Stolmy Pimentel Makes Winter League Debut

By Jason Shetler

Stolmy Pimentel made his Winter League debut yesterday in the Dominican for Estrellas de Oriente, this according to Pirates Prospects’ John Dreker.

Pimentel pitched 1.2 innings of relief, allowing an unearned run and striking out a batter. MLB has implemented an “Extreme Fatigue” rule with the Winter Leagues, stating that if a pitcher went too many innings during the regular season, they wouldn’t be allowed to pitch in Winter ball until the final week of November. Because Pimentel pitched 178.2 innings combined this year with Altoona, Indianapolis and the Pirates, he wasn’t allowed to pitch up until this week.

Although Pimentel pitched as a starter for both Altoona and Indy, he’ll pitch as a reliever in Pittsburgh. He’s likely to receive a bullpen spot in 2014, since he’ll be out of options.




Pirates Top 10 International Prospects For 2014

By Jason Shetler

Here are the Top 10 Pirates international prospects heading into next season.

10. Wei-Chung Wang – The Pirates signed Wang out of Taiwan in 2011, which was the same year they inked fellow Taiwanese prospect Jin-De Jhang. Wang made his pro debut this year, after recovering from elbow surgery in 2012. The 21-year-old lefty pitched in the GCL Pirates rotation, where he posted a 3.23 ERA, with a 0.87 WHIP and a solid 10.50 K/BB ratio. There’s a pretty good chance Wang could begin 2014 with West Virginia.

2013 ranking: Unranked

9. Jose Osuna – After having a good year for West Virginia in 2012, Osuna struggled this past season with Bradenton. He batted just .244, along with a .655 OPS in 500 plate appearances. The one bright spot for Osuna however was that he stole 18 bases in 123 games, after just stealing a combined 12 bases in 240 games prior to this year. Osuna will head back to Bradenton next season. Because he’ll only be 21, it’s still too early to write him off.

2013 ranking: #6

8. Dovydas Neverauskas – Neverauskas signed with the Pirates out of Lithuania back in 2009 as a 16-year-old. He made 15 starts this year for Jamestown, posting a 4.01 ERA. He significantly improved his WHIP from 1.56 in 2012 down to 1.27 this past season, and also lowered his walk rate by 5%. Neverauskas is certainly an interesting prospect, not just because he’s from a country that isn’t known for baseball talent, but also because he’s shown flashes of good stuff, such as a 95 mph fastball. He should start out 2014 for West Virginia.

2013 ranking: Unranked

7. Willy Garcia – Garcia had himself a subpar season last year for West Virginia, as he posted a .689 OPS. He slightly improved that this year with Bradenton, posting a .730 OPS. The 21-year-old outfielder is an intriguing prospect with his power and speed combo, but has struggled to get on base, with an OBP of under .300 for the second straight season. He also strikeouts a lot, with a very high 32% strikeout rate. Based on his age, Garcia will probably go back to Bradenton to not only better his numbers, but also cut down on the whiffs.

2013 ranking: #7

6. Jin-De Jhang – The Taiwanese born catcher spent 2013 with Jamestown, where he hit .277 and posted a .751 OPS in 53 games. Defensively, he was solid throwing out baserunners, as he put up a 47% caught stealing. Although Reese McGuire is now the top catcher in the Pirates system, Jhang is certainly the best international catching prospect in the organization. Assuming McGuire goes to West Virginia, Jhang will probably start out in Bradenton, since the Pirates obviously don’t want two catching prospects at the same level.

2013 ranking: #6

5. Harold Ramirez – Ramirez had a struggling season in 2012 in the Gulf Coast League, but rebounded very well this year, hitting .285, along with a .763 OPS and tied for the GCL lead in stolen bases with 23. The native of Colombia was Baseball America’s top prospect in the GCL for 2013.

2013 ranking: Unranked

4. Joely Rodriguez – After four mediocre seasons in the system, Rodriguez had a strong year in 2013. He combined to make 26 starts between West Virginia and Bradenton, posting a 2.70 ERA, and a 1.29 WHIP. The Dominican left-hander improved his K/9 from 4.5 in 2012 to 6.5 this year. His power sinker and good curveball make for plenty of groundballs, as he posted a 55% groundball rate, which was 4% better than in 2012. Rodriguez should begin 2014 with Altoona.

2013 ranking: Unranked

3. Luis Heredia – Heredia had an interesting 2013. He didn’t pitch for West Virginia until midseason, mainly so the Pirates wouldn’t have to limit his workload in the second half of the season. Heredia did have a 3.05 ERA in 14 games pitched, but he did have a 1.37 WHIP, and his other ratios were quite strange. His walk rate went up 5% from 2012, but his strikeout rate improved by 5% as well. Whether the Pirates have Heredia begin 2014 back in West Virginia or with Bradenton, it wouldn’t surprise me either way.

2013 ranking: #3

2. Alen Hanson – Hanson entered this past season looking to build off his stellar 2012 campaign for West Virginia. He performed well in Bradenton, where he hit .281 and posted an OPS of .783 in 92 games. He was then given a promotion to Altoona midseason, but didn’t perform well there, as he batted just .255, along with a .697 OPS in 35 games. Combined with the two affiliates, he stole 30 bases. Hanson is expected to return with Altoona next season. It’s hard to say when he’ll join the Pirates exactly, but at the very least it could be as a September call up.

