Minor League Preview: FCL Pirates Black

On to the Pirates Black.  This team is maybe a little older than the Gold team, but it has several key prospects.  Ages are in parentheses and left-handed pitchers have *.

Catcher

Luis Hernandez (20), Joe Jimenez (23), Jhan Polanco (20)

Again, there are no prominent signees among the backstops.  Hernandez is a very small catcher from Venezuela who was 18 when he signed.  He didn’t hit much in the DSL in 2019 and showed absolutely no power, but he did throw out over half the runners who tried to steal on him.  Polanco didn’t play much in his first DSL season, in 2018, then hit 252/386/367 the next year, with twice as many walks as strikeouts.  Jimenez signed as a non-drafted free agent out of college a year ago.  He made a two-game cameo in Altoona earlier this season and hit a home run, so hopefully the Pirates at least shelled out for a plane ticket to Florida.

Infield

Franrielis Bastardo (18), Juan Jerez (19), Francisco Quintero (20), Rayber Romero (19), Luis Tejeda (18)

The headliners here are Jerez and Tejeda.  They were big signings in 2018, with Tejeda getting $500,000 and Jerez $380,000.  Both are offense-oriented middle infielders, with Tejeda probably having more of a chance than Jerez to play short.  Jerez hit well in the DSL in 2019, including seven home runs (a lot in that league), but he also had strikeout problems.  Tejeda didn’t hit well and wasn’t in instructionals last fall.  Bastardo signed in 2018.  He hit only .204 in the DSL in 2019, but he showed some power and solid plate discipline, and he won’t turn 19 for another few weeks.  He played outfield in the DSL, but appears to be a first baseman now.  Another 2018 signee, Romero hit .314 in the DSL in 2019, with more walks than strikeouts and 14 steals.  Quintero, who’s from Panama, signed in 2019 at age 18.  He got into 20 games in the DSL that year and had an OPS of .800.  Both Romero and Quintero figure to play mostly at second and third.

Outfield

Angel Basabe (20), Carlos Canache (20), Solomon Maguire (18), Fleury Nova (20), Deion Walker (19), Jake Wright (23)

Probably the top guy to watch among the outfielders is Maguire.  Signed out of Australia for $594,000, he’s making his pro debut.  He’s a toolsy player who could potentially develop power, and who has the speed and arm to stay in center.  Beyond Maguire, this team will be looking for one or more outfielders to turn things around.  Basabe, Canache and Walker are all repeating the level.  Basabe was one of the Pirates’ top 2017 signings (the other, Juan Pie, was released some time ago, so that hasn’t been a good class).  He struggled in the GCL in 2019.  The Pirates signed Canache out of a Venezuelan prospect league at age 17 in 2018.  He went straight to the GCL in 2019 and hit about the same as Basabe there.  Both profile best as center fielders if they start to hit.  Walker was a late-round, above-slot draft signing in 2019.  He showed some power in the GCL that year, batting 270/329/459, although he didn’t get much playing time due to a logjam of outfielders.  I was hoping he’d earn a spot at Bradenton this season, but he hasn’t even played in the FCL team’s first two games.  Nova signed in late 2017 and struggled in the DSL in 2018, then hit.328 there in 2019, albeit with limited power.  Wright was one of several late-round college outfielders drafted in 2019 who played at Bristol.  The other two, Chase Murray and Jake Snider, got assigned to full-season teams after the season started, but Wright is in the FCL.

Pitcher

Christian Charle (21), Po-Yu Chen (19), Cristopher Cruz (18), Kelvin Disla (19), Ryan Harbin (19), Carlos Jimenez (18), Brennan Malone (20), Estalin Ortiz* (22), Luis Peralta* (20), Wilkin Ramos (20), Yoelvis Reyes* (21), Wander Romero (21), Angel Suero (21), Jake Sweeney* (21), Yunior Thibo (23)

The big names here are Malone, Chen and Cruz.  Of course, it’d be better if Malone wasn’t here.  After coming to the Pirates in the Starling Marte trade, he’s generally ranked somewhere around tenth in their system by most sources thanks to a mid-90s fastball that’s reached 99 and good breaking stuff.  He pitched briefly for Bradenton and didn’t look good, including velocity that was only in the low-90s.  He’s supposedly healthy, so hopefully the Pirates will find some answers.  Chen was the top prospect available in Taiwan and the Pirates’ top signing in 2019, at $1,000,000.  He’s advanced for a pitcher his age and features four solid pitches.  Cruz was the Pirates’ top 2019 signing until they signed Chen, as he got $850,000 to sign out of the Dominican.  The last anybody saw of him, he was throwing in the low-90s and was considered projectable.  He’ll be making his pro debut and still won’t turn 19 until January.

A few guys here are all about projection.  Harbin was a 17th-round prep pick in 2019 and got an above-slot bonus.  He was considered raw and had a difficult time in a brief GCL debut.  He’s repeating the level, but pitched very well in the opener.  The Pirates got Ramos from Oakland for Tanner Anderson.  He’s 6’5″ and thin, but has gotten up to 95 mph.  He was in the GCL in 2019 but didn’t pitch much due to elbow soreness.  Sweeney is a 6’7″ lefty who was drafted in the 36th round out of junior college in 2019.  He went to the GCL that year and was hard to hit, but he walked nearly a batter an inning and didn’t miss many bats.  He was only throwing in the upper-80s in the GCL, so the Pirates may be hoping he can find more velocity.

And then there are guys who already show good stuff but have control issues.  Ortiz is a 6’4″ lefty who reaches the mid-90s.  He seemed to make progress as a starter in the GCL in 2019, then opened this year at Bradenton.  In an inning and a third he walked five and allowed ten runs, so he’s in the FCL now.  Suero, who’s also 6’4″, signed back in 2016 but was delayed by some arm issues.  He has a track record of missing bats but also walking too many.  Charle, who signed in 2018, had control problems in the DSL that year, then missed the 2019 season due to a PED suspension.  He has a good change and had a very good US debut two days ago.

Jimenez and Disla, who signed out of the Dominican in 2018 and 2019, respectively, both had good debuts in the DSL in 2019.  Jimenez pitched as a starter and had a 2.54 ERA, with 45 strikeouts in 39 innings.  Disla pitched in relief and fanned 27 while walking only four in 23 innings.

The remaining pitchers are a little on the old side.  Peralta is a 5’11” lefty who signed in 2017.  He struggled in the DSL in 2018, then had a 2.01 ERA pitching both as a starter and reliever in 2019.  Reyes had a solid season as a starter in the DSL in 2018, then had just a decent season as a reliever at Bristol in 2019.  He’s another player who’s been forced to step down a level by the elimination of most of the short-season leagues.  Romero struggled as a reliever in the DSL in 2018, then got hurt and missed all of 2019.  Thibo signed in October 2019 at age 21 and is making his pro debut.  He throws 91-95.

Analysis

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