Minor League Preview: FCL Pirates Gold

The rookie-level season is finally under way.  The Pirates are fielding two teams at their complex in Pirate City in what used to be called the Gulf Coast League.  MLB is now calling it the Florida Complex League; no doubt the idea is to convince corporate America that the league’s naming rights must be for sale because nobody would seriously use a name like that if they meant to keep it.

The Pirates’ teams are the Pirates Gold and Pirates Black, which is a slight improvement over Pirates1 and Pirates2.  They’ll even be playing each other periodically, which would be great if Pirate City was open to the public, but it’s not right now.

The two rosters are a mix of several types of players.  There are some who’ve been in the system for 2-3 years who, in prior years, would have been at levels that don’t exist any more.  Others are making their pro debuts after sitting out the pandemic season.  Finally, there are a bunch of players from the Dominican Summer League (which of course didn’t operate last year) who are making their US debut.  There could be players joining the team after this year’s draft, but we’ll have to wait for that.

Today, the Pirates Gold.  Ages are in parentheses.

Catcher

Darwin Baez (20), Geovanny Planchart (19), Gustavo Polanco (24)

No big signings among the catchers; that’s a position that hasn’t gotten much attention from the Pirates on the international front until the last year or two.  If there’s a prospect here, it’s probably Planchart.  He hit .368 in the DSL in 2019, with 12 walks and nine strikeouts, but no power.  He’s bulked up since then, according to Eric Longenhagen.  Planchart also threw out 42% of base stealers, although the team’s other two catchers actually did a little better.  Baez signed back in 2018.  He spent two years in the DSL and had a .715 OPS in 2019.  He played more at first than behind the plate.  Polanco was with the Cubs for over six years.  The Pirates signed him after the Cubs released him and he figures to be an organizational catcher.

Infield

Tsung-Che Cheng (19), Claudio Finol (21), Norkis Marcos (20), Eliazer Montero (20), Deivis Nadal (19), Emilson Rosado (20), Cory Wood (24)

The players to watch here are Cheng and Nadal.  Cheng signed out of Taiwan for over $300,000.  His hit tool and advanced approach at the plate are his big selling points.  He also has very good speed and hopefully can stay at short.  Cheng may miss the first few days with an injury.  Nadal is a strong defender who signed for $185,000.  He was a skinny guy when he signed and still needs to get stronger, but he hit 291/390/392 in the DSL in 2019.  Rosado got a $135,000 bonus back in 2017.  He’s a big guy who has some power, but he hit only 227/306/359 in the GCL in 2019, and struck out in a third of his ABs.  Montero wasn’t a prominent signing, but hit reasonably well in a utility role in his DSL debut in 2019, with an OPS of .726.

The others figure to be organizational types.  The one with the best chance of becoming a prospect is Marcos.  He was playing more or less regularly for Bradenton until the FCL started play, seeing time all over the infield.  He’s a good defender, but has a lot of trouble making contact at the plate.  The Pirates acquired Finol in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft.  He’s already played briefly for both Greensboro and Bradenton this year.  Wood was a 19th round draft pick in 2019 and hit .233 in the New York-Penn League that year.

Most likely, Cheng and Nadal will share the bulk of the middle infield duties, with Montero maybe playing there some.  Rosado should get the most time at third and Marcos will no doubt play a lot.  The Pirates’ recent history at this level has been to play catchers at first.

Outfield

Jasiah Dixon (19), Jack Herman (21), Rodolfo Nolasco (19), Daniel Rivero (21), Randy Romero (21)

This is an odd mix.  Dixon and Herman have both been demoted, Dixon from Bradenton and Herman from Greensboro.  Both looked like good prospects after the 2019 season, but both have had serious problems making contact this year.  Dixon is a center fielder with elite speed, but had a very passive approach at the plate with the Marauders and was taking too many pitches over the plate.  Herman is a corner outfielder with a plus arm.  He showed good power in 2019 but fanned in half his ABs with Greensboro.  Rivero is also sort-of taking a step backward.  He went to Bristol after a strong 2018 season in the DSL and batted .270 with no power.  All three could certainly turn it around.

