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Surprises On Pirates' Minor League Spring Training Roster

As Charlie noted in a FanShot yesterday, Pirates Prospects obtained and posted a copy of the team's roster for minor league camp. One of the most interesting parts of the roster is the revelation of which DSL and VSL players will be coming to America, and as is often the case, there were a few unexpected decisions among this year's crop. I'm putting my thoughts below the cut, because this is properly geeky stuff, and may not be of much interest to the general public.

  • For me, the biggest surprise by far was the absence of Ulises Montilla. The 19-year-old showed a broad base of offensive skills in his first full season in the VSL, with his .364/.439/.506 batting line translating into the third-highest raw OPS in the league. Montilla showed good command of the strike zone, with nearly twice as many walks as strikeouts, and at a listed 5'11" and 170 lbs., he has realistic physical dimensions for either second base or center field, his two primary positions last year. Other than perhaps a little more over-the-fence power and some refinements to his baserunning technique (11/8 SB/CS), it's hard to see what he has to gain from another year abroad.
  • The omission of left-handed pitcher Martires Cadet was also somewhat unexpected. Cadet was the top starter on the Pirates' DSL team last year, with a 1.22 ERA in twelve games (ten starts). He has always been hard to hit (6.6 H/9 last year, 7.1 for his career), and he struck out more than a batter an inning last year (albeit at the cost of a corresponding increase in his walk rate). Listed at 6'2" and 170 lbs, Cadet seems large and physically robust enough to handle full-season ball, and even if the team doesn't see him as a starter going forward, left-handed relievers are always in demand. Cadet has one more year of summer league eligibility remaining, but he will be 21 this year, and how much better would he need to play this year for the team to bring him across the pond when he's another year older?

  • The DSL/VSL limit of four seasons per player places a rigid timetable on the development of players in those leagues. Neither first baseman Kelly Aponte nor right-handed pitcher Francisco Vilchez were listed on the camp roster, so the two would appear to be the most prominent players cut loose by the Pirates after exhausting their DSL/VSL eligibility. Last year, Aponte led the VSL Pirates in home runs, finished twelfth in the league in raw OPS, and showed significant improvement in his plate discipline, but his age and defensive limitations seem to have been obstacles too significant for him to overcome. Vilchez, a 6'0", 183 lb. Venezuelan who had spent time in the rotation for the last four years, started very slowly in the VSL in 2011 but picked up his game after being transferred to the DSL, an accomplishment made all the more impressive because the DSL is traditionally regarded as the more competitive of the two leagues. In seven games (six starts) for the DSL Pirates, he posted a 2.16 ERA and 0.96 WHIP, with a 36/8 K/BB in only 33 1/3 innings. His performances in prior seasons had also been relatively strong, and he had shown some groundball tendencies, but it appears that the organization didn't expect the numbers to translate into future success. In a certain light, tough cuts like these can be seen as a good thing, as the team is now attracting enough talent to be forced to make difficult decisions, unlike the DSL/VSL squads of the early '00s.

  • A few of the players the Pirates elected to promote were somewhat surprising to me as well. Right-handed reliever Aneudy Merejo tore through the DSL last summer, with a 1.80 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and 37 strikeouts in 35 innings. At only 5'10" and 155 lbs., though, he's very physically slight, and may have trouble staying healthy or maintaining his strength through the long grind of full season ball. Right handed swingman Luis Campos's numbers were much less impressive (5.26 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, more walks than strikeouts), but he pitched much better in 2010 and as John Dreker notes, his stats may have been skewed by both park factors and disproportionate distribution of opposing teams. It will be very interesting to see how both handle the jump in 2012.

While I may scratch my head over a few of these moves, the Pirates' player development staff knows more about these players than I do, and ultimately, I have to trust their decisions. Time will tell whether they chose well or poorly.