Image credit: Cristopher Cruz, Pirates
With two teams in the Dominican Summer League, the Pirates spread their bonus pool money around to a large quantity of players in 2019. They didn’t give any bonuses of more than $1 million, but they signed more than 50 international players during the 2019 calendar year, with more than 20 of those players getting six-figure deals.
Pittsburgh’s top bonus went to Cristopher Cruz, a 16-year-old Dominican righthander who got $850,000 after training with Jose Garcia. Cruz stood out as one of the top pitching prospects in the Dominican Republic as an amateur, with an easy delivery, projectable body (6-foot-2, 185 pounds) and a fastball he ran up to 92 mph early in the scouting process. His fastball is still at that same velocity, though he has the physical projection to throw harder. It’s a lively fastball with a mix of four- and two-seamers, and while scouts who saw Cruz as an amateur liked his feel for pitching, his strike-throwing has been erratic at times. He has a starter profile with a four-pitch mix with feel to spin his breaking stuff, sprinkling in a curveball, slider and changeup.
Dominican outfielder Enmanuel Terrero, who trained with Nube, signed for $600,000. He’s 5-foot-9, 180 pounds at 16 years old (he turns 17 on Dec. 15) and stood out for his lefthanded hitting ability with a chance to play center field. Terrero is aggressive and confident at the plate with a gamer mentality, performing well against live pitching as an amateur with good barrel control. Terrero isn’t that big, but he has gap power that flashes better on occasion, though his offensive profile is probably going to be more hit-over-power. Terrero is a slightly above-average runner underway with a quick first step and a below-average arm, so he could stay in center field if he can retain his speed, though if he slows down he might move to a corner.
The Pirates also gave $600,000 to Yojeiry Osoria, a 16-year-old lefthander from the Dominican Republic. He has a strong, durable body (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) with a sound, repeatable delivery and a fastball up to 93 mph. He has starter components between his build, mechanics and repertoire, with feel for spinning a curveball that’s ahead of his changeup.
Another key arm from Pittsburgh’s 2019 class was 17-year-old righthander Gilberto Alcala, who signed out of Venezuela on July 2. He’s 6-foot-3, 195 pounds with a strong, durable build and a potential power arm with a fastball up to 92 mph. He has shown some feel for a curveball, but he primarily pitches off his lively fastball, which has late, heavy action and plays up because of the deception in his delivery. Alcala pitches with an aggressive mindset and is a solid strike-thrower for his age.
The Pirates signed Tsung-Che Cheng, an 18-year-old shortstop from Pu Men High in Taiwan, for $380,000 in July. At 5-foot-7, 155 pounds, Cheng is a smaller player but he’s strong and has plus tools. He’s a 60 runner who manages his at-bats well and shows surprising power for his size, driving the ball well to the middle of the field with the ability to turn on balls and drive them out of the park on occasion, though his offensive value will come more from his on-base skills and speed. Cheng also has a plus arm and quick, secure hands in the field. He’s expected to make his pro debut in 2020 likely in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
Roelmy Garcia is a 16-year-old Dominican righthander the Pirates signed for $350,000 with one of the best fastballs in the class. When Garcia signed, he reached 90 mph, but within a few months his fastball jumped and he touched 95 mph. That’s already top-end velocity for his age, and between his physical projection (6-foot-3, 185 pounds) and arm speed, Garcia could throw 100 mph one day. Learning to corral his stuff will be the key for Garcia, who doesn’t always know where the ball is going. He shows flashes of a quality slider to pair with his fastball, though it comes and goes on him. If Garcia can improve his control, he has a chance to be a starter, though he could also end up a power arm in the bullpen.
Venezuela shortstop Javier Rivas, 17, signed with the Pirates on July 2. Rivas has a large, athletic frame (6-foot-3, 180 pounds) and has a chance to hit in the middle of a lineup if everything clicks. He’s a righthanded batter with good feel for hitting for his age, performing well in games and showing the ability to barrel high-velocity arms. He has the bat speed and leverage in his swing to drive the ball over the fence during batting practice now and the physical projection to grow into more sock once he fills out. With Rivas’ size, he looked like a player who would likely move over to third base, but he moves around well for his size at shortstop, so he has a chance to stay at the position, which would enhance his value. Rivas has good body control in the field with a strong arm for either spot on the left side of the infield. Rivas trained with Alvaro Valdez.
Ewry Espinal, a 16-year-old Dominican corner outfielder who got $225,000, made a strong impression after signing when he went to Florida for instructional league for his ability to hit and hit with power from the left side. A thickly built 6 feet, 195 pounds, Espinal showed the combination of bat speed, strength and short stroke to drive the ball out of the park in games, including a walk-off home run at a Cibao Team showcase in Moca last year. He continued to show impressive thump when he came over for instructs, hitting ball’s off the batter’s eye in center field and performing well against older pitchers. Espinal has shown a patient approach as well, giving him a chance to hit in the middle of a lineup with patience and power. He’s a below-average runner who fits in an outfield corner and will have to monitor his body and mobility to avoid a move to first base. Espinal trained with Aldo Marrero.
Colombian lefthander Diego Chiquillo signed with the Pirates for $200,000. He’s 5-foot-11, 185 pounds with advanced pitchability for a 17-year-old. He’s a solid strike-thrower with a fastball that has hit 90 mph and feel to spin a curveball. Chiquillo trained in Carlos Guillen’s academy.
Another low six-figure arm the Pirates signed, 16-year-old righthander Luis Faringthon, got $160,000 after training with Jose Marmolejos. He has a strong, sturdy build (5-foot-11, 187 pounds) with a fastball that has jumped a bit from the high-80s as an amateur to reaching 91 mph now. He shows feel for spinning a breaking ball that can get swing-and-miss at times, though his erratic control and consistency of his secondary pitches will need to improve.
Robert De Paula impressed the Pirates with his hitting ability when they signed him for $180,000. De Paula, a 16-year-old corner outfielder from the Dominican Republic, is 5-foot-10, 200 pounds and showed a knack for barreling balls against live pitching as an amateur. His power is mostly to the gaps but he projects to have a strong body type and should grow into more sock over the next few years. His defensive tools probably fit best in left field.
A switch-hitting shortstop from the Dominican Republic, Jeral Toledo signed with the Pirates for $155,000. Toledo is 5-foot-9, 160 pounds and a slick defender at shortstop with quick hands and the tools to stay at the position. Toledo was a below-average runner as an amateur, though as he’s added strength in his lower half he has improved his speed to an average tool. Toledo has a smaller, slender frame and might need to get stronger for his offensive game to catch up. Toledo trained with Edgar Mercedes.
The Pirates also signed Venezuelan catcher Omar Alfonzo when he turned 16 in August. Alfonzo has baseball bloodlines. He’s the son of Eliezer Alfonzo, a former major league catcher from 2006-11, mostly with the Giants but with time in San Diego, Seattle and Colorado as well. His 20-year-old brother, Eliezer Alfonzo Jr., is a catcher in the Tigers system who hit .318/.342/.374 in 48 games in the short-season New York-Penn League in 2019.
Born in Minnesota while his dad was in the minor leagues, Alfonzo has a heavy build (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) as an offensive-oriented catcher with a chance to hit for power from the left side of the plate. Alfonzo relies more on strength than pure bat speed, but he has shown solid feel for hitting and driving the ball to left-center. Alfonzo gets down well behind the plate for a bigger-bodied player, but he has work to do defensively to stay at catcher and avoid a move to first base, with a slightly below-average arm. Alfonzo trained with Steve Torrealba and Tony Armas Jr.