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Pirates’ minor league recap: GCL Pirates

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This is the first of seven parts. I’m going to look at the guys who are, or might be, prospects rather than try to cover everything that happened with each team. The focus will be on whether they helped or hurt themselves this year. First up is the Gulf Coast League Pirates.

Back in the dark days of Dave Littlefield, the Pirates invariably punted on Latin America and didn’t draft many prep players, so their GCL team was frequently populated by college draftees. It obviously served no prospect-development purpose to have college draftees playing in a league with 18-year-olds, but then little of what Littlefield did served any purpose. By contrast, under Neal Huntington, the Pirates have typically used their GCL team to, you know, develop prospects. They’ve typically had few overage players, but this year’s team was different. Because they’re never going to draft more than a handful of prep players, the GCL team normally will be filled out largely by players moving up from the Dominican Summer League. This is where the Pirates’ dismal showing in Latin America over the past 5-6 years comes in. They did bring up a large number of DSL players this year, but many of them clearly just couldn’t play even at the rookie league level. The Pirates released quite a few during the season, which hasn’t happened before in my memory.

So the Pirates loaded the GCL roster with . . . college players. Not only were they all several years old for the league, but most of the draftees — I’m not going to name names — performed very badly. The Pirates also signed a large number of non-drafted free agents. Oddly, four of them were second basemen, although they dispersed to other positions after signing. These four at least played well against the younger competition. I’ll get to one of them shortly.

THE GOOD

Jack Herman, OF: A 30th-round draft pick out of high school who wasn’t highly touted and didn’t even get an above-slot bonus, Herman was the team’s best player. He batted 340/435/489, walked as many times as he struck out, and appears to be able to handle center well enough at least to be a plausible fourth outfielder. He also throws well enough to play right, judging by the couple of throws that I saw.

Ji-Hwan Bae, SS: The Pirates’ booty from the Braves’ scouting scandal, Bae (pictured) got the biggest bonus the Pirates have given to an international amateur since Luis Heredia. He showed the tools to stay at short, although he had some error problems, which isn’t unusual for the level. He batted .271 with a little gap power and very good plate discipline, and also exhibited some speed on the bases. It’ll be interesting to see whether the Pirates try to push Herman and/or Bae to their new low A affiliate at Greensboro next year.

Patrick Dorrian, IF: Dorrian has an unusual backstory. The Braves drafted him out of high school in the 12th round in 2014 and he signed, but changed his mind and decided to go to school. Atlanta voided his contract before he ever played. Nevertheless, the contract eliminated his Division I eligibility, so he went to junior college and then Division II Lynn University. He also wasn’t eligible to be drafted, so he had to wait until afterward, then chose the Pirates from among several interested teams. He tore up the GCL, batting 328/427/511, then hit even better in nine games at Bristol. Dorrian played mostly third and had a lot of errors, including four in his first game, but he’d never played there before. He could move up fairly quickly if he keeps hitting.

Brad Case, RHP: Case was a 17th round pick who fits a mold the Pirates like: a very tall (6’6” or 6’7”, depending on the source), lean right-hander. He went to a small school — Rollins College — and the Pirates wanted to adjust his delivery, so they sent him to the GCL. After a shaky start, he pitched well, then had a decent, four-game stint at Bristol, and finished with a good start for Morgantown. Case throws the standard four pitches plus a cutter, and gets his fastball up to 94 mph. If he can add more velocity, he could turn into a prospect.

THE BAD

Samuel Inoa, C: The “bad” part for Inoa was injuries, as concussion and hamstring problems limited him to 28 games, only eight of them behind the plate. When he played, he hit very well (.829 OPS), as he did last year in the DSL. It’d be good if he could put in close to a full season, and especially good if most of it was at catcher.

Jean Eusebio, OF: The Pirates’ top international signing in the 2016-17 signing period, Eusebio projects as a center fielder. He didn’t hit last year in the DSL and struggled in the GCL this year, batting 236/281/349 with bad walk and K rates. He did hit the ball with a little more authority than in 2017, though, and didn’t turn 18 until the end of the season.

Randy Jimenez, LHP: Jimenez has good stuff for a lefty, with a cutter and a low-90s fastball, both with very good movement. He also throws a slider. He struck out a batter an inning but significant command issues led to some pretty bad numbers. He’s only 20, so he could still get a handle on his stuff. The Pirates have tried him some as a starter, but he probably profiles as a reliever.

THE IN-BETWEEN

Braxton Ashcraft, Michael Burrows, RHPs: The Pirates’ standard prep pitching draftees, Ashcraft was a second-round pick and Burrows an above-slot 11th-rounder. They pitched only a little and did fine; stats mean squat at this point anyway, unless there’s something alarming, like a profusion of walks. Nothing like that happened. Both pitchers should be at Bristol next year, although with a little luck one might impress the Pirates enough in extended spring training to get a ticket to Greensboro. That happened this year with Cody Bolton.

Fernando Villegas, OF: Visa issues delayed Villegas’ arrival, as they did with all of the Pirates’ Mexican signees. Once he showed up he hit well: 295/409/443 with good walk and K rates. Villegas is 20 and had some experience in Mexico’s version of the minors, so I’m not sure what to make of him at this point.

Noe Toribio, RHP: Toribio had probably the best stuff of the DSL pitchers who moved up to the GCL this year. His fastball has reportedly reached 97, but he’s been throwing mainly 91-92 as a starter, with secondary stuff that has some potential. His performance in the GCL was erratic and his final numbers not so good. He just turned 19, though, and hasn’t filled out.

Santiago Florez, RHP: As reported at Pirates Prospects, somewhere between spring training and the GCL season, Florez went from the low- to the mid-90s. His numbers were mediocre, but he won’t turn 19 until next May and he’s a big guy, at 6’5”, and obviously still developing.

Saul De La Cruz, Lizardy Dicent, RHPs: The Pirates every year seem to have one or two pitchers move up from the DSL who profile as relievers and throw hard, typically in the mid-90s. They often miss a lot of bats, have command issues, and may not be especially young. De La Cruz and Dicent fit that template. Both are 21; Dicent was in his first year, while De La Cruz lost two years to Tommy John surgery. Guys like them typically top out at AA, at best, but they have good arms, so ya never know.