Mid Level Hitters – Interesting Non-Prospects
Samuel Gonzalez: The Pirates signed Gonzalez as a catcher out of the Dominican Republic at the late age of 20 in 2009. He started late but moved up fairly quickly spending only two years in the DSL and then by passing rookie ball and playing the 2011 season at the A- level. Gonzalez had a very good season at the A- level and looked like he might be developing into a real prospect but he injured his shoulder late in the season and it continued bothering him into Spring Training. The shoulder injury prevented him from catching and forced him to 1B, a position his bat is not enough for. Not only that Gonzalez had a very poor showing this season which may be related to his shoulder injury. Gonzalez still has some work defensively behind the plate but has the tools to become a solid catching prospect. Hopefully he will be healthy enough to catch next season but with the talent the Pirates have recently added he might have trouble finding frequent playing time behind the plate.
Jodaneli Carvajal: Carvajal is one of many middle infielders the Pirates signed internationally in 2008 who are now in the states in the low-mid minors but all of them are struggling. To me it appears Carvajal is the last one left with any prospect possibilities. Carvajal is a good defensive player with plus speed but he is not a good hitter. He moved up to the states after just two years in the DSL and had a strong showing in rookie ball in 2011. This season Carvajal split time between the A- and A levels and was decent at the plate but really didn’t show too much progress with his bat. Carvajal will probably struggle to get consistent playing time next season but needs to take advantage of any opportunity he gets to keep his prospect window open.
Raul Fortunato: Fortunato was signed by the Pirates as an outfielder out of the Dominican Republic in 2009. His first two seasons in the DSL he had two very poor seasons and was looking like at best an organizational guy. However in 2011 he had a break out season which was topped by what I believe was a 30 something game hitting streak which got him some press with the Pittsburgh media. He moved up to the states this season and started at the A- level but unfortunately he got hurt early in the season and didn’t play again. Fortunato is a great base stealer and seems to be slowly developing good plate discipline but he has shown the tendency to strike out a good bit. He had a good chance to really establish himself this past season but unfortunately his injury prevented that. This upcoming season Fortunato will need a good season just to keep his prospect status alive.
Elias Diaz: Diaz was signed by the Pirates as a catcher out of Venezuela in 2008. He had a good pro debut in 2009 in the VSL and was promoted the following season to the states. Diaz has done very little since coming to the states though. He has been very poor with the bat and while showing improvements defensively still needs some work with that part of his game. The Pirates like most organizations have a bunch of catchers in the low to mid levels of the minor leagues but most of them profile as just organizational depth. At 22 it is a little early to say that is what Diaz is but right now unless he shows significant improvements with his bat that is likely where his career is headed.
DJ Crumlich: The Pirates drafted Crumlich, along with a couple other college middle infielders, in this past draft class. None of them really profile as much more than organizational players but Crumlich was the one who actually had the best debut. He played this past season at the A- level where he easily had the best season of any of the Pirates infielders at that level. Crumlich doesn’t profile to hit for much power and his speed and defense are probably about average so if he is going to go anywhere it will have to be with good contact skills and good plate discipline. He did show some decent plate discipline this past season and during his college years so there may be some hope there. Crumlich will probably play at either the A or A+ level next season, wherever he is needed, and will need to take advantage of his opportunities.
Taylor Lewis: Lewis was drafted by the Pirates in the 10th round of the 2011 draft. He is an outfielder and was rated the 5th best prospect in upper New England. He has good defense, speed and some power potential. Unfortunately he hasn’t shown much in his first two pro seasons. This past season wasn’t a bad showing for him but his numbers were only decent and he struck out way too much. Lewis went to a small college so the step up in play for him was probably bigger than for most players so he shouldn’t be given up on quite yet. At this point Lewis is a project but he seems to have a decent upside and there is still time for him to have that breakout season since he will play next season at 23 which isn’t that old for the middle levels.
Since I have already covered the Pirates top depth options and prospects at each position this piece and the corresponding pitcher one will focus on the overall state of each position in the minors and will focus on one under the radar player I have yet to discuss.
A lot of people view the Pirates minor league catching depth as a weak spot but I view as something stronger than that. The Pirates have a high end prospect in Sanchez and good depth guys in Fryer, Cabrera and Paulino. The rest of the catcher position will be handled by fringe prospects like Jonathan Schwind and organizational players like Kris Watts and Charlie Cutler. The most intriguing of the other minor league catchers is Samuel Gonzalez. Last season was Gonzalez’s first in the states and the Pirates pushed him aggressively to short season ball where he performed very well. Headed into this season the biggest question surrounding Gonzalez is likely his age as he is 23 years old and has not played in A ball yet. The Pirates could opt to push him to A+ but due to the catching backlog I expect him to go to A ball. Through his pro career Gonzalez has shown both good offensive and defensive skills but since he was playing at an advanced age in the lower levels this season is a big test for him. I’m honestly not sure what to expect from him but I think his age is playing against him so I would not expect too much.
