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Pirates affiliate preview: GCL Pirates

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Most of the potential in the lower levels of the Pirates' system will reside in the GCL this summer.  That'll be doubly true (well, roughly) if they sign two or three more of their prep draftees.  Still unsigned are competitive round pick Nick Lodolo, a LHP, and three later round picks who figure to require above-slot money.  These are RHPs Max Kranick (11th round) and Austin Shields (33rd round) and third baseman Austin Bodrato (24th round).  The most likely outcome is the Pirates signing Lodolo and Kranick.  With less than $400,000 left in above-slot money (unless they can save some in signing Lodolo, whose slot as the 41st pick in the draft is $1,576,000), it's hard to see them signing more than two of the remaining prep players.  Any of the four would rank among the Pirates' top lower-level prospects, as do LHP Braeden Ogle (4th round) and RHP Travis MacGregor (2nd round), both of whom have signed.

This will be an important season for the Pirates' Latin American program as well.  While many teams are spending dramatically more on their top Latin American signings, the Pirates are spending progressively less, as they refuse to buck MLB's slotting system.  Possibly as a result, the Pirates' more significant Latin American signees have struggled the last few years.  Several of their more expensive (by the Pirates' very frugal standards) signees will be in the GCL, as will several possible sleeper prospects.

Catcher: Raul Hernandez, Mikell Granberry, Paul Brands.  Hernandez signed at a later-than-usual age, so he's 20 now.  He hit well in his debut season last year in the Dominican Summer League.  Granberry, who'll be 21 in August, hit well for two years in the DSL, but had significant defensive problems last year.  He may see a lot of time at first.  Brands is a 19-year-old from the Netherlands who had trouble making contact in a brief GCL debut last year.

Infield: Johan De Jesus, Melvin Jimenez, Victor Ngoepe, Nelson Jorge.

The team's infield looks like it'll be shorthanded to start the season due to a significant injury to Luis Perez.  The injury led the Pirates to bring De Jesus in from his originial assignment in the DSL.  He was one of the Pirates' more significant international signings in 2012, but he struggled for two years in the DSL and missed all of 2015 due to a PED suspension.  He'll probably be the third baseman.  Ngoepe, like his older brother Gift, is a defense-oriented shortstop who probably faces even more questions about his bat.  Jimenez was older than the norm when he signed before last season -- he'll be 21 in September -- but he was the DSL Pirates' best player in 2015.  He figures to be the starter at second.  Jorge, a middle infielder, has struggled badly through two seasons in the GCL and will return for a third.  I have to think first base will be covered primarily by the catchers.

Outfield: Yondry Contreras, Edison Lantigua, Felix Vinicio, Henrry Rosario, Luis Benitez.  The starting outfield most likely will be Contreras, Lantigua and Vinicio.  Contreras was the team's most expensive Latin American signee in 2014, then struggled in the DSL in 2015, with an alarming K rate.  He has good speed and defensive ability.  Lantigua was their most expensive signee in 2013.  He struggled in the GCL in 2015, possibly due to several injuries, including a thumb injury.  He's more of a corner outfielder.  Vinicio was not a prominent signee and he's 21 now, but he hit .301 in the DSL last year.  Rosario played for Bristol last year, so he's going in the wrong direction.  Benitez hasn't hit at all in two years in the GCL, and figures to be a backup.

Rotation: Braeden Ogle, Travis MacGregor, Brian Sousa, Domingo Robles, Miguel Hernandez.  This is a better guess about the rotation than I can usually make at this level.  It helps that Sousa and Hernandez have already started games.  Of course, the Pirates may piggyback some of their starters and limit them to 3-4 innings.  It's also likely that one or two out of Lodolo, Kranick and Shields will sign and join the rotation, which will almost certainly lead to some piggybacking.

Sousa and Robles were two of three pitchers (the other being Adonis Pichardo, who's still in the DSL) who were among the Pirates' most prominent Latin American signees (again, by the Pirates' very frugal standards) prior to last season.  Sousa's debut in the DSL last year was plagued by shoulder troubles, but judging by his strong start in the GCL team's opener this year, he seems to be healthy.  He's a righty who won't be 19 until August and who throws in the low-90s now.  Robles is a lefty who's more of a finesse guy at this point, but who's gotten into the low-90s at times.  Hernandez is a 6'5" righty who had a solid season last year in the DSL and who throws 93-94.

Ogle and MacGregor, of course, were drafted this month.  Ogle is a lefty who has gotten as high as 96 and whose secondary stuff shows promise, but whose command has a ways to go.  MacGregor started showing improved velocity this year, although he seems to have been overdrafted in round two.

Bullpen: Julian Villamar, Claudio Scotti, Argenis Romano, Francis Rodriguez, Oddy Nunez, Alex Martinez, Mister Luciano, Vince Deyzel, Ivan Cespedes, Ronny Agustin.

It's tough to say much about relievers at this level.  Most, maybe even all of these guys will disappear without getting to the middle levels of the system.  It's very rare for a pitcher who's working out of the bullpen at rookie level to turn into a prospect.

Of the players above, the most interesting from a baseball standpoint is Villamar, who's moving up from the DSL.  He throws in the mid-90s and has shown the ability to miss a lot of bats, while also missing the strike zone a lot.  Luciano and Martinez throw in the low-90s, maybe a little harder in Martinez' case.  Romano and Rodriguez throw less hard.  Cespedes spent two years recovering from Tommy John surgery and didn't pitch professionally until the GCL opener a few days ago.  Agustin and Nunez are lefties, neither of whom throws especially hard.

Deyzel and Scotti have more unusual backgrounds.  Deyzel is a white South African who's 18 and who's shown the potential for good velocity.  Scotti is a 6'4" righty from Italy, and that's all I know about him, except that he won't turn 18 until July.