Just one game on Monday night around all of winter ball, so we are going to go a little in depth about a prospect from Colombia.
In the only game on Monday, Starling Marte went 3-for-5 with his third double and two stolen bases. He now has five steals this winter in five attempts. Marte is hitting .233/.293/.378 through 24 games and has reached base safely eight times in his last three games.
On Sunday in Colombia, Francisco Acuna went 2-for-3 with a double, a hit-by-pitch and a sacrifice bunt. Through 22 games, the 17-year-old shortstop is hitting .254/.390/.343, with four doubles, a triple and 11 walks.
Acuna played winter ball in Colombia last year before he played his first game as a pro. At 16 years old, he was playing around much more experienced players, yet he was holding his own as his team’s everyday shortstop during the second half of the season. During the first half, he was in the Dominican with the Pirates for their version of the Fall Instructional League.
He then made his pro debut in the Dominican Summer League this year, where he hit .201/.386/.291 in 58 games. You would like to see a better average and more power obviously, but he finished third in the league in walks, went 19-for-22 in steals and he was the team’s regular shortstop. That earned him a trip to the Fall Instructional League in Bradenton back in September. Now he remains one of the youngest players in the Colombian league and he’s still doing a great job of getting on base.
I wanted to see what helped Acuna get to where he is at such a young age, so I went to Edgar Varela, who is the Latin American Hitting Coordinator for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Acuna is not big, listed at 5’7″, 150 pounds, although he has probably filled out a little from his signing weight. He looks a little stronger from the early pictures I’ve seen and he still has some room to fill out. Since he is a small shortstop, you’re probably not going to get a lot of power out of him, especially if you want him to be athletic enough to remain at shortstop.
For him to be valuable on offense, he’s going to need to get on base often and use his speed. There won’t be many homers, but he could use his speed to pick up extra bases on balls down the line and in the gap. Acuna does a great job of getting on base already, but an overly patient approach could work against him in the upper levels, where better pitchers will throw more strikes. That was one of the concerns we had about him, so I asked Varela about Acuna’s approach at the plate and what type of player he could be in the future.
“He understands how to manage an at-bat and is beyond his age in maturity and baseball instincts,” Varela said. “I think as he matures and gets even more experience he has a chance to be a solid overall player. I think he understands as well that he has to be exceptional in all areas which is why he has tremendous work ethic and baseball IQ. He has to be that guy. Has a ways to go but has the drive to be that.”
I talked to Varela about a few players from the DSL recently and the reports seemed pretty straight forward. No searching for positives, either the guy has it or not, which you see when he said Acuna “has a chance to be a solid overall player” and he “has a ways to go”. So you like to see those reports about the baseball IQ, instincts, maturity and work ethic. It also helps explain how he is holding his own this winter in a league where most players his age rarely leave the bench.
As a recent example from our coverage, Tito Polo saw his first real action in Colombia as a 20-year-old after his solid showing in the GCL, but really didn’t do much in the league until the following year when he already had Low-A experience. Acuna is matching the 2015-16 Polo, while at a key defensive spot and he’s 3 1/2 years younger at the same point. The experience of playing against older players, some of them with Double-A experience, can only help him at this point. The fact that he is holding his own in the league is quite impressive and gives you hope that he can soon be a future top 50 prospect in the system.
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.