2013 ranking: #2

1. Gregory Polanco – It should come as no surprise that Gregory Polanco is the Pirates top international prospect heading into 2014. The 22-year-old multi-talented outfielder played at three levels this year for Bradenton, Altoona and Indianapolis, as he combined to hit .285, with a .791 OPS, 30 doubles, 12 home runs, 71 RBI and 38 stolen bases in 127 total games. The Pirates will go the same route with Polanco like they did for Starling Marte in 2012, by having him begin the year for Indy and then getting called up to Pittsburgh during the summer.

2013 ranking: #1

Gregory Polanco Named DWL Hitter of the Week

By Jason Shetler

Gregory Polanco has been named the Dominican Winter League Hitter of the Week for last week. Polanco hit .318, with four RBI and also drew four walks. The Pirates top outfield prospect has been one of the best hitters in the DWL, posting a slash line of .320/.435/.515, along with eight doubles, four homers, 24 RBI and four stolen bases in 28 games to this point.  

Pirates Sign Two Minor League Free Agents

By Jason Shetler

The Pirates have announced the signings of catcher Nevin Ashley and pitcher Cody Eppley. Both have signed minor league deals, and will also receive invites to Spring Training, this according to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s Rob Biertempfel.

Ashley has spent the past eight seasons in the minors, with his first seven in the Tampa Bay Rays system, and this past season in the Cincinnati Reds organization. Ashley played in 80 games this year for AAA Louisville, where he batted .235, along with a .705 OPS. Despite the low average, he posted a .328 OBP, thanks in part to a very good 11% walk rate, but his strikeouts were on the high side at 21%. He has also done a good job of throwing out baserunners during his career with a 36% caught stealing. However, he threw out just 26% in 2013, which still isn’t a terrible rate. Because Michael McKenry and Tony Sanchez didn’t do much to solidify the Pirates backup catcher’s role this past year, there’s an outside chance Ashley could compete for that job and take it, despite no Major League experience to this point.

After pitching well out of the New York Yankees bullpen in 2012, Eppley had an interesting season in 2013. He struggled mightily with both the big club and their AAA affiliate Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, before he was released in June. He then signed with the Minnesota Twins, after pitching briefly in the Independent League, and posted a 4.88 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP in 22 appearances for AAA Rochester. Eppley features a sinker, with a sidearm delivery, along with a slider and changeup. He’ll compete for a spot in the bullpen, but based on his struggles this past season, Indianapolis will probably be his destination to begin 2014.

Assessing the Jaff Decker/Miles Mikolas Deal

By Jason Shetler

Yesterday, the Pirates made their first significant trade of the offseason, by trading outfield/first base prospect Alex Dickerson to the San Diego Padres in exchange for outfielder Jaff Decker and reliever Miles Mikolas. I’m now going to assess the deal for each side.

Pirates: Jaff Decker was once a top prospect for the Padres back in 2010. His prospect status took a hit in 2012, as he posted just a .658 OPS for AA San Antonio, but he bounced back this year, posting an .824 OPS with AAA Tucson. Decker’s calling card is his ability to get on base and draw a massive amount of walks. During his six seasons in the minors, Decker has a .402 OBP, along with an outstanding 18% walk rate.

Miles Mikolas spent most of 2013 as the closer for AAA Tucson. Between 2012 and this past season, Mikolas made 27 appearances for the Padres, while posting a 3.44 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP. His control has been erratic with a 4.2 BB/9. He’s been a groundball pitcher, as evidence of his 51% groundball rate. Mikolas throws a good fastball, with an average velocity of 93.1, as well as a curveball that he throws more often, which has led to his share of groundballs. In terms of relief pitchers, Mikolas certainly fits Neal Huntington’s preference of being a groundball pitcher with good velocity.

Padres: With a crowded collection of outfielders starting to emerge at the upper levels for the Pirates, Alex Dickerson should now have himself a quicker path to the big leagues with the Padres. Dickerson has tremendous gap power, while his home run power has been gradually improving. Whether the Padres have him in the outfield or first base down the line, he’s going to be an average defensive player regardless, so his bat will have to carry him at the next level. Like most left-handed batters who have played for the Padres, there’s always the “Petco Park effect”, as it’s arguably the best pitcher’s park in the Majors. So will that hurt Dickerson’s approach mentally? – Let’s use Yonder Alonso as an example. Alonso was in the Cincinnati Reds system and had promising power potential. He was then dealt to San Diego as part of the Mat Latos deal two years ago. Since being with the Padres in 2012, Alonso has just 15 home runs in 252 games.

From the Pirates standpoint, Decker gives them someone who has decent power potential and can get on base a lot, while Mikolas gives the Bucs another quality bullpen arm. There’s also the Pirates banking on Dickerson’s power not fully developing with the Petco Park dimensions, especially with him batting from the left side.

As far as the Padres are concerned, they no longer viewed Decker as a top prospect, rather a fourth outfielder type. While they believe that Decker has hit his ceiling already, they’re looking at Dickerson as someone who has room to grow with his power potential, as well as getting to the big leagues sooner with them.

Pirates Release Two Minor League Pitchers

By Jason Shetler

According to the Baseball America transactions page, the Pirates have released minor league pitchers Jimy Hernandez and Luis Campos.

Hernandez was signed by the Pirates in 2009 out of the Dominican Republic. This past season for the GCL Pirates, Hernandez made 15 appearances, posting a 5.14 ERA, a 1.62 WHIP and a very poor K/BB ratio of 0.86.

Campos signed with the Pirates out of Venezuela in 2010. Just like Hernandez, Campos spent the 2013 season pitching in the GCL Pirates bullpen. He struggled mightily, as he posted a 6.65 ERA, with a very high 1.91 WHIP and a 1.31 K/BB.

Both Hernandez and Campos were considered organizational depth.