We plan to have an article dedicated to the international side each Sunday throughout the season. So until the Dominican Summer League begins play on June 2nd, we will look at recaps of the previous international signing classes and see where they currently stand.
Today we look at the progress of the 2011-12 signing class. If you missed it last week, we looked at the 2012-13 class, which needs to rely on the success of pitching prospect Dario Agrazal, if it’s going to have any value. The prior week it was the 2013-14 class, which has produced an MLB player already and more could be on the way. Before that was the 2014-15 class, which has a few pitching prospect and not much else. The week before was the 2015-16 class, which looks like it could have some solid prospects in the early stages. Prior to that, we went over the very early results from the 2016-17 class. We also looked at the 2017-18 signing class during the previous week.
All of those classes covered above were under the bonus pool system, so the Pirates were limited by MLB’s system as to what they could spend without receiving any penalties. The Pirates spent big during this signing period, both in total amount and their top bonus.
That top bonus was Harold Ramirez and his $1,050,000 figure wasn’t surpassed until the Pirates spent approximately $1.25M on South Korean shortstop Ji-Hwan Bae earlier this year. In a couple of those recent signing classes mentioned above, Ramirez would have taken up nearly 50% of their bonus pool.
As most of you know, Ramirez was traded to the Blue Jays in the Francisco Liriano deal that doesn’t look so bad anymore. Part of that reason is what happened during Ramirez’s first game with the Blue Jays when he blew out his knee and had season-ending surgery. His prospect status was falling before that point, but it was another in a long line of injuries for him and he didn’t recover well. He already lost a step prior to the injury, but now he’s an average at best runner. While you obviously don’t want to see someone get hurt, that injury ended up helping the Pirates save some face. Of course, it also probably doesn’t happen if he stayed with the Pirates and then we could be looking at a much different scenario with his career path.
The next highest bonus was still high by Pirate standards, with $570,000 going to Elvis Escobar. It was a somewhat surprising bonus considering that Escobar was announced at 5’7″ and about 150 pounds. He ended up really filling out his small frame, and right now is possibly the best conditioned athlete in the system. Unfortunately for the Pirates, he hasn’t developed as a hitter enough to be anything more than a possible cup of coffee player, if he even makes it.
Escobar doesn’t have the plate patience to hit for a high average or draw walks. He is also a marginal center field, better suited for the corner, where he has a cannon for an arm. Finally, speed was supposed to be a tool, but he has never learned to steal bases and doesn’t take the best outfield routes. He reaches free agency at the end of this season and it’s hard to picture him sticking around after this year.
Richard Mitchell signed out of Colombia for $170,000 and looked like a nice pickup. He never threw hard, topping out at 91 MPH, but he had control of a nice three-pitch mix and he loved to pitch inside, which helped him have success. He was traded to the Marlins in the Trevor Williams/Jim Benedict deal. He didn’t stay long with the Marlins, though it was his own choosing when he left the team for a better paying job to help support his family.
Two players from this class still remain in the system and have better chances than Elvis Escobar of sticking around. Infielder Pablo Reyes signed for $90,000 and Eduardo Vera was part of a group of three players signed out of Mexico in March of 2012 for $250,000 total. Reyes was highly regarded during his time in the DSL for his play, although it always came with the asterisk that he could easily get off of his game due to a bad at-bat. He had plenty of maturity issues over the years, but he seems to be past that stage at this point. He’s holding his own with Indianapolis, hoping to earn a 40-man roster spot this September, or after the season before he hits free agency. I’d give him a chance due to his versatility and tools, though I’m sure the Pirates want to see more from him in Triple-A first.
Vera pitched well in the DSL, though the scouting reports were never great. He had a tough debut in the GCL in 2014, then needed Tommy John surgery at the end of Spring Training in 2015, which cost him all of that year and most of 2016. Then seemingly out of nowhere, he added significantly to his velocity last year and became a prospect. He always had decent off-speed stuff and control, but he added 5-6 MPH to his pitches and his curve and changeup both improved. His velocity is down a tick this year and the curve isn’t as sharp, but that could come back along during the season. He has pitched well this year in Bradenton and should move up to Altoona so the Pirates could see what they have at a higher level, before making a decision with his pending free agency.
Tito Polo was signed for the bargain price of $25,000 and then was part of the Ivan Nova deal to the Yankees. He really broke out during the 2016 season before the trade, making the All-Star team while with West Virginia. He is currently with the White Sox organization in Double-A, although he’s on the DL right now.
Shortstop Carlos Ozuna was signed for $115,000 and made it up to Bristol before his 20th birthday, then he was released shortly after his 21st birthday. He put up a .581 OPS with Bristol in 2015 before that release.
Other players signed during this period include:
Miguel Rosario, best of this group, showed plenty of potential in 2016 with a deceptive delivery and plenty of action on his fastball. He couldn’t throw strikes last year and was released this spring.
Remy De Aza, put up poor stats on the mound for three years before being released. Played independent ball in the U.S. last year.
Francis Rodriguez, Made it to the GCL in 2016 after being injured during the entire 2015 season, but he was released despite strong stats. Didn’t throw hard and relied a lot on off-speed pitches.
Omar Basulto, soft-tossing lefty who put up solid stats, but never showed much promise as a prospect and was loaned back to his team in Mexico after the 2015 season.
Marcus Beltrez, lefty pitcher who put up strong stats in 2013, yet that still marked the end of his career.
Luylli Miranda, pitched three years in the DSL and did really well in 2014 before being released. Was already 22 years old by then.
Reggie Cerda, light-hitting catcher who never developed. Released after spending the entire 2015 season as a third-string GCL catcher, going 0-for-24 at the plate. Still plays independent ball.
Fredis Padilla, signed as part of a group of Colombian players. Put up solid stats for two years in the DSL and then got released.
Gustavo Barrios, also part of the Colombian group signing. Put up decent offensive stats over two season, but never made it out of the DSL and was released in 2013.
Jesus Ronco, same group as Barrios and Padilla. Never developed at all, though they kept him around for four seasons as a utility player in the DSL.
Luis Benitez, stuck around for awhile, but never made it above Bristol. Small player who lacked any real tools other than decent speed and a nice arm.
Steven De La Mota, struggled badly as a rookie in 2012, made huge strides in 2013 and was released anyway.
Dennis Hurtarte, first player Pirates ever signed out of Guatemala. He dealt with some injuries and struggled at times, occasionally showing potential, before being released after the 2013 season.
Angelo Del Castillo, also part of the group signing from Colombia. Put up average stats as a 20-year-old rookie outfielder in 2012 and was released after the season.
Julio Perez, signed in the group of three players with Eduardo Vera and was 21 years old at the time. Played well, but was loaned back to his Mexican team after one year. For future reference, players “loaned” back to their team in Mexico rarely (if ever) come back.
Out of 22 players signed, five are still playing. Five players total have reached at least Double-A, while Pablo Reyes is currently in Triple-A. The Pirates still have Reyes, Eduardo Vera and Elvis Escobar, but all three are upcoming free agents. Vera and Reyes at least look like they have outside shots of being added to the 40-man roster to keep them around, but they need to show more over the last 3 1/2 months of this season for that to happen.
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.