The 2013 Dominican Summer League begins play on Saturday, with both Pittsburgh Pirates affiliates in the league taking the field, one of them as the defending champions. The league has a 72 game schedule and runs through the end of August. While the Pirates have two different teams in the league, known as Pirates1 and Pirates2, the players they have in the Dominican Training Facility will often switch teams during the season, so the Opening Day rosters for each team could look drastically different during the year. There are also players in the facility that won’t play during the season because they may be injured or not ready just yet for pro ball. There is also a chance some of these players could move to the Gulf Coast League once that league begins play. With that in mind, we will take a look at some of the players to keep an eye during this season.
Back in November, we posted a DSL recap of the hitters, the pitchers and the top players to watch. Of the twenty players listed in that top players list, six have already been promoted to the states and will likely play with the GCL Pirates, and some possibly a step higher in Jamestown. Those players are: Maximo Rivera, Carlos Ozuna, Oderman Rocha, Adrian Grullon, Danny Arribas and Cesilio Pimentel. That still leaves plenty of top talent with the team, many of them from the recent draft class.
The top two players to watch are Julio de la Cruz and Michael de la Cruz (unrelated). The Pirates signed both of them early on during this past July 2nd signing period and they both signed for a $700,000 bonus. We heard back in February that both could be in the Gulf Coast League this season, but neither have been with the team during extended Spring Training, making that seem unlikely.
Julio is the slightly bigger of the two at 6’1″ 190, a very athletic third baseman, with a solid bat and room to add power. Michael is a strong defense outfielder, who hits line drives now, but could add some pop as he gets older. He is a potential five tool player. In the recent past, the Pirates have skipped outfielders Elvis Escobar and Harold Ramirez over the DSL and right to the GCL. Both performed well, so it is possible the de la Cruz’s show up at some point this year. If not, it gives fans two very interesting players to follow on this team.
Catcher Yoel Gonzalez was the Pirates third biggest International signing this off-season, but his best tools won’t really show up in the boxscores right away, except possibly under the caught stealing category for the other team. He’s still just 16, but he is an advanced defense catcher, with a bat that lags behind at this time. The Pirates valued his advanced defense enough to give him a $350,000 bonus.
If I had to pick a top breakout candidate, it would be the next highest rated player on that top twenty list, Richard Mitchell. The young right-hander has a strong arm, though he was considered very raw going into last year. His work was limited, but with some added experience, they could let him loose this season and give him a chance to start. The Pirates scouts were very high on him, as he threw 91 MPH at the age of 15. I expect to see good things this year.
If you followed this team close enough recently, you might remember the name Yunior Montero. He was a hard-thrower, who had some identity issues and MLB made him sit out awhile. It will be interesting to see how the lack of pitching in games has affected him over the last couple years. If he’s back to normal, you have the pitcher who threw 94 MPH and in his only DSL game in 2011, he threw five shutout innings, giving up just two hits.
Another recent signing to pay attention to is Johan Herrera, a third baseman that got a $300,000 bonus last year. His defense isn’t great, so he may be somewhere else in the field, but his lefty bat is advanced enough that he should be useful wherever they put him.
A younger player to watch is Johan De Jesus, who the Pirates gave a $200,000 bonus. He will be interesting to fans for one reason, he plays shortstop and might be able to stick there. There is a chance he doesn’t see much time at shortstop during this season though, the Pirates have a tendency to move players around early on in the process to get them playing time. He probably isn’t someone you should expect much from this year, but it will be interesting to see how he does. He doesn’t turn 17 until August 1st.
Hurtarte putting in work in the cages on the righty swing
Finally, a potential breakout candidate on offense to keep an eye on is outfielder Adrian de Aza. The Pirates signed the 20-year-old to a $150,000 and this is his third season in the system now. His second year he started showing some signs of being the five tool outfielder they hoped they were getting. The Pirates have some recent examples of five tool players coming around in their third season and he is a strong possibility to be next.
These are just a few of the names to watch. Players will break out that haven’t done anything in the past despite large bonuses. Other that didn’t get a large bonus, will start to play well unexpectedly. While some others will just show up unannounced during the season and start playing regularly, usually roster fillers, but not always.
Pirates First Guatemalan Player
The Pirates signed switch-hitting first baseman Dennis Hurtarte in July of 2011, making him the first player they ever signed out of Guatemala. He is trying to become the first player from his home country to make it to the majors.
Hurtarte made his debut last season in the Dominican Summer League and hit .238 in 47 games, with a .612 OPS. While those aren’t the numbers you like to see from a 19-year-old corner infielder with good size, the step up to the DSL was a big one for Hurtarte.
I had a chance to briefly talk to him about his off-season recently and how he felt going into this second year. On Tuesday, after a Spring Training game (they do play those in the DSL) in which he drew two walks, I asked Hurtarte about what he worked on to get ready for this year. He was rather blunt: he wants to hit homers. Being 6’2″, 220 pounds, you would expect him to hit some, but last year in the DSL, he had eight doubles and no triples or homers.
Expanding on that, Hurtarte said “I worked on my body, especially my legs and I worked on my righty swing because I didn’t make the adjustments last year.” He pointed out that he wasn’t getting ready quick enough to swing from the right side, making him late on most pitches, but now he feels just as comfortable from that side as he did from the left.
He hit much better from the left side last year, but showed improvements as the year went on. Hurtarte said “I can do the same damage lefty and righty now that my right side is more consistent.”
Hopefully we will see the extra work pay off this season as he is more familiar with the league and playing everyday against tough competition, the level of which he didn’t see at home. He seems rather grounded and knows it is hard work, “This is a level where everything is a process and we have to take it step by step.”
The big switch-hitting prospect from Guatemala hopes that next step is a breakout season.