or 6 1B for the next 4-5 years, Espinal wasn’t going to remove him and every young player I’ve ever dealt with wants to get playing time if possible. There’s no question maybe Pittsburgh could have done his situation differently in some aspects, but aside from trading him for another unknown commodity, I don’t know what else could have happened last summer.


Good luck to Espinal. He’s a solid player, would have sucked if he had no chance at majors, blocked by Bell.

Btw I was thinking… since there’s a very low chance we sign with Ohtani, would there be a chance we go for Maitan or other Braves prospects? Teams would have to use the same bonus pool, correct?


Pirates squander another decent prospect – this time Espinal.

I’m surprised that Michael de la Cruz wasn’t also released – he’s been an even bigger disappointment than Julio, as he was the supposedly better prospect of the two. He’ll be in the next wave.

When you see those two and Santos flame out, and guys like Willy Garcia and Alen Hanson stop improving after AA, maybe part of the issue is the system or coaching? The Pirates haven’t been developing and graduating a lot of top notch position players of late into the majors, so it makes me wonder.

Scott K

Maybe it’s the players just aren’t good enough? I don’t exactly see a host of Pirate prospects who have been traded or discarded lighting it up with other teams.

Every organization has highly touted young players flame out in the upper levels of competition. Baseball is wicked hard!


Maybe Gayo wasn’t that good.

Francis G

How is it ever possible to tell if it’s the scouting side or the player development side that’s to blame for players failing to contribute at the Major League level? The scouting folks could say they’re drafting/signing the right players, but the player development folks just aren’t helping them reach their full potential. And the player development folks can say that they’re doing the best they can with the raw material they’ve been given, but that material is not Major League-caliber. Who makes that call — and how?

joe s

good for the Tank, wish him well but he was blocked and this at least gives him a chance.

Regarding the players released, (guess Michael De la Cruz got a pass this time) all of which were signed by Gayo, it just shows you that his only success in signing players that made it to the majors, was by accident. Good riddance to him.


Or it could be an indication how difficult it is to project the future for a 16 year old kid.


Espinal was blocked; still hate to see him go. Good luck to him.


He was, and Jose Osuna did a nice job in his first exposure to MLB pitching. However, I am not satisfied that he could not have been one of the guys on the 40. Still some deadwood on that list.


Good luck to Espinal. Hopefully he becomes a useful player. We will see him on down the road. Knowing the Pirates luck, probably in an all star game.


No, you won’t.


Or the Pirates will see him on opening day. lol


Oh yeah. My brain was thinking he was already rule 5 drafted and he would be in majors. I need some coffee. I could see someone grabbing him though if he continues to have a nice winter season.


Rosario is very confusing, why release a guy that has OPS’d over .900 the last 2 seasons?


I guess it is the Pirates way to let guys go if they look like they can hit.


I am not a proponent of the “he is too old” way of thinking. He may be to old to be considered a top prospect, but he has ability to hit which is a skill that is lacking throughout the Pirates system. It is also a skill that I am pretty sure they shouldn’t just be giving away when there is no reason to.


As John rightly points out, any player can hit if you put them at a low enough level. His stats were meaningless.

Michael Sanders

I wish that they signed Dreker as the GM instead of Huntington.


I disagree. Many players do worse after being at a level too long, I’ve seen it many many times.


Doubtful on both counts. Just because someone is older than the competition doesn’t mean they are going to be able to hit. And Julio de la Cruz was not likely ever going to hit.


Yeah, he will be 25 right as the season starts. He would need to blow through two levels next year to be on any kind of a track.

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