In the last two weeks, we looked at the value the Pittsburgh Pirates got from players who went through their Dominican Summer League teams since 2006, then compared that value to the rest of the National League Central. Today I wanted to switch things up a bit, while sticking to the DSL theme.
This article is a look at the best hitters in the league from 2006 through 2016, to see how many of those players made the majors. I used the 2016 season as a cut-off because the players from the more recent years could still be coming up through the system at this point. I’ll look at the pitching side next week.
I decided to use to top 20 hitters each year according to OPS, using a cutoff of 100 plate appearances for a season. Baseball-Reference sorts the players out on their website, though they use a lower standard of playing time to qualify for leaders, so this doesn’t line up exactly to their list. The DSL seasons are around 70 games, so 100 plate appearances seems like a fair amount to use as the minimum. Some guys move up later in the year and I didn’t want to cut those type of players out of this process to see if success in the DSL is a good indicator of future success. As we found out in the last two weeks, just reaching the majors from this league is an accomplishment.
2006: This study started out with a surprise here, as you have to go all the way down to 31st place to find a big league player. That was Yamaico Navarro, who should be familiar to Pirates fans. The highest finish from the Pirates was 48th place for Fausto Mejia, who I don’t even remember.
2007: This is closer to what I expected, though the results from the players who made it are not that good. The top 20 hitters produced three big league players: Alexi Amarista, Luis Jimenez and Hector Sanchez. Those three players combined for -1.0 WAR. The highest finish for the Pirates was tenth place, for Victor Estanislao.
2008: The aforementioned Hector Sanchez was the second best hitter, while Audry Perez tied for 20th place. His big league career ended in 2014 with 0.0 WAR. Starling Marte was the best hitter for the Pirates, though he finished in 35th place in hitting.
2009: Jesus Aguilar, who finished in 20th place in OPS, was the only big league hitter from this year’s top 20. He has 5.1 WAR and is still active at 31 years old. The best Pirates hitter was Eric Avila, a decent prospect, who finished with the 26th best OPS. As a side note, he is one of my favorite success stories on defense. In one season I saw him go from being a field ornament at third base, to looking super mechanical on every play a month later, to looking like an above average fielder later that same year. I was told that a lot of work went into him and I could see the difference. Just a fun side story to share now because his name never comes up otherwise.
2010: This is the results I expected going into this, figuring four out of 20 would make it on average as my guess. As you’ll see below in the results, my guess was bad. You’ll recognize two names here. Alen Hanson and Erik Gonzalez finished 17th and 18th. You also had Jorge Bonifacio (seventh) and Hanser Alberto (14th) among the success stories. Alberto has 3.9 WAR. The rest, who are all still active, have -0.4 WAR combined. The Pirates best hitter was Samuel “Slammin’ Sammy” Gonzalez, who was quite a power hitting catcher for a time before injuries got him.
2011: Two players have made it here, Jeimer Candelario and Teoscar Hernandez. So far they are also the two best players, with 6.8 WAR for Candelario and 8.0 for Hernandez, but it gets better below. The Pirates leading hitter was Jesus Vasquez, who finished third. He was never a prospect of note in the system and didn’t make it far.
2012: Gabriel Guerrero and Johan Camargo have both made the majors. Guerrero was third in hitting with a 1.014 OPS. He had -0.1 WAR in 14 big league games and played indy ball in 2021. Camargo had 3.4 WAR in five seasons with the Atlanta Braves, though he had 4.5 WAR after two seasons. The Pirates best hitter was Maximo Rivera, who was a high upside hitter when signed, but this was his third year in the DSL.
2013: Domingo Leyba was the best hitter by 53 points, and he made the majors. He was joined in the top 20 by Miguel Gomez, who finished 15th. Leyba is active and has -1.0 WAR. Gomez has only played winter ball the last three years and he had -0.1 WAR. The Pirates best hitter was Carlos Munoz, a great contact hitter with very poor conditioning that really held him back, though he still plays.
2014: This year has the results you want to see, though only two players have made it, but it’s a strong two-player combo. Rafael Devers finished fourth and Victor Robles was 16th. The best Pirates hitter was Raul Siri, a solid all-around player, who signed a little older than most. Devers has 10.8 WAR so far early in his career and Robles was a top prospect, who hasn’t played well the last two years (-0.2 WAR each year), but he’s still 24 years old. He has 4.6 WAR.
2015: Two players so far have made it, Estevan Florial and Anderson Tejeda. Neither did well in the minors in 2021, but both have made the majors and were top 100 prospects for a time. They have 0.5 WAR between them. The Pirates top hitter was Huascar Fuentes, who was 23 at the time. Enough said.
2016: So far it’s just been Andres Gimenez, who is in the early stages of what could be a strong career. He has 1.9 WAR in his two partial seasons. The Pirates best hitter was Rudy Guzman, a five-tool player who could never get the proper documentation to come to the U.S.
Going by this group of 220 players who had strong seasons at the plate, just 9% (20 players) made it to the majors, and nine of those 20 players have either a negative WAR or 0.0 WAR. A little bit of math tells you that 5% of the best DSL hitters over this 11-year span contributed positive value at the big league level, or in other words, one player per year. It might go up a little with the latter groups still having some active minor league players, but those earlier years tell you that the odds of that happening are quite low.
I don’t know if this is a big enough sample size, but Baseball-Reference doesn’t go back before 2006, so this is what we have available, and it shows that DSL success isn’t a good indicator of big league success. To check every single team over those years would take forever, so I picked out the first year (2006) and checked all teams.
That year 20 out of 533 hitters in the league made it to the majors, which comes out to 3.75%. Based on one year (which isn’t a good sample size), you have a slightly better chance of getting a player with positive value out of the top 20 hitters, as you do of getting a big league player out of the entire league. The odds of getting a big league player (negative WAR or not) go up with DSL success according to these numbers (9% vs 3.75%), but when you look at the entire league, there are guys who are there just to fill out rosters, with zero chance of the majors. They skew the numbers a bit for the latter group.
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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.