This should be an interesting season in the FCL. You’ll have to pay strict attention or you’ll miss your favorite prospect. The Pirates are fielding one team even though they have enough players for two, and the schedule is only 55 games. We will have a deeper look at how the Pirates are approaching development at this level in Friday’s article drop.
There tends to be a lot of mystery surrounding who’s in the FCL, or who may appear there at some point. By my count, the current roster lists 48 players. That includes Rayber Romero, who’s going to miss the season due to a PED suspension. It also includes several other players who are either rehabbing or hurt, as well as a few pitchers who’ve missed extended time.
It does not include a raft of players currently on Bradenton’s 60-day injured list; for some reason, most of the players with long-term injuries get stashed on the Marauders’ roster. Some of those players likely would be assigned to the FCL if they were healthy, while others probably would at least rehab in the FCL before being assigned to higher levels. Some of these players may be out for the season; getting info on all but the most high-profile is iffy at best. Here’s the Bradenton 60-day list:
Brandan Bidois, RHP
Drake Fellows, RHP
Mario Garcia, RHP
Drew Irvine, RHP
Jose Maldonado, RHP
Jhan Polanco, C
A.J. Graham, IF
Lonnie White, Jr., OF
The big name obviously is White. He’s out with a UCL injury that the Pirates initially called “mild soreness.” He went on the seven-day IL in mid-May and was transferred to the 60-day at the end of May, so he’s out until at least mid-July.
Anyway, here are the players who apparently are with the team. Who, if anybody, will play regularly, or who’ll even appear at all, is anybody’s guess.
The guy to watch here is Omar Alfonzo. He’s the son of Eliezer Alfonzo, a catcher who spent parts of six seasons in the majors. A left-handed hitter, Omar has some power potential and a good approach (he walked more than he struck out in the DSL last year). Showing he can stay behind the plate will be key for him. The other catchers are Geovanny Planchart, Luis Hernandez, and Rafael Escalante. Planchart looked like he could develop into a prospect coming into this season, but he struggled with Bradenton in April and May, and got demoted. Hernandez and Escalante probably figure as organizational catchers, although Escalante did reasonably well at the plate in his two years in the DSL and can play other positions.
The infield for the first FCL game is a place to start. From first to third, it was Alexander Mojica, Jesus Castillo, Javier Rivas and Jeral Toledo. Mojica is a familiar face. He got demoted from Bradenton in the wake of an 0-for-38 slide. He was already repeating Low Class A, so that’s not good. The other three are all athletic players who could stick at short, so obviously this should be a strong defensive infield when they’re all out there. Rivas was the most prominent signing, but he had severe problems at the plate in the DSL last year. At 6’3″, though, he’s a projectible player who should get stronger; if the Pirates didn’t see that happening, he’d probably be back in the DSL now. Toledo is a very slick defender and Castillo is solid as well. They’ve both shown solid on-base skills and good contact ability; and Toledo had 35 walks and 24 Ks last year. Like Rivas, they need to fill out a bit and get stronger, as they haven’t shown much power yet.
The team has two other first basemen, Ronny Sanchez and Franrielis Bastardo. They’ll have to contest with Mojica for playing time and could DH some. Sanchez spent two years in the DSL, with the lost pandemic season in between. He had a strong season last year, batting .327/.392/.443, although he rarely walked. We’ll have to see how much of that resulted from him being slightly on the old side for the level. Bastardo has power, but he’s repeating the FCL after batting .215 last year and putting up poor walk and K rates. Another corner player is Emilson Rosado, who missed all of last year due to injury. He’s shown a decent bat, but he’s 21 now and probably needs to play mostly at first base.
Finally, the FCL team has two prominent but struggling infield prospects. Luis Tejeda was one of the Pirates’ top signings in 2018-19. Initially a shortstop, he’s probably more of a second baseman. He profiles as a bat-first infielder and has some power potential, but he had trouble making contact both in the DSL in 2019 and last year in the FCL, so he’s repeating the level. And Maikol Escotto has been demoted from Greensboro, which probably tells you most of what you need to know. Escotto has power and also has the athleticism to stay at short, but his free-swinging ways led to a .119 batting average in May and June.
With White out, the big names here are Shalin Polanco, Enmanuel Terrero, and Braylon Bishop. Polanco was the Pirates’ top 2020-21 signing at $2.3M. He’s a very toolsy player who could stick in center and who has some power potential. He struggled badly for a couple months in the DSL last year, but hit well in the last month of the season. Terrero was a prominent signing in 2019, which of course means his debut didn’t happen until 2021. He’s a line-drive hitter who had just a decent DSL season, but he walked more than he struck out. With Polanco and Bishop around, he isn’t likely to be in center much. Bishop was a multi-sport prep star who signed above slot after going in the 14th round last year. He needs to work on making contact but has power potential and could break out now that he’s strictly playing baseball.
