2021-22 International Reviews: Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates' international class got a late boost when they were able to land outfielder Tony Blanco Jr., adding a big power bat as one of the headliners of their signing group.
Top Of The Class
While Tony Blanco Jr. originally looked headed to the Rays, he ended up signing with the Pirates instead. He is the son of Tony Blanco, a Baseball America Top 100 prospect two straight years who played briefly for the Nationals in 2005 before moving on to Japan, where he hit at least 30 home runs in three seasons. Blanco Jr. is even bigger with an enormous 6-foot-6, 240-pound frame, with the combination of strength and bat speed to produce plus raw power that could be plus-plus in the future. Scouts highest on Blanco Jr. see him as a potential masher in the middle of a lineup, though others had more concerns about his pure hitting ability. At his size, there's some risk Blanco ends up at first base, though he's only a slightly below-average runner right now so he can start in right field, with arm strength that has improved to above-average with a quick release.
Every club saw Dominican shortstop Yordany de los Santos playing in the Dominican Prospect League, but his stock jumped after Major League Baseball lifted its ban on all in-person international scouting during the pandemic in September 2020. During the shutdown, De los Santos grew taller, got stronger, improved his tools and adjusted his swing to keep his barrel in the hitting zone longer, showing the ability to hit well in games and drive the ball in the air for damage. At 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, de los Santos has a pair of 55 tools in his speed and arm strength, with the athleticism that should help him stick at the position unless he gets too big and ends up elsewhere in the infield.
Names To Know
Pitterson Rosa, RHP, Dominican Republic: At 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, Rosa has smooth, sound mechanics that are repeatable and help him attack hitters with strikes for a starter profile with his fastball/curveball/changeup mix. His stuff has already climbed from sitting in the upper 80s during the tryout process to now reaching 94 mph with the strength projection to add more velocity as he packs on weight.
Hung-Leng Chang, RHP, Taiwan: Chang showed advanced feel for pitching, with the ability to throw strikes with his fastball, curveball and changeup and confidence to throw any pitch in any count. He lacked much strength on his slender 6-foot-3 frame early in the process, but he has started to fill out and has seen his velocity bump up to touch 93 mph, with more strength projection to be getting into the mid 90s eventually.
Eduardo Oviedo, OF, Dominican Republic: Oviedo has seen his tools start to tick up as he has begun to add strength to a slender 6-foot-1 build, showing a sound swing and a chance to hit for power down the road. Oviedo spent time working out at shortstop as an amateur, but he transitioned to center field, where he moves around better. He has gone from a below-average runner to now showing solid-average speed with an arm that has improved to a 50 tool, with a chance he outgrows center field and heads to a corner.
Axiel Plaz, C, Venezuela: Plaz stands out for his defense and potential to be a power-hitting catcher. He's athletic and moves around well behind the plate, with footwork that he could quicken but already advanced receiving skills for his age to go with a tick above-average arm. Plaz has some swing and miss to his game that he will have to keep in check, but he drives the ball well when he connects from the right side of the plate.
Carlos Tirado, 1B, Mexico: The Pirates signed Tirado out of Mexico, but they scouted him while he was playing for Rocky Mountain of the Pioneer League (now an MLB partner league) at 16. Tirado hit .253/.320/.429 with four home runs in 100 plate appearances, an impressive showing for a league where most players are in their early-to-mid 20s. At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, Tirado has a sound lefthanded swing, tracks pitches well and has the ability to turn on a pitch for home run power to his pull side. He's still relatively new to first base, with his bat driving his value.
Roinny Aguiar, SS, Venezuela: A 5-foot-6 middle infielder, Aguiar blended in with the crowd early on in the tryout process, but later on he started to pop as he added strength, ran a 6.5-second 60-yard dash and improved his arm to an average tool that has since ticked up to a 55. He's strong for his size, too, helping him drive the ball well for a smaller player from the right side of the plate, with a high baseball IQ as well.
The Pirates signed Angel Rodriguez from Panama, adding an intriguing sleeper who is an athletic center fielder with slightly above-average speed in center field. There's a chance he could outgrow the position, but his tools have been ticking up already as he has started to add strength, enhancing his speed, arm strength and ability to drive the ball from the right side with more physical projection remaining.
In Colombia, the Pirates signed lefthander Hader Blanco, whose pitchability sticks out for his age. He's 5-foot-11 and doesn't project to be a power arm, but he has the delivery, arm action, athleticism and secondary stuff to develop as a starter. His fastball tops out at 87 mph, but he has feel to spin a curveball that's hard relative to his fastball at 72-74 mph, and his changeup comes in with impressive separation off his fastball.