Nolasco and Romero are both coming off big seasons in the DSL in 2019.  Nolasco is a very strong guy, strictly a corner outfielder, who hits the ball very hard.  He put up a 302/373/472 line in 2019.  Romero is a small, speedy player who was the DSL MVP in 2019, his second year there.  He spent most of the season over .400 and finished at 376/418/495, with 36 steals in 37 tries.  He hasn’t gotten onto the prospect radar, probably due to doubts about his projection.

Pitcher

Brandan Bidois (20), Carlos Campos (20), Arlinthon De Dios (21), Joelvis Del Rosario (20), Bladimir Dotel (18), Blake Fellows (23), Darvin Garcia (22), Mario Garcia (22), Valentin Linarez (21), Andy Maldonado (18), Adrian Mendez (19), Dante Mendoza (22), Johan Montero (21), Listher Sosa (19)

It’s hard to know all that much about pitchers at this level at the best of times.  DSL stats aren’t all that meaningful, especially for pitchers.  Scouting reports can be quickly rendered meaningless as pitchers develop, adding velocity and/or secondary pitches, or on the other hand don’t develop.  And this isn’t the best of times, because few of these guys have pitched in a real game in nearly two years.  Distinctions between starter and reliever don’t mean much at this stage, either.

There are several older (for the level) guys here.  Maybe the most interesting is Fellows, who came in the Musgrove trade.  The Padres drafted him in the sixth round and he has yet to pitch as a pro.  He was thought to have more risk but more upside than your typical sixth round draft pick.  The Pirates said he was dealing with some minor issue and should start pitching soon, but that was a long time ago.  I suppose he could pitch briefly in the FCL and then move up, but his status is uncertain at this time.

Mendoza came in the trade with the Indians that included Jordan Luplow and Tahnaj Thomas.  He was in the rotation at Bristol in 2019 and struggled with control and gopher balls.  This assignment probably isn’t a step forward for him.  Mario Garcia signed out of Mexico back in 2017 and had very good numbers in the DSL, but struggled in the GCL in 2019, partly due to control problems.  He doesn’t have great stuff but the Pirates seem to like him.  Darvin Garcia signed at age 20 in 2019 and pitched briefly in the DSL in 2019.  He throws in the low-90s, or at least he did two years ago, and the Pirates hope he has some projection.

Of the younger pitchers, Maldonado signed for $170,000 back in 2018 as a projection guy (he’s 6’4″) who has reached 95 mph.  He pitched in the DSL in 2019 and had serious control problems, but the Pirates stuck with him through a dozen starts, so they must see some potential.  Maldonado got hit with a PED suspension that apparently was satisfied by him not pitching in 2020.  He’s probably one of the better guys to watch here.  Dotel is another projection guy; he’s gotten up to 94.  He signed last fall and made his pro debut yesterday.

Sosa signed for $150,000 in 2018 and pitched well in the DSL in 2019, with a 2.72 ERA, and good walk and K rates.  He could be among the guys to watch.  Bidois is a very athletic player from Australia who’ll be making his pro debut.  His velocity has reached 95.  Mendez, the only lefty on this roster, was the top pitcher the Pirates signed in 2018.  He struggled in the DSL in 2019.

The remaining pitchers have been in the system for a bit.  Linarez is a big guy, at least 6’5″, and spent two years in the DSL.  He was outstanding in 2019, with a 2.28 ERA, good control, and a strikeout per inning.  De Dios reached the GCL in 2019 and pitched decently in ten starts, but he’ll be returning to the level.  Campos signed in 2018 and spent two years in the DSL, with limited success.  Del Rosario signed in 2018 and pitched well in two DSL seasons, but at 5’11” he may not have much projection.  Montero signed late in 2018 and pitched in the DSL in 2019.  He put up solid numbers with a 2.57 ERA.

This is mostly guesswork on my part, but the best pitchers to follow closely on this roster could be Dotel, Sosa, Maldonado, and maybe Bidois, Linarez and Mendez.  Also Fellows if he actually pitches in the FCL.

Analysis

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