Led by outfielder Shalin Polanco, the Pirates added another deep international signing class to the lower levels of their system. Here are scouting reports on 11 of the names to know from their latest class.
Top Of The Class
The biggest signing of the class for the Pirates was Shalin Polanco, a center fielder from the Dominican Republic who trained with Sandy Nin. He’s 6 feet, 170 pounds with a lean, athletic and well-proportioned frame that he’s starting to fill out, which has helped his tools trend up. An average runner early on, Polanco now has plus speed to comfortably handle center field, where his arm strength has tick up to average with good accuracy for his age. Polanco has good bat speed and a fluid, compact swing from the left side. Scouts highest on Polanco liked his barrel control and overall feel for the game, projecting him as a line-drive hitter with occasional power. As he’s gotten stronger, those power projections have increased, with Polanco now driving the ball with more impact to all fields without any extra effort in his swing.
Names To Know
Ruben Vizcaya, OF, Venezuela: Vizcaya stood out for his tools and athleticism in a stocky strong frame at a workout for Venezuelan players in Aruba in November 2018. Since then, his tools have only ticked up, and he took up switch-hitting after previously hitting righthanded exclusively, and it’s clicked to the point where he can continue to hit from both sides in pro ball. Vizcaya now has a muscular 5-foot-10 build with the tools for center field between his plus speed and plus arm. He’s an aggressive player with a solid swing and the mix of strength and bat speed to show over-the-fence power already. Vizcaya trained with Carlos Yanez.
Jose Garces, RHP, Panama: Garces has a clean delivery, good feel for pitching and a long, lanky frame with good projection indicators early on when he was throwing 83-86 mph. Garces focused on his physical development, which has allowed that projection to start to come through, as he’s now touching 91 mph. He has starter traits as well with his feel to spin a breaking ball and an advanced changeup for his age.
Gustavo Armas, OF, Venezuela: Armas showed good feel for hitting in games in Venezuela, tracking pitches well with a knack for barreling the ball against live pitching and a chance to grow into power. He’s around an average runner who might slow down, projecting as a corner outfielder with a good arm that could fit in right field. Armas trained with Kevin Moscatel.
Luigi Hernandez, RHP, Dominican Republic: Hernandez was born in New York and spent time living in the United States but signed out of the Dominican Republic. He’s an athletic 6 feet, 185 pounds and pitched in the mid-to-upper 80s at a tournament in Medellin, Colombia in 2019, but his fastball has climbed since then to touch 94 mph with good life. Hernandez has feel for a changeup that’s sometimes better than his curveball. He trained with Niche.
John Zorrilla, SS, Dominican Republic: Zorrilla runs well and has a chance to hit for power as he fills out his 6-foot-1, 175-pound frame. He was an up-and-down offensive performer in games as an amateur, with a chance he could slide over to third base depending on his physical development, with the arm strength to play on the left side of the infield. Zorrilla trained with Richard Encarnacion.
Darlin Diaz, RHP, Dominican Republic: Diaz has a fluid, easy delivery and arm action with more touch and feel relative to a lot of pitchers his age. He locates his fastball well to both sides of the plate, pitches backwards at times and has more physical projection in his 6-foot, 177-pound frame to add to a fastball that reached 90 mph last year. Diaz and Shalin Polanco trained together with Sandy Nin.
Esmerlyn Valdez, OF, Dominican Republic: Valdez is a 6-foot-2 corner outfielder with big power from the right side. It’s an aggressive approach that he will have to reign in to be more selective, but he drives the ball with impact when he connects. Valdez trained with Wilkin Ramirez.
Rubel Lebron, SS, Dominican Republic: Lebron immediately becomes one of the fastest players in the organization, a plus-plus runner who reads pitchers well for his age, making him a potential high stolen base threat if he’s able tot hit enough to get to the big leagues. Lebron worked out as a shortstop as an amateur, but he’s likely to get more time at second base in pro ball, with center field another option because of his wheels. Lebron trained with Carlos Guzman.
Rodolfo de la Cruz, OF, Dominican Republic: De la Cruz had a projectable 6-foot frame that lacked strength early on. He’s gotten stronger since then, and while he does some unorthodox things in the batter’s box with his hands to get his swing started, he’s shown the ability to drive the ball for loud extra-base damage when he connects from the left side. De la Cruz’s value will come from what he does at the plate as a corner outfielder with a fringe-average arm. He trained with Aguila.
Dominican shortstop Wesley Zapata is the son of Ramon Zapata, a former Pirates minor league shortstop in the 1990s who reached Double-A and is now a coach in the Tigers’ system. Zapata, unsurprisingly, has good feel for the game and projects to stick at shortstop, where he has good hands, actions and arm strength. When teams were scouting Zapata early on in the Dominican Prospect League, he was a skinny, switch-hitting shortstop without much strength, but he has since bulked up to around 5-foot-10, 175 pounds that should help what was previously a lighter bat. He and Rodolfo de la Cruz trained together with Aguila.