Last offseason I did a 15 part preview of the Pirates upcoming seasons focusing on what I expected to see out of various positions at the major league levels, the minor levels, the coaching staff and the front office. The series went over fairly well with my readers so I have decided to bring it back for a second year. I’m not sure how many parts this year’s series will include but I will do my best to cover every key player I can think of.
Most of the intriguing prospects that play in the lower levels in a given year are drafted in that year’s draft but of course there are a few holdovers. I’m expecting the Pirates to send the most interesting of the possible holdover lot (Tyler Glasnow, Waytt Mathisen, Jin-De Jhang, Dilson Herrera, Max Moroff and Eric Wood) to A ball. That still leaves some interesting talent and that is what I will discuss here. However at these levels it is difficult to have actual expectations so instead I’ll just go over the interesting names to watch.
The two most interesting names that I currently have projected to play in the lower levels are Harold Ramirez and Elvis Escobar. Ramirez and Escobar were the Pirates big international signings in 2011 and made the aggressive jump to the states. Ramirez was hampered by injuries but returned later in the year and held his own. Escobar started the year in center field and while his numbers were not eye popping they were fairly impressive for it being his first professional season and playing at a that high a level. Both of them should start the year in short season ball and while things will be taken slowly with them we will hopefully see signs of growth. The next most interesting duo is the DeLaCruz brothers (not actual brothers they just share the same last name). Julio and Michael were the Pirates two big international signings from last year’s class. Neither is a guarantee to start the year in the states but early reports suggest the Pirates are at least considering it. Julio is a third baseman while Michael is an outfielder. It is difficult to say there are any expectations on them but a solid debut like Escobar had last season would be a welcomed sight. Another interesting group are the players moving up from the DSL. Daniel Arribas, Carlos Ozuna, Ulises Montilla, Maximo Rivera and Enyel Vallejo are the players that appear likely to move up. Of the group Arribas and Rivera stand out to me. The Pirates have been slowly turning Arribas into a catcher as he split time at catcher, 1st and 3rd base the last two seasons. He struggled in 2011, his first professional season but fared really well last season. Rivera was one of the Pirates big international signings in 2009 and was said to have good power potential. He didn’t show much his first two professional seasons but broke out last year aand although he didn’t show much power he had a very solid season. Three other names I’ll be keeping an eye on are Stetson Allie, Kevin Ross and Luis Urena. Allie isn’t much of a prospect as a hitter but due to name recognition he garners attention. Ross was drafted in the 8th round of last year’s draft but signed late and didn’t play much. Urena is another outfielder in the Willy Garcia mold. This may sound a little odd but he is a potential 2014 breakout candidate. What I mean by that is that he showed enough positives in 2012 that with a good performance this season he could put himself in a position to really step up next year. None of these players really have expectations at this point but the hope is a couple of them step up and take on the look of real prospects.
No one single pitcher really stands out in the lower levels but there are two trios I am going to be watching closely. One trio is a group of 2011 high school draftees who have all played very sparingly to this point and in which no one has stood out from the rest. They are Jason Creasy, Jake Burnette and Colten Brewer. I give a slight advantage to brewer as the most intriguing of the bunch but they all have to make some sort of statement this year if they are to be taken as real prospects. The other trio is a mix of last year’s drafted pitchers who for some reason or another received little playing time. They are Jonathan Sandfort, John Kuchno and Hayden Hurst. Sandfort was the Pirates 3rd round pick last season but pitched only 15 innings in rookie ball. Hurst and Kuchno pitched 0 and 5 innings respectively last year and while they weren’t high draft picks they were two players the Pirates opted to go overslot for when the Appel signing fell through. Of the three I’m currently highest on Sandfort but to be honest that is largely because I don’t know much about the other two yet. There are also a couple interesting arms coming up from the DSL this season with the two most intriguing to me being Cesilio Pimentel and Mervin Del Rosario. Both players posted good lines in the DSL last season but struck out very few hitters. Pimentel did have a large strikeout rate in 2011 though. Also in the lower levels is a semi-interesting group of relief prospects. The most interesting of the group to me is Bryton Trepagnier. Trepagnier saw his velocity increase last season and a rise in his strikeout rate. The Pirates have an interesting mix of prospects from the 2011 and 2012 drafts along with an assortment of international arms in the lower levels of the system. Some of these players are candidates to see time in A ball this year but for the most part they will be playing in rookie ball or short season ball and sharing the workload with the pitchers selected in this year’s draft. I don’t really see a breakout star in this group or even anyone I’m comfortable saying will have a solid season but there are a ton of interesting arms to keep an eye on so that increases the odds that someone here will emerge.
Low Level Pitchers – Interesting Non-Prospects
Yhonathan Herrand: Herrand is an interesting prospect. He has a great arm, reportedly even hitting 100 mph with his fastball. However he is erratic sometimes only throwing in the low 90s or even upper 80s and he has very little control of his pitches. His live arm is the only thing keeping his prospect status alive but with two years already spent at rookie ball his window is nearly closed.
Wei-Chung Wang: The Pirates signed Wang out of Taiwan for $350,000 in 2011 but a failed medical test (he had a torn ligament and required Tommy John surgery) caused the two sides to rework a deal at a much lower signing bonus. Wang has yet to pitch and I know virtually nothing about him but the fact the Pirates were giving him that kind of signing bonus means there has to be some potential there.
Jackson Lodge: Lodge is a left-handed international prospect who was signed out of Australia in late 2010. His pro debut was solid in 2011 and he showed significant improvement this past season improving everything but his K rate. He currently doesn’t have any great pitches and his velocity tops out in the mid 80s but Lodge just turned 19 early in October so there is still some potential with him.
Bryton Trepagnier: Trepagnier was drafted in the 41st round of the 2010 and had a modest debut in 2010 but struggled in 2011. Going into this season he looked like an organizational player but he showed vast improvement this season adding a few mph to his fastball (getting it to 92-93) and throwing a good slider. His strikeout rate improved and he showed better control. Trepagnier turned 21 late in the season so he is kind of old for the lower levels so he is going to have to have a good 2013 to stay a prospect but he looks to have some potential as a relief arm.
Andy Otamendi: Otamendi appears to be your typical finesse lefty but the Pirates brought him to the states after just one season in the VSL so they must see some potential in him. Otamendi had a solid year out of the bullpen in rookie ball this season and will only be 20 years old next season so he still has some potential.
Dovydas Neverauskas: The Pirates signed Neverauskas out of Lithuania in 2010. He has spent the last 3 seasons in rookie ball and hasn’t improved much so his prospect status is borderline at best right now. He did show some improvements in his command this season but it wasn’t a huge improvement. He has the benefit of being a hard thrower 95-96 and he is still young as he will only be 20 next season. The Pirates promoted to A- late this past season so they must see something in him.
Axel Diaz: I’m not really sure what to think of Diaz. The Pirates signed him out of the Dominican Republic in 2011 for an unreported signing bonus (which means it was small if it existed at all) and he pitched 1 inning in the DSL in 2011 but despite this the Pirates still brought him to the states and actually put him in the rotation. He is a little older than you would expect as next season he will be 21 but the way the Pirates are handling him suggests they think he is a prospect and he actually pitched respectably this season considering his lack of experience.