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Pirates’ lower level breakout prospects: Hitters

Now the hitters. Again, this is just players at West Virginia and below, guys who didn’t look so good before this year but now look like they could go somewhere. It does not include guys just acquired this year. What we’re seeing this year is that, after about a five-year period in which the Pirates’ Latin American scouting was largely unproductive, they may be hitting a good stretch again.

Adrian Valerio, SS (West Virginia): The Pirates signed Valerio in 2013 for $400,000, which by their tight-fisted standards is a large bonus. He was reported at the time to have major league potential defensively, but a suspect bat. For three years he played true to form, advancing because of his defense but struggling to get his OPS above .600. This year he’s hitting with much more authority, putting up a 291/315/457 line as I write this. His previous best slugging average was .324 and he’s tripled his career HR total, so obviously he’s gotten significantly stronger. The big caveat is that he’s allergic to walks — he’s drawn just nine in over 260 plate appearances — as he’s always had a tendency to swing aggressively for the fences. As a legit shortstop, though, he won’t have to hit a ton, so at least there’s something to work with now.

Edison Lantigua, OF (Bristol): Lantigua was the Pirates’ second most significant signing on the international front the same year as Valerio. He profiled as a line drive hitter, which isn’t necessarily an easy way to succeed as a corner outfielder. After a good year in the DSL, he had an injury-plagued season in the GCL in 2015, then repeated the level in 2016. He’s now 20 and fairly experienced, so his numbers at Bristol deserve some caution. Still, he’s hitting the ball with a lot of authority now, with a 320/435/508 line, and he’s also tripled his career HR total despite missing some time with injuries. Another big caveat, though, is that he’s striking out in a third of his ABs, but at least he’s starting to show the bat the Pirates hoped they were getting. If there’s any chance that he’s for real, he’ll be at West Virginia next year.

Lolo Sanchez, OF (GCL Pirates): Formerly called Kevin, Lolo Sanchez (pictured) was the Pirates’ top international amateur signing in 2015, at $450,000. He profiles as a center field/leadoff type of player and, although he had very good walk and K rates, he didn’t hit the ball with any authority in the DSL in his first year in 2016. This year that’s changed significantly. After slugging just .275 last year, he’s now hitting 307/353/451, and he’s doing it with a very low K rate. He’s also showing much better base stealing skills, going 13-for-18 after stealing just four out of 12 tries last year. He should jump to West Virginia, which is going to have a serious logjam in the outfield.

Samuel Inoa, C (DSL Pirates): Inoa — and the next guy, Sherten Apostel — signed the same year as Sanchez. Inoa got $240,000, which was the third largest bonus the Pirates gave out. He’s a short, stocky catcher who projects to stay at the position. He hit very little his first year, with a .593 OPS, and didn’t catch a great deal, partly due to injuries and partly due to the presence of Gabriel Brito, another catching prospect. This year he’s got an OPS of .921, with the same number of walks as strikeouts. He’s cooled off some lately, possibly in part due to a recurring hand injury that’s kept him out the last couple weeks.

Sherten Apostel, 3B (DSL Pirates): Apostel signed for $200,000, the Pirates’ fourth largest international bonus in 2015. He’s arguably the most exciting player on this list. He got only limited playing time in 2016, just 21 games, and put up an OPS of just .583 and an alarming K rate. This year has been a different story, as his OPS has been well over .900 and roughly half his hits have gone for extra bases. As I write, he’s tied for the DSL lead in HRs. He’s also cut his K rate by over 30%. The biggest problem he’s had to deal with is that he’s being pitched around more and more. I don’t know anything about his defense. He’s a big guy for third at 6’4” and has a lot of errors, but the errors are typical at this stage. Some teams preferred him as a pitcher, so he at least has the arm to play third. I have to think the Pirates will skip him over the GCL next year, maybe sending him to Morgantown.