An Early Look at the Pirates 2020-21 International Signing Class

The international signing period started on January 15th this year, but the players signed that day were the players who would have normally been eligible to sign between July 2nd and August 31st in 2020.  Anyone who turns 16 from July 3rd through August 31st has to wait until their birthday to sign. The 2020 baseball season was interrupted and the signing period was pushed back to this January 15th, though the eligible class of players didn’t change.

The Pirates signed 15 players on the first day, with a group of four other players who agreed to deals already, but couldn’t officially sign right away. They all had to wait until they could get into the Pirates Dominican Academy, and they were delayed due to travel restrictions at the time. Here are the scouting reports on the first 15 players, along with photos from the signing day. Here are the scouting reports on the other four players, who would all technically be classified as first-day signings, but they all signed a little over three months later. The Pirates spent a huge portion of their $5,899,600 bonus pool on day one players, with a large majority of that small remaining pool money going to pitcher Alessandro Ercolani out of San Marino. Kevison Hernandez was signed in mid-April, then the Pirates added catcher Jhossmel Zue and pitcher Juan Amarante in July. That’s the entire 23-player class so far this year. The pool is a hard cap this year with no trading of international pool space allowed, so that eliminated any potential late additions like the Pirates had during the 2019-20 period when they made five separate trades for extra money.

Below is a quick look at the early starts of the first 21 players signed by the Pirates during the 2020-21 signing period. The last two aren’t mentioned below because neither has debuted yet. All of the asterisks apply here due to missed training time last year, late start to the season this year, and a small sample size of games played. Good or bad, they’re all young kids early in their career and this is just an update, while also putting this group together in one article so you can see the entire signing class. I’m just posting them in the same order you can find them in the links above.

Shalin Polanco – The big signing from this class is off to a very slow start. He received a $2.3 M bonus, nearly 40% of the entire bonus pool. He’s hitting .153/.247/.258 in 22 games, with 24 strikeouts in 72 at-bats. He has two homers and he’s 4-for-4 in steals if you’re looking for positives from the 17-year-old.

Esmerlyn Valdez – Corner outfielder with huge raw power, he is hitting .258/.347/.394 in 22 games, with six doubles and a homer.

Miguel Sosa – Toolsy, raw catcher with power potential, he’s batting .292/.419/.375 in 13 games, though he has just 31 plate appearances.

Darlin Diaz – Top pitcher signing from this class by bonus, but he wasn’t considered to be the best pitcher signed on day one. He’s off to a poor start, with a 7.11 ERA in 12.2 innings, with 11 strikeouts and a 1.74 WHIP.

Eddy Rodriguez – Considered to be a poor man’s Esmerlyn Valdez, he is hitting .237/.348/.342 in 15 games.

John Zorrilla – He got the second biggest bonus on day one and he was considered to be the second best prospect in this group behind Polanco. He has played in 11 games this year, yet he has batted just twice. He had a shoulder injury shortly before the season started, so he’s basically in rehab mode still, but there’s no lower level to rehab at, so he’s seeing minimal game action.

Jose Garces – Was considered to be the most advanced of the first day pitchers, with room for more upside. He has seen limited use as a starter despite average results, with a 4.38 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP in 12.1 innings over five starts and a relief appearance.

Rubel Lebron – He’s a bit raw, but very athletic with legit 80 grade speed. So far he isn’t getting on base enough to use that speed, hitting .143/.250/.143 in 28 at-bats over 12 games.

Rodolfo De La Cruz – Solid all-around center fielder, he’s off to a very slow start, hitting .149/.333/.191, showing a good walk rate, but a very high strikeout rate (40%).

Luigi Hernandez – A rare U.S. born player on the international side, he’s a potential future starter. He has a 4.86 ERA in 16.2 innings, with 24 strikeouts and a 1.14 WHIP.

Andres Sierra – He has pitched just five innings over four games, partially due to his 2.80 WHIP. He wasn’t one of the higher profile pitchers signed.

Antwone Kelly – Signed out of Aruba, he was a bit raw and behind everyone else when signed, but he’s been decent since a very rough start on Opening Day, which has skewed his stats. He has a 6.59 ERA in 13.2 innings, with 13 strikeouts and a 1.83 WHIP.

Jesus Clode – He signed at 19 as a late bloomer, who started hitting 94+ MPH well after he was first eligible to sign. In 11 innings, he has a 7.36 ERA and a 1.64 WHIP, with 11 strikeouts.

Ruben Vizcaya – Toolsy outfielder with lots of upside, he’s hitting .262/.467/.310 in 19 games, with 15 walks and three steals.

Wesley Zapata – Wiry athletic infielder with plenty of room to fill out, he’s batting .107/.286/.107 in 22 games. He was expected to be a bit over-matched at first, but it’s been a bit extreme. He’s playing daily because the upside is there.

Gustavo Armas – He’s an outfielder who has potential for four plus tools, to go along with 50 grade speed. There’s a lot to like here and he’s hitting .231/.398/.307 in 24 games, with 17 walks.

Jonathan Salazar – He’s got a big frame, with potential for two plus pitches in his fastball and curve. Highly regarded signing who has a 1.74 ERA in 10.1 relief innings, though that comes with nine walks.

Andres Silvera – raw pitcher with plenty of projection and the makings of a nice three-pitch mix. He has a 4.50 ERA in 16 innings, with ten strikeouts and a 1.25 WHIP.

Greiber Mendez – Another raw pitcher with projection, including a lot of room to fill out. He has yet to see game action.

Kevison Hernandez – Another late bloomer (he’s 19 years old), so far he has made three starts, posting a 4.05 ERA in 6.2 innings, with ten strikeouts and a 1.35 WHIP.

Alessandro Ercolani – The only player here who went right to the U.S., and he’s showing why in his stats. He has an 0.90 ERA in ten innings, with 14 strikeouts and an 0.60 WHIP for the FCL Pirates.

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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