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Pirates minor league preview: GCL Pirates

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The GCL Pirates will hold more interest than usual due to the team going for prep prospects with four early draft picks. The interest will mainly be in the outfield and on the mound. The prep pitchers may not get a whole lot of innings, though, depending on how the team feels about their workloads and the layoffs they’ve had since their scholastic seasons ended.

Catcher

The regular catcher will be Gabriel Brito. He showed a solid hit tool during two seasons in the DSL, both of which were abbreviated a bit by injuries. He isn’t likely to hit for power. It looks like the backup will be Manny Bejerano, whom the Pirates drafted in the 30th round this year out of junior college. Raul Hernandez is also on the roster, as he’s coming back from a hamstring problem, but he should move up to a higher level at some point.

Corner Infield

The GCL Pirates don’t really have a first or, possibly, third baseman. This isn’t remarkable. Far more prospects start off as up-the-middle players than end up there. In fact, when you see a guy playing first at the rookie level, it’s often an indication that he’s not a prospect. That being said, Mikell Granberry, who started out as a catcher and still caught five games last year, seems to be a first baseman now. He’s generally hit fairly well, but he’s repeating the level. Beyond that, it’s likely that various other players will see time at first. Same thing at third; all the infielders on the roster started off as middle infielders, but some of them will get time at third. The Pirates have assigned Jesse Medrano, a third baseman, to the GCL. Medrano, a college senior from Fresno State, was drafted in round 31. Assigning a college senior to the GCL is something the Pirates haven’t often done under the current front office, but if he stays there Medrano will probably be the primary third baseman.

Middle Infield

The top infield prospect in the GCL, and most likely the regular shortstop, should be Rodolfo Castro. The Pirates signed him as a glove-first prospect, but he showed a much better bat (while having some error issues) in the DSL last year. In fact, he’s been hitting cleanup so far this year. Victor Ngoepe, Gift’s brother, should see time at short as well, so Castro likely will play second some of the time. Like his brother, Victor has strong defensive skills, but his bat is probably even more suspect.

The remaining infielders are Francisco Mepris and Cristopher Perez. Both had solid seasons in the DSL last year, Mepris’ first there and Perez’ second. Of the two, Perez probably has more of a ceiling. They should fill in the remaining playing time at second and third. Both have seen some time at short, but I don’t think they’re likely to play the position much with Castro and Ngoepe on the team.

Outfield

The team is loaded with potential here. With 17th round Mason Martin expected to sign for an over-slot bonus next week, the Pirates will have five legitimate outfield prospects on the roster. The others, of course, are second rounder Cal Mitchell, competitive round pick Conner Uselton, and Dominican signees Jeremias Portorreal and Lolo Sanchez (pictured). Of the group, Sanchez is the speedster and will probably get most of the time in center, although Uselton could see some action there. The other three are strictly corner outfielders. Playing time could be somewhat of an issue, but there is the DH and Martin actually played mainly first in high school. The Pirates announced him as an outfielder, but he could see time at first. It’s also possible that the team could move Portorreal up to Bristol.

One factor that makes this outfield especially interesting is that all but Sanchez have power potential. That’s a commodity that’s not common in the system. Mitchell probably has the strongest hit tool, although Portorreal has been very hot since about a month into the 2016 season in the DSL when he made changes to his swing. Martin will have to overcome concerns about whether he’ll make enough contact. Overall, this should be one of the most interesting groups of players to watch in the entire organization.

Pitching

There’s no point in drawing a distinction between starters and relievers at this level. The Pirates will be more concerned about managing pitchers’ workloads, based on where they’re at with their work, health and other factors, than about specific roles.

The headliner, obviously, is the Pirates’ top pick, and the twelfth overall, Shane Baz. He’s had a lengthy layoff, but the Pirates will probably want to get a decent look at him to help them decide where to assign him next year. They haven’t sent a prep pitcher to West Virginia for his first full season since Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie (one of those worked out better than the other). Among all the prep pitchers the Pirates have drafted, Baz is the closest in talent to Taillon, so it’ll be interesting to see if he follows the same path.

Apart from Baz, the Pirates signed three other prep pitchers in the draft. They took Steve Jennings in round 2, Cody Bolton in round 6 and Jacob Webb in round 19. Jennings rated as roughly a top 50 pick in talent and might also be a candidate to reach West Virginia next year. Bolton and Webb were more projection picks. They’ll be getting acclimated pro ball and will head to Bristol next year as long as things go according to plan.

The GCL team will have two other prep pitching draftees as well. Austin Shields was a late-round draftee last year, signed after the Pirates were unable to sign second rounder Nick Lodolo. Shields is very raw and has struggled with the strike zone, which is why he’s opening in the GCL and not at Bristol. Nathan Trevillian was drafted back in 2015, but was unable to pitch that year or in 2016 due to an arm injury that eventually led to Tommy John surgery. He’ll try to get on the mound this year.

The rest of the GCL pitching staff will be largely comprised of pitchers up from the Dominican Summer League. The Pirates generally spend even less on pitching prospects on the international front than they do on position prospects, with the top bonuses usually around $150-200,000. None of the various products of the DSL who’ll be pitching in the GCL this year has established himself yet as a prospect, but several may have the potential still to do so.

Roger Santana is a lefty who put up good numbers last year in his second DSL season. That includes good strikeout and walk rates.
Leandro Pina was the DSL Pirates’ best pitcher last year; in fact, he started the DSL All-Star game. He only throws in the mid-80s, though, so he’ll need to fill out some and add velocity.
Yeudry Manzanillo got a six-figure bonus in 2015, but didn’t get good results last year. His K rate was extremely low.
Samuel Reyes, younger brother of infielder Pablo Reyes, wasn’t a prominent signee but he throws 94-95.
Adonis Pichardo reportedly hit 96 shortly after the Pirates signed him in 2014, but he works more in the low-90s and his results in two years in the GCL haven’t been very good.