GCL Top Ten Prospects: A Group Led by Two Prep Pitchers and the Top International Signing

We posted the season recap for the GCL Pirates yesterday, covering the season for the team and mentioning 19 players of note. Today we look at the top ten prospects in detail. Usually we use a limit of 20 innings pitched and 70 plate appearances to qualify for the GCL top ten, but the team played a shorter schedule this year, so we lowered the standards. Anyone who saw more than a few pitching appearances and 50 plate appearances was eligible for this list.

We already posted a season recap for the DSL Pirates, as well as a top ten list. The rest of the affiliates will all get a season recap article and a top ten prospects article over the next six weeks. Starting today with the GCL article, these rankings are based off of our 2018 mid-season prospect guide. Our list from that book was actually figured out for the top 61 spots and some of those extra players have moved into the top 50 now. Anyone who didn’t make that top 61, was voted on prior to writing this article. That would be spots 5-10 on this list now. You will see numbers next to the first four players. That’s their current ranking on our top 50 prospects list.

GCL Pirates Top Ten

1. Braxton Ashcraft, RHP – (#15) The Pirates drafted the 18-year-old right-hander with the 51st overall pick this year and gave him a $1,825,000 bonus to keep him from going to Baylor. He rose up the draft charts late due to a spike in his velocity, hitting 95 MPH at times. With an athletic 6’5″, 195 pound frame, there could be even more in there once he starts to fill out. We saw him twice this spring and he was topping out at 92 MPH in the first game and 93 MPH in the second. In that second contest, he had a fastball heavy approach, mixing in the occasional 78-80 MPH curve and a few 83-84 MPH changeups. In his five GCL appearances, he had a 4.58 ERA in 17.2 innings, with 12 strikeouts, a 1.67 GO/AO ratio and a 1.19 WHIP. He showed solid control, with some nice movement on his fastball. The Pirates usually send prep pitchers to Bristol in their first full season, though they did break from that tradition this year with Cody Bolton. So it’s possible that if Ashcraft puts together a nice showing in March and the early part of Extended Spring Training, that we see him go to West Virginia during the season.

2. Ji-Hwan Bae, SS – (#20) The Pirates signed Bae in March for a $1.25 M bonus, which is the highest international bonus that they have given out since Luis Heredia set the high mark in 2010. That makes Bae their highest bonus international amateur position player ever. Like another player on this list, Bae originally signed with the Atlanta Braves, but when they got in trouble for trying to cheat the bonus system, MLB made him a free agent. He received a seven-figure bonus due to the tools that were on display this year in the GCL. He hit .271/.362/.349 in 35 games, with 16 strikeouts in 152 plate appearances. Bae went 10-for-14 in steals and committed 15 errors for an .882 fielding percentage, which is a bit deceiving. He has the ability to stay at shortstop due to his range, quick hands and feet and an arm that rates at least average, though he gets throws off fast, so it plays up a bit. He’s a line drive hitter, who has a good eye at the plate and ability to make a lot of solid contact. He has plus speed and stolen bases should be a big part of his game. Bae also has a 6’1″ frame with room to fill out, so we should see some added power in the future. He fits the mold of players who make the jump to full-season ball from the GCL, so I could see him at West Virginia in 2019.

3. Michael Burrows, RHP – (#36) Burrows was the 11th round pick this year and the Pirates gave him a $500,000 bonus to sign, using up almost all of their over-slot money from the draft after the top ten round picks were signed. He signed a little late, so he was only able to get in four appearances, but they were extremely impressive. The 18-year-old, 6’2″, 185 pound right-hander, threw 14 innings without an earned run. Burrows gave up just six hits and at one point he had a string of 9.1 no-hit innings that started after an infield single to second base and ended two games later on a bunt hit. He was sitting 88-92 MPH when we saw him, showing excellent fastball control, a 77-80 MPH curve that looks like it has plus potential and an 85 MPH changeup that he didn’t use often. Burrows came to the Pirates with a fairly strong scouting report and looked better than advertised. The bonus demands kept him out of the top ten rounds, which was why he was available on day three of the draft. What I said above about Ashcraft and 2019 Bristol/West Virginia, would also apply here, especially with Burrows looking a little more polished right now.

