International Reviews: Pittsburgh Pirates

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Baseball America's annual International Reviews provide scouting reports on every team's top international amateur signings from the 2012 calendar year, as well as a look at any notable signings from the Cuban market.

See also: 2011 National League Central International Review

Pittsburgh Pirates

Top signing: 3B Julio de la Cruz, Dominican Republic and OF Michael de la Cruz, Dominican Republic, $700,000.
Six-figure signings: C Yoel Gonzalez (Dominican Republic), Jhoan Herrera, (Dominican Republic), SS Samuel Kennelly (Australia), SS Johan De Jesus (Dominican Republic).

Several Pirates international signings improved their stock with strong seasons in 2012. Dominican outfielder Starling Marte made his major league debut. Shortstop Alen Hanson and center fielder Gregory Polanco, both from the Dominican Republic, had two of the biggest breakout seasons in the minors. Colombian infielder Dilson Herrera and Taiwanese catcher Jin-De Jhan both had strong U.S. debuts in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.

The Pirates spent the majority of their money last year in the Dominican Republic, including a $700,000 investment in July in third baseman Julio de la Cruz, who trained with Luis Polonia. The Pirates have signed several players from Polonia, including his son Rodney, who has spent the last two seasons in the Dominican Summer Leaguel. De la Cruz, a 17-year-old who lives in Santiago, has a solid, athletic frame for a third baseman 6-foot-1, 190 pounds. He impressed some scouts with his hitting in the Dominican Prospect League. There's a hitch in his swing, but scouts who liked him praised his rhythm, hitting approach, ability to use all fields and hit offspeed pitches with average power. De la Cruz is heavy-footed and his bat is ahead of his glove, but he should stick at third base with solid hands and a good arm. He'll start his career in the GCL.

Pittsburgh also gave a $700,000 bonus to lefthanded Dominican outfielder Michael de la Cruz (no relation to Julio) when he turned 16 on July 10. De la Cruz, who is from Santo Domingo and trained with Raul Valera (known as "Banana"), is 6 feet, 175 pounds and a player the Pirates were higher on than most. He ran average times in the 60-yard dash early in the year, then cut down to 6.7 seconds, though he wasn't showing plus times home to first. The Pirates have seen him as fast as 6.4-6.5 seconds in the 60 and love his defense in center field, as he gets good jumps off the bat. Scouts from other teams saw 45-50 arm strength with a long, slow release, but the Pirates have seen a 55-60 arm. At the plate, de la Cruz sets up with a wide base and has a handsy swing, though with his medium frame he doesn't have much power right now. He's expected to debut this summer in the GCL.

The Pirates signed another one of Valera's players, Dominican shortstop Johan de Jesus, for $200,000 when he turned 16 on Aug. 1. De Jesus, who is 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, has played around with switch-hitting, but he's going to be a righthanded hitter. He doesn't stand out with any loud tools like power or speed, but he makes frequent contact and impressed the Pirates with his actions, game awareness and sound fundamental play.

Dominican catcher Yoel Gonzalez also turned 16 on Aug. 1 and signed with the Pirates that day for $350,000. Gonzalez trained with Josue Mateo and played in the Dominican Prospect League. The San Cristobal native has an athletic build for a catcher (6-foot-1, 175 pounds) and has taken to the position quickly after moving behind the plate the previous year before he signed. He has good flexibility, blocks and receives well for his age with good actions and has an above-average arm with good accuracy. Gonzalez is a solid offensive player with good swing plane, balance and gap power. His bat speed is only fair and his stroke can get sweepy, but that could improve once he gets stronger.

Dominican third baseman Jhoan Herrera is the nephew of Juan Herrera, the Dominican trainer known as "Mon." He signed with the Pirates for $300,000 on July 1, so his bonus won't count against Pittsburgh's 2012-13 international bonus pool. Herrera, 17, is 6-foot-1, 190 pounds with a power stroke from the left side. Herrera has an average arm and some scouts thought he would end up at first base, but he's made progress defensively since signing.

Shortstop Sam Kennelly was one of the top prospects in Australia when he signed with the Pirates for $225,000 in July. Kennelly, a righthanded hitter who turned 17 in January, is the younger brother of Braves Double-A catcher Matt Kennelly and Reds Rookie-level Arizona League catcher Josh Kennelly. At the MLB Australian Academy last year, Kennelly hit .235/.286/.345 in 98 at-bats. He continued showing improvements over the year. He hit well at 18U World Championships in South Korea in September, then won MVP at Australia's 18U National Championships last month after leading the tournament in batting average and OBP by hitting .543/.585/.714 with only one strikeout in 41 plate appearances for his Western Australia club. He also played a little bit for the Perth Heat of the Australian Baseball League, gaining experience against minor league and major league hitters several years older than him.

Kennelly is 6-foot-2, 190 pounds and will probably move to third base or second base. He has good balance and a chance to hit with doubles power and a chance for 10-15 home runs per year once he gains some strength. He has a solid arm and below-average speed. He's scheduled to finish school and will probably stay in Australia this year, then come over to Florida to join the Pirates for instructional league in the fall.