A couple other international outfielders are Solomon Maguire and Esmerlyn Valdez. Maguire got a big bonus out of Australia in early 2020, but thanks to the pandemic that year and injuries the next, he hasn’t played much yet. He has the speed for center. Valdez is a corner outfielder who’s a potential power hitter. He showed some of that in the DSL last year.
The FCL roster also has two outfielders who got above-slot bonuses after being taken in later rounds in 2019. Jasiah Dixon is possibly the fastest player in the organization, but struggled last year in Bradenton and got demoted to the FCL. Deion Walker hit well in the GCL in 2019, but after the pandemic season he went back to the level last year and didn’t hit much in limited playing time. He’s currently on the 7-day IL. Including 2020, this is the fourth season since the two were drafted and they’re still in rookie ball, so the path forward isn’t very clear.
The FCL Pirates currently have 25 pitchers on the roster and there’ll no doubt be others appear on rehab assignments. In addition to pitchers who are, or have been, hurt this year, this level inevitably has a handful of pitchers who’ve spent the first year or two, or even three, of their pro careers battling injuries. It’s seldom clear when or whether many of these pitchers will appear, but I’ll run through what we know.
The pitching staff consists overwhelmingly of international players, but maybe the two pitchers with the highest profile are 2021 prep draftees Bubba Chandler and Owen Kellington. Chandler has a lot of upside and was considered a bit raw, while also getting work as a designated hitter. This may be why Anthony Solometo is with Bradenton first. Kellington was drafted from a prep school in Vermont, which is about as close to the standard beaten baseball track as Paraguay. The fact that he’s gotten as much attention as he has is a testament to the upside.
There are several well regarded international pitching prospects making their stateside debuts. Jose Garces was probably the top mound prospect in the Pirates’ 2020-21 class. He has a good arm and lots of projection, but he’s quite raw, which isn’t surprising as he just turned 18. Hung-Leng Chang signed out of Taiwan for $500,000. At 20, he’s a little older than some of these guys. He throws five pitches and has reached 94 mph. Roelmy Garcia saw his velocity go from the low- to the upper-90s after he signed. He had extremely high walk and K rates last year in the DSL. He’s still 19. Antwone Kelly, who’s from Aruba, is another pitcher who added velocity after signing, mid-90s in his case. He’s 18. Joaquin Tejada is yet another teenager, not quite 19. He came in the Tyler Anderson trade. He has excellent stuff and fanned a ton of batters in the DSL last year, but — you guessed it — his control needs a lot of work.
One guy who hopefully won’t be in the FCL long is Owen Sharts. He seemed like a good pick in round 13, as a college pitcher out of Nevada, but he was recovering from Tommy John at the time, so the Pirates knew he’d be out until . . . well . . . about now. Another who’s on the roster and could move up is Daniel Rivero. Through last year, he was an outfielder with the best outfield arm in the system. He’s a pitcher now, and we’ll have an update on that move this week.
A couple pitchers are back even though they did well in the FCL last year. Bladimir Dotel had good numbers, although he ran into a few control meltdowns. He gets into the mid-90s and misses bats with his curve. Andy Maldonado had a 2.45 ERA and very high K rate, but sometimes struggled to throw strikes. He also had a PED suspension in the past.
There are some other international pitchers who’ve shown promise. Yoldin De La Paz is a lefty who doesn’t have eye-popping stuff, but he had a 2.03 ERA last year as a starter in the DSL. Luigi Hernandez got his velocity up to the mid-90s after signing and has a good change. His numbers were solid in the DSL last year, except he had a terrible ERA that probably involved some bad luck. Alessandro Ercolani signed out of San Marino and is still just 18. He pitched very well in his first few outings in the FCL last year, but struggled in his last few. Enmanuel De Los Santos put up good numbers in the GCL in 2019, but hasn’t pitched since due to injuries.
Several formerly prominent prospects are trying to get back on the prospect track. Cristopher Cruz had the largest bonus in the Pirates’ 2019-20 class until they signed Po-Yu Chen, but in the FCL last year he pitched about like you’d expect from a guy with a 6.44 ERA. Adrian Mendez had one of the top bonuses for a Pirates signing in 2018, but he’s struggled badly so far in the DSL and FCL. Ryan Harbin got an above-slot bonus as a 17th-round prep pick in the 2019 draft, but he’s had a rough time in two FCL seasons and is currently on the seven-day IL.
The Pirates picked up a couple of under-the-radar pitchers during the off-season. Nic Laio came from Texas in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft. He dominated in low-Class A in the first half of 2021, then had more trouble at high-Class A in the second half, although he still had a very high K rate. Lefty Mitchell Miller is making his debut in affiliated ball. He had 5.71 ERA in the newly independent Pioneer League last year, which is better than it looks because the league had a 6.98 ERA.
Finally, there are naturally a bunch of pitchers just trying to get established: Jorge Ramos, Yoelvis Reyes, Carlos Campos, Kelvin Disla, Miguel Diaz, Sebastian Rodriguez, and Raydel Velette.