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Bucco Breakfast: Reviewing the Pirates’ international signings, part 1

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Pittsburgh Pirates v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

It’s pretty common to find summaries, or grades, for teams’ draft classes, but for some reason I never see that for international signing classes. Maybe it’s because there’s no source that simply lists each team’s signing class, while there are quite a few for the draft.

I thought I’d provide a quick rundown here of the Pirates’ international signing classes since Neil Huntington became general manager. It gets a lot easier around 2012, when PiratesProspects.com started doing an international signing tracker. In Part 1, I’m covering the signing classes through 2011-12. Keep in mind throughout, especially the early years, that I’ve probably missed a player or two.

I’m only doing a very brief summary for the more significant signings. By “significant,” I mean guys who signed what, by Pirate standards, were significant bonuses. That’s basically six figures in the early years, increasing with inflation to about $150-200,000 more recently. I’m also including smaller-bonus players who turned into real prospects. That obviously excludes a large number of players who signed for modest bonuses and went nowhere, as well as maybe a few for whom I can’t get any bonus information. It’s not unlikely that I missed a player or two, especially in the years prior to the P2 tracker. I’m covering only international amateur signings, which eliminates . . . well, just Jung Ho Kang.

2007-08

Ramon Cabrera, C (N/A) – Traded to Detroit for Andy Oliver, later reacquired then lost on waivers; spent much of 2016 with Reds, played this year in independent ball.

Huntington became GM in September 2007 and the international signing period begins on July 2, so any key signings in that period would have occurred before he took the job. They also would have been in progress well before then, given the way the Latin American signing process works. Cabrera signed after Huntington took over, but the signing was probably already in the works.

2008-09

Yhonathan Barrios, IF ($250K) – Converted to pitcher, then traded to Brewers for Aramis Ramirez, briefly reached the majors but never pitched after 2015 due to injuries.

Exicardo Cayones, OF ($400K) – Traded to Yankees for A.J. Burnett, reached high A, out of baseball since 2015.

Elias Diaz, C ($20K) – Now with Pirates.

Jodaneli Carvajal, SS ($350K) – Reached low A briefly, out of baseball since 2013.

Gregory Polanco, OF ($150K) – Now with Pirates.

Joely Rodriguez, LHP ($55K) – Traded to Phillies for Antonio Bastardo, spent part of 2016 and half of 2017 in the majors, pitched in AAA for Baltimore this year.

Gift Ngoepe, IF ($15,000) - Reached majors with Pirates briefly in 2017 and with Toronto briefly in 2018. Great story, but the Jays released him in August and he’s now a free agent.

The first full signing period for the current front office was by far and away its best so far. Diaz and Polanco are key players on the major league team. Barrios and Rodriguez each reached the majors after helping the Pirates make decent acquisitions. Ngoepe was the first player from the continent of Africa to reach the majors.

2009-10

Willy Garcia, OF ($280K) – Lost to White Sox on waivers, reached majors with them in 2017, but was released after the season and not picked up by anybody.

Alen Hanson, IF ($90K) – Lost on waivers to the White Sox, had very good year with Giants this year.

Maximo Rivera, OF ($165K) – Reached low A briefly, out of baseball since 2015.

Jose Osuna, OF ($250K) – Now with Pirates.

Dovydas Neverauskas, RHP ($60,000) - Spent time with Pirates in last two years and could do so again in 2019.

This class once looked a lot better than it turned out to be. Hanson could still be a productive utility player for the long term, but he looked like a lot more than that at one time. Garcia always had the tools, but lacked baseball skills. He seemed like a guy who’d be a AAAA player at worst, but for some reason nobody signed him after the Sox cut him loose. Osuna could still be a useful corner utility player, but he’s shown very little with the bat through 338 plate appearances and Kang is now in his way. Neverauskas still has a shot at sticking in the majors. Still, that’s four guys who reached the majors and three who might have futures as backups or relievers.

2010-11

Luis Heredia, RHP ($2.6M) – Reached AA, became free agent after 2017 and wasn’t picked up anywhere.

Dilson Herrera, IF ($220K) – Traded for Marlon Byrd, played in majors in 2014-15 (Mets) and 2018 (Reds), recently outrighted and became a free agent.

Edwin Espinal, 3B ($150K) – Reached AAA, left as a free agent after 2017, played in AAA for Detroit this year.

Luis Santos, RHP (N/A) – Traded while still in DSL to Royals for Vin Mazzaro and Clint Robinson, reached majors briefly with Jays, including 20 IP this year.

Cesar Lopez, RHP ($600K) – Signed out of Cuba, reached low A briefly, released in 2013, pitched briefly in low A with Braves in 2014.

Jin-De Jhang, C ($250,000) - Jhang made it to AA (and briefly to AAA back in 2016) and looked like a prospect at times. Now a free agent.

This is another class that once looked like it’d produce a lot more. Heredia was the top-regarded international pitching prospect when the Pirates signed him, but a combination of poor conditioning and poor control did him in. Herrera looked like a future starter at second after the Pirates traded him, but he tailed off. Santos was an obscure DSL guy when the Pirates traded him but made it to the bigs, although he looks like a marginal reliever.

2011-12

Harold Ramirez, OF ($1.05M) – Traded to Jays in exchange for the absence of Francisco Liriano’s contract, spent third season in AA this year and had very good year after bad year last year, now a free agent.

Elvis Escobar, OF ($570K) – Reached AA as outfielder, converted to pitching this year, eligible for free agency but signed minor league deal for 2019.

Pablo Reyes, IF ($90K) – Now with the Pirates.

Eduardo Vera, RHP (N/A) — Made a lot of progress after missing all or most of three years due to Tommy John. Got good results this year in AA but does not have a high ceiling. Was eligible for free agency but signed a minor league deal for 2019.

This seemingly is when the Pirates’ international efforts started downhill. Some scouts thought at the time that the Pirates overpaid for Ramirez. He lost his speed quickly and evolved into a corner outfielder who hit everything on the ground. He changed his approach this year and finally started driving the ball, but the Jays evidently weren’t convinced and let him go. Escobar never really looked like a prospect as an outfielder, but he throws in the mid-90s with a big curve, so he actually could have a future as a reliever, especially being left-handed. He might even be a candidate for the 40-man roster later this month. The $90,000 guy beat the odds and could have a long-term future as a utility player.

Daily Links

  • I’m not quite sure what this comment about highly regarded Toronto prospect Bo Bichette means, but it sounds good from a Pirates standpoint. It’s from a recent Eric Longenhagen FanGraphs chat.

Blue Jay Matt: Bichette’s game/style is most similar to which current or former big leaguer?

Eric A Longenhagen: Go watch Pablo Reyes hit. Bichette is a more explosive version of those mechanics.

Also:

Alex: Is Newman or Tucker more likely to be the future SS of the Pirates?

Eric A Longenhagen: Tucker

  • Apparently, Houston had a deal to acquire Bryce Harper at the deadline that was nixed by the Nationals’ ownership. It’s pretty clear from the MLBTR discussion that the return was underwhelming. Getting much for a rental is hard.