4. Jean Eusebio, OF – (#41) Eusebio put up a .236/.281/.349 slash line in 31 games this season as one of the youngest players in the league. That’s a big jump in average, a big drop in OBP, and a major jump in slugging over last year in the DSL. While he showed more power, he wasn’t drawing the walks we saw last year. Part of that came from being more aggressive with pitches in the zone. Last year, he would wait for the perfect pitch, which led to a lot of walks and strikeouts. Despite going 4-for-8 in steals, he has above average speed, which gives him excellent range in the outfield, to go along with a strong arm. At 6’1″, 170 pounds, he has room to fill out, and the tools are there for him to be a true five-tool player. Eusebio will be playing this fall in the Dominican Instructional League, which isn’t a bad spot for him because they play a bigger schedule than the U.S. fall league and it lasts a month longer. That will help him get some extra playing time, even though the league doesn’t have the same level of competition. He will likely end up at Bristol next year, with a chance to move to full-season ball in 2020 when he will still be 19 years old for almost the entire season.

5. Jack Herman, OF – Herman was drafted out of high school in New Jersey in the 30th round and signed right away for a $50,000 bonus, plus money for college if things don’t work out in pro ball. That’s a very low bonus for a prep player, as they usually receive at least the slot amount ($125,000) after the tenth round. Herman wanted to play pro ball now because he missed time while injured during his junior season, so he signed right away and then went to the GCL and tore the league up. He finished with a .340/.435/.489 slash line in 37 games, giving him the third best average in the league and the fifth highest OPS. Herman had 14 extra-base hits and nearly as many walks (23) as strikeouts (24). The Pirates also showed some confidence in his defense, playing the 18-year-old in center field for 15 starts. He other 22 starts came in right field and he had a total of 72 chances in the outfield without an error. Herman has decent size at 6’0″, 190 pounds and appears to be an athletic player, though stolen bases weren’t part of his game. I can’t rule out a jump to West Virginia next year because of the success he had, but it’s possible he will play in a short-season league in 2019. His spring will be a big factor in that decision.

6. Santiago Florez , RHP – Florez was all about potential coming into this season. As a 6’5″, 222 pound starting pitcher who turned 18 back in May, he was already known to hit 92 MPH with a sinker that was tough for batters to square up. When he threw strikes in the DSL last year, he dominated, but most times he was hurt by his own poor control. The Pirates really liked him though, giving him a $150,000 bonus to sign out of Colombia in 2016, and sending him to the U.S. this year when he didn’t look ready for the jump. The control is still an issue, but he showed great improvements in that area. Florez went from 6.4 BB/9IP last year, to 4.8 this season. That is while facing hitters in the GCL, who tend to be more patient as a group than DSL hitters. His most impressive improvement this season was his velocity. He was hitting 96 MPH in starts, doing it enough that it’s part of his velocity range and not just a number he occasionally touches. So you have a huge pitcher, who will still be 18 years old when 2019 opens. He hits 96 MPH in starts and has shown improved command. There is potential, albeit far off now, for him to be the best player on the list.

7. Samuel Inoa, C – If Inoa could stay healthy, then he would be higher on this list. He’s been injured for the better part of the last two years, missing chunks of playing time five times during the last two seasons. A large part of his missed time this year was during Extended Spring Training, so that gets lost in the stats. He was also injured during spring last year, which again doesn’t show up on the stats, so those numbers don’t tell the whole story. When he is able to stay on the field, he has shown the ability to be a hitting prospect, who also improved a lot behind the plate last year. Inoa posted a .921 OPS last year and an .829 OPS this season, both in leagues that favor pitchers. Due to a hamstring issue during the season, he was only able to catch five games this year, and he really didn’t do a lot of catching during the spring either. It’s tough to say where he could end up next year, especially if he continues to have trouble staying healthy. The bat could probably play up at West Virginia, and there isn’t a large group competing for catching spots there, though fifth round pick Grant Koch will like be the favorite to start.

