Right after things shut down in March, we talked to infielder Stephen Alemais about his recovery from surgery for a torn labrum. He was injured early in the 2019 season and the recovery time was estimated to be 8-10 months. The Pirates brought him to Spring Training very early this year, arriving two weeks before most of the Major League players. When we talked to him in late March, Alemais said that his throwing strength felt like it was about 85-90% back, with some better days mixed in. He wasn’t at the Alternate Training Site in Altoona during the 2020 season, but he was putting in work non-stop since the shutdown, while also getting some good news about winter ball in the Dominican, which should lead to a full off-season of playing time.
After Spring Training was put on hold, Alemais went to Tampa to stay in shape for the season. Back then there was no idea how long things would be shut down, so players were staying ready to get back into action. When July rolled around and Alemais wasn’t included on the 60-man roster, it was a bit of a surprise. He last played on April 24, 2019, so it was already a long layoff between game action. He was also more advanced in the system than many of the infielders included on the Altoona training roster this year. The Pirates used a lot of the spaces on their Alternate Training Site roster for lower level prospects who they had no intention of using in the majors this year. That wasn’t necessarily a bad idea, but it did limit the amount of spots for players like Alemais, who were at the top of the system and could step in if they needed to use depth options.
Alemais remained in Tampa to continue his training during the season. He was at a facility with full fields and batting cages, so he could work on his hitting, take ground balls, continue to improve his arm strength, and just stay in game shape in case he was called upon to join Altoona during the season. Since he never stopped training, he will now be 100% ready to seize the opportunity to play every day in the Dominican this winter season. The league has a mini-camp that starts on the 23rd of this month, followed by full Spring Training on November 3rd, then the regular season starts on November 15th.
Things will be a bit different this year, with the regular season schedule limited to 30 games over 34 days, followed by a more traditional playoff set up, as opposed to the 16-game round robin style that the league normally uses. It’s a shortened season, but for Alemais, this will be his 2020 regular season.
During the 2018-19 winter in the Dominican, Alemais was on Estrellas de Oriente, where they had Fernando Tatis Jr at shortstop and a group of older players with some MLB experience in the infield. Alemais was limited to just two games that winter. This year, he will be with Leones del Escogido, who will be managed by former Pirates coach David Jauss, who has some familiarity with Alemais and was instrumental in bringing him to Escogido. Alemais told me that he’s happy about the trade because it opened up new opportunities for him.
He will get a chance to play his normal shortstop position, where his defense was well above average prior to his shoulder injury. He will also get time at second base, where he has 115 games of pro experience and played the position well from the start. There will also be playing time at third base, a position he has yet to play at any time, but he will begin learning once he gets to the training camp in the Dominican. That versatility will not only help him get playing time this winter, but it could help him next year and beyond with the Pirates.
With his arm strength at 100% now for quite some time, and the fact that he hasn’t played a game in 17+ months, Alemais is anxious to get back on the field and show what he can do. With two injuries and the 2020 shutdown during his career, the 25-year-old third round pick from 2016, has been limited to 249 minor league games in five seasons. This winter will be big for him.
“Winter spots are tough to come by this year and I just feel fortunate to get a chance to play,” Alemais said. “I feels like I’ve fallen under the radar a bit with all of this missed time, so it’s good to get back out there again. I’m hungry to showcase myself, show that I’m healthy, and I know the Pirates will be watching.”