The Fall Instructional League began on Monday with players beginning to report to Pirate City in Bradenton, FL for the next month or so. The Pittsburgh Pirates will be playing Black & Gold games this year, meaning Pirates prospects vs Pirates prospects in more of a simulated game setting. They sent 66 players to league this year, not including players who are there rehabbing injuries. Below is a break down of the roster.
A majority of the roster comes from the 2019 draft. Of the 38 players signed out of the draft, 36 will take part in the games. That group includes first round pick Quinn Priester (pictured above) and 37th overall pick Sammy Siani. The only two missing are 9th round pick Ethan Paul and 33rd round pick Ernny Ordonez, and they are both there rehabbing from injuries. This group also includes the three non-drafted free agents signed this year, Matt Eardensohn, Orsen Josephina and Kaleb Foster. Here’s our draft tracker if you want to see the 36 draft names.
The remaining 27 players at instructs comes from two groups, either players who were in the U.S. this year, or players over from the two DSL Pirates affiliates. The lone exception is 18-year-old Taiwanese shortstop Tsung-Che Cheng, who has yet to make his pro debut. He signed in July and recently led his team to the U18 World Cup championship.
Here are the players (non-2019 draft picks) who played in the U.S. in 2019:
The big prospects here and Jack Herman and Santiago Florez, with both of them ranking among our top 30 prospects in our mid-season update from a month ago. Florez recently ranked second on our list of the top ten prospects for the 2019 Bristol Pirates. Herman will be featured on the Greensboro top ten, which will be posted early next week. You also have a pair of hard-throwing righties in Willy Basil (sits 95-96 MPH) and Xavier Concepcion (hits 100 MPH), a pair of infielders who were injured during the season (Kaiser and Kone), and two catchers who could use the extra defensive work.
John O’Reilly is an interesting addition. He was a non-drafted free agent, who pitched in Bristol last year, then finished this season in Altoona. He gave up just one earned run in his final 20 innings. I’m wondering if he might be the final Arizona Fall League player who hasn’t been announced yet for the Pirates. They have one “TBD” spot on the roster and it is listed as a pitcher. The other possibility is that he’s just in Bradenton to get more innings or work on a new pitch.
Domingo Gonzalez began the season in the DSL, dominated there, then moved up to the GCL to help out with innings. At the end of the GCL season, he got pushed to Morgantown and threw six shutout innings on three hits and eight strikeouts. For the season, he had a 2.09 ERA, an 0.91 WHIP and 84 strikeouts in 69 innings.
On the DSL side, you have a group of 14 that includes some of the top ten prospects for the DSL Pirates. We will release that full list at the end of our season recap/top ten series covering every affiliate. For now, I’ll give a summary of the players at the bottom.
Here are the 2019 DSL players:
This is a smaller group than usual and unlike most years, won’t be a great representation of the players expected to make the jump to the U.S. next year. All of them could make the jump, but the list of players who do will be much bigger. They have an extended Fall Instructional League in the Dominican so some of the better players not listed here will be there for two months. The first obvious question is where is Randy Romero? If you don’t know who he is, then the above list probably means nothing to you because he was named as the DSL MVP this year.
Romero is from Mexico, where he has both a summer and winter league team like most players from the country. Obviously he can’t play on the summer team while he’s with the Pirates, but he can play winter ball. Those teams have rosters of about 50 players each and they hold a Spring Training of sorts to see which of the younger players can make the team. Romero is with his winter league team now in that training camp trying to make the team. So he might be part of our winter league coverage this year, though there is a huge difference between the DSL and winter ball in Mexico, which is equal to Double-A ball, even in down years for talent.
As for the players who did go, the big name players are Alexander Mojica, Dariel Lopez, Juan Jerez, Deivis Nadal, Rodolfo Nolasco and Sergio Campana. Between them they took up more than 1/3 of the 2018-19 international bonus pool for the Pirates, which was split among 43 players total.
Third baseman Alexander Mojica led the league with a 1.048 OPS. He finished second in slugging and fourth in OBP. His 46 RBIs ranked ninth in the league, and his eight home runs placed him three behind the league leader.
Juan Jerez batted .272/.324/.469 in 60 games, with seven homers and led all Pirates with 49 RBIs. He split his time between shortstop and second base.
Sergio Campana was the top prospect going into the season, but missed some time early due to a minor injury that occurred at the end of Spring Training. He finished the season strong after a slow start, hitting .281/.362/.374 in 45 games, with six triples and 24 stolen bases in 29 attempts.
Dariel Lopez missed most of Spring Training this year recovering from Tommy John surgery. That didn’t slow him down during the season, other than limiting his games somewhat. Lopez hit .341/.404/.485 in 47 games, seeing most of his playing time at shortstop.
Deivis Nadal was described as a bit raw prior to the season and he’s not the biggest player, standing 5’11”, with a thin frame that currently holds about 150 pounds. So his numbers were a pleasant surprise. He hit .294/.394/.397 in 54 games, splitting his time between shortstop and second base.
Rodolfo Nolasco might be the most interesting player here because his stats don’t tell the entire story. He hit .302/.373/.472 in 54 games, which are great stats for a pitcher-friendly league. He was even better than the stats indicate though. Nolasco made more hard contact (based on exit velocity) than any player on the team. It resulted in some hard outs early in the season before hits started dropping in more often. He also had just 26 strikeouts in 225 plate appearances, so there was a lot of bad luck involved in him “only” finishing with an OPS that was 151 points over league average.
The pitching side has Wandi Montout, a July signing, who spent much of the spring/early summer in the U.S. while he waited until he could sign. Enmanuel Mejia absolutely dominated the DSL until his last two outings, with one of those being in the playoffs. Prior to those games, he allowed one run on six hits in 19.2 innings, with 35 strikeouts. Carlos Jimenez had a 2.54 ERA in ten starts, with 45 strikeouts in 39 innings, doing that while pitching half of the season as a 16-year-old. If you don’t know his story about signing, you can read it here. It’s not a happy one. Valentin Linarez had a 2.28 ERA, 55 strikeouts, a 1.03 WHIP and a .214 BAA in 55.1 innings over 12 starts. He’s a giant on the mound, listed at 6’5″, 225 pounds, but he’s a little bigger than that.
The catchers were all lower profile signings. Geovanny Planchart, a 17-year-old from Venezuela, posted an .839 OPS in 32 games and he threw out 42% of runners. Jhan Polanco was repeating the level, so his .753 OPS doesn’t really impress, other than the fact that he had a 30:16 BB/SO ratio in 43 games. Hernandez is small for a catcher, older and didn’t do much at the plate. He appears to be someone who is there to help with the catching because you need a lot of those players with 27 healthy pitchers and others there rehabbing.