The Pirates have an array of intriguing 1B prospects but they lack any true impact prospect. The lack of that impact player makes this a truly weak position for the Pirates but hopefully somebody will make a step forward this season. Outside of the players I have previously covered the Pirates first base position will be manned by fringe prospects like Calvin Anderson and Justin Howard. There is one other player though who is very intriguing and as far as prospect status is concerned does not rank to far behind the Pirates top three at this position. That player is Jose Osuna. Osuna made his state’s debut last season and absolutely dominated rookie ball; he was so effective that despite being 19 the Pirates very well may consider sending him to full season ball to start the season. Due to the lack of other options I do think the Pirates will try to have Osuna make that jump but my expectation is that it will take him some time to adjust and he will initially struggle but will rebound and finish with a respectable season.
For the most part second base is a position lacking true prospects because most of the better options move to 2nd from a position such as shortstop. However as I previously shown the Pirates have some decent prospects at second base and considering most true prospects will ultimately come from other positions, that is all an organization is probably looking for. Outside of Cunningham, Holt and Ngoepe the Pirates have two interesting guys in Adalberto Santos and Dan Gamache. Gamache was drafted last season and will be making the transition from 3rd base to second base this season. The more intriguing of the duo I mentioned, Santos is a combination 2B/OF and will should start the season in AA. If Cunningham is moved up to AA Santos will likely mainly play OF but if he is held back as I expect Santos will receive the majority of the playing time at 2B in AA.
Third base is probably the Pirates weakest position from a prospect position. I have already covered the semi intriguing guys in Navarro, Gonzalez and Avila but the Pirates will man the remaining openings with far less interesting guys like Jeremy Farrell and Yhonathan Barrios. Barrios is still young enough where there is a chance he could put things together but that is probably a long shot. On the flip side this season is likely Farrell’s last chance and in fact he may not even be able to find a regular spot in the minors. The only truly intriguing 3B prospect left (possibly even in the whole organization) is Dilson Herrera. Herrera received the second largest international signing bonus (behind only Heredia) from the Pirates in 2010 and played in the VSL last season. He performed well and will likely move up to the GCL this season. I believe by the time the season ends Dilson Herrera will be the Pirates top 3B prospect (unless a 3B is drafted early). This isn’t to say he will be a great prospect but he will be the best of a bad lot.
The Pirates are relatively weak at shortstop. The foursome of Mercer, Maggi, Hanson and Nunez I have already covered all have something interesting about them but outside of them the Pirates lack somebody who even has a skill set worth getting excited about. A second baseman I covered like Holt or Ngoepe may see time at shortstop this season but both of them project better long term as 2B. The Pirates will likely have any remaining opportunities at shortstop filled by organizational guys like Benji Gonzalez, Kelson Brown and Kirk Singer. It is really tough to find anybody to point here there is the duo of Jorge Bishop and Jodaneli Carvajal but neither of these players has shown anything defensively that makes one think they will remain at the position. Since I have to pick someone I’m going with Carvajal because he showed good speed and hot for a respectable average last season. If Hanson is pushed to A ball it is possible Carvajal will assume the shortstop job in short season ball. I really don’t expect much from him but hopefully he surprises me.
I have already covered 9 outfield prospects for the Pirates, even though one of them Exicardo Cayones has been since traded. Of the remaining prospects it is tough to find anyone who doesn’t like they are organizational depth or minor league filler. The most promising of the group in my mind is Candon Myles but with Cayones no longer in the system I went back and used Myles as my 9th prospect. The remaining lot includes guys like Quincy Latimore and Rogelios Noris who have huge power potential but lack any other tools. There are those who like Gregory Polanco, Rodarrick Jones and Taylor Lewis but in my opinion they are a year away from being considered for the ones to watch. Harold Ramirez and Elvis Escobar are probably the two most intriguing players I haven’t mentioned but these two were just signed last season and will likely spend multiple seasons in the DSL. I usually do not follow prospects until they reach the states so instead I am going to go with Daniel Grovatt. Grovatt put up strong numbers in A ball last season but was a touch old for the level. He doesn’t profile as much and since he was drafted out of college he probably needs to quickly show that he is for real so a good showing in A+ is probably necessary for him to be considered a legit prospect. He showed some good skills last season so I am actually expecting him to have a surprisingly good season this year.