8. Pat Dorrian, 3B – The Pirates signed Dorrian shortly after the 2018 draft concluded as a non-drafted free agent. He actually wasn’t draft-eligible because he signed out of high school in 2014 as the 12th round pick of the Atlanta Braves. Back then he decided shortly after signing that he wasn’t ready for pro ball and went to college. He also wasn’t Division I eligible since he signed, so he played at a smaller baseball school at Lynn University, where he put up huge numbers at the plate. Dorrian was a middle infielder in college, but the Pirates played him at third base and there were some growing pains while he got used to the position. However, he immediately adapted to pro ball at the plate, hitting well from day one. He was one of the top hitters in the GCL, then moved up to Bristol to end the season. Dorrian finished with a .971 OPS in 49 games, showing a good eye at the plate and aggressiveness with pitches in the zone. He also showed the ability to drive the ball, finishing with 22 extra-base hits. There’s a possibility that he opens up 2019 in West Virginia. His strong hitting and ability to play three infield spots could allow him to make the jump to full-season ball.

9. Noe Toribio, RHP – When the Pirates signed the 6’2″ Toribio shortly before his 17th birthday in 2016, he received a $100,000 bonus. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but the Pirates usually focus on hitters on the international side, so it made him one of their higher priced pitcher signings that year. There were soon reports that he hit 97 MPH, but once we started getting our own reports, we found that he was sitting 91-92 MPH as a starter. That’s not bad considering his age, but a huge difference from upper 90s stuff. The best part about his reports from the DSL last year was that he held his velocity late in games, which is rare for someone his age. They also spoke highly of his two off-speed pitches, showing a nice curve and changeup. That three-pitch mix hasn’t yet translated into strong results, but at this level with young pitchers, you’re looking more at their repertoire and potential, rather than results. He is likely going to pitch at Bristol next year and I expect him to stay in the starting role for now.

10. Brad Case, RHP – You don’t often see a college starting pitcher, who was a mid-round draft pick, begin their career in the GCL. The Pirates gave the 21-year-old Case a $100,000 bonus to sign out of Rollins College. He went to the GCL because the Pirates made a mechanical adjustment with him to help get more velocity and improve his slider. There is usually a hands off approach with draft picks when they first enter the system, so this was a special case. The GCL placement allowed him to work against easier hitters while he got used to the adjustment. They wanted him to get his innings in, while also working on something new. With two weeks left in the season, the Pirates sent the 6’6″, right-hander to Bristol for two starts, then moved him up to Morgantown for his final outing. He gave up one run over five innings in that last game, finishing out a season in which he threw 54.2 innings after the draft. Case has great size and excellent control of a five-pitch mix, relying mainly on a fastball that touches 94 MPH, and a low-80s slider. He also has a two-seam fastball, a cutter and a changeup.

Other Notables: Most of our top ten lists have some big differences once you get near the end, so the final spots in the top ten aren’t much different than the guys who would rank 11-14. Between the people who voted on the final six spots, only eight names total were mentioned, so we are including the two extra here. Left-handed pitcher Randy Jimenez got one ninth place vote due to the potential of his two best pitches, as well as the progress he made with his control. He throws a low-90s cutter and a low-90s sinker, both with a ton of movement. When he can control that movement, he’s nearly impossible to square up. Francisco Acuna also got a ninth place vote. The 18-year-old middle infielder has an advanced approach at the plate, solid defense and above average speed. He should be a player to follow this winter in Colombia, where he had a starting shortstop job in a league that has many players with experience above Low-A ball.