It's been a banner year for Pittsburgh's international program.
Starling Marte, signed for $85,000 out of the Dominican Republic five years ago when he was 18, became one of the top prospects in the game in recent years and made his major league debut last month. In low Class A West Virginia, shortstop Alen Hanson and center fielder Gregory Polanco have been two of the biggest breakout prospects in the minors and are both good bets to rank among the Top 100 prospects in baseball. Luis Heredia, a 17-year-old Mexican righthander who would be entering his senior year of high school had he been born in the United States, has a 1.88 ERA that ranks eighth in the short-season New York-Penn League in 38 1/3 innings.
Their top international signing from last year, outfielder Harold Ramirez, is also off to a strong start in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Ramirez, 17, signed for $1.05 million last year out of Colombia. The size of Ramirez's bonus came as a surprise to several teams, but so far his bat has been just what the Pirates expected. After missing time early in the season due to a leg infection and splitting time between left and right field, the righthanded-hitting Ramirez has batted .319/.382/.348 in 76 plate appearances with five walks and nine strikeouts.
"He has no fear," said Pirates director of minor league operations Larry Broadway, "and is very strong and athletic to go along with a natural feel to hit."