2023 International Reviews: Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates spread around their bonus pool money this year, signing 12 players to deals of more than $100,000. They came away with several intriguing names to watch, including a promising group of young pitchers. 

Top Of The Class

While the Pirates didn’t give a seven-figure bonus this year, they signed one of the premier pitchers available, Korean righthander Jun-Seok Shim, for $750,000. At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Shim is a big, physical pitcher at 19 with a power arm to match, sitting at 92-96 mph as a starter. He can touch 98 mph and his fastball plays up with its late riding life up in the zone, giving him a fastball on par with some of the best high school pitchers his age eligible for the draft this year. Shim throws a curveball with good shape and rotation that should be his primary offspeed weapon, along with a splitter and slider. He has been in Bradenton, Fla. this spring and could stay for the Rookie-level Florida Complex League season, but he’s advanced enough to potentially make his full-season debut this year. 

Names To Know

Raymond Mola, OF, Dominican Republic: Mola was a high-profile prospect from early on in the scouting process who signed with the Pirates for $600,000. Scouts highest on Mola liked him for his hitting ability. He’s 6-foot-2, 190 pounds at 17 with a good track record of offensive performance. A righthanded hitter, Mola can look better in games than he does in batting practice, tracking pitches well and putting the ball in play with power that has started to grow as he has gotten stronger. Mola does the little things well for his age like baserunning, but his speed and arm strength are fringe-average tools that will keep him in an outfield corner, so his offensive game will drive his value. 

Jonathan Rivero, C, Venezuela: Rivero has a good balance of offensive and defensive skills for a 17-year-old catcher. Signed for $840,000, Rivero is 6 feet, 190 pounds with good bat-to-ball skills from the left side of the plate, spreading line drives around the field with gap power. He’s an athletic catcher and a high baseball IQ player who projects to stick behind the plate, where he moves around well with good receiving skills for his age and a 55 arm from an easy arm stroke.

Carlos Mateo, RHP, Dominican Republic: Mateo jumped out early on because of his high-velocity fastball, touching 94 mph when he was 16. His velocity has since skyrocketed, touching 98 mph at 17, with the power build at 6-foot-4 where a triple-digits reading could be in his future. Signed for $800,000, Mateo has elite velocity that he’s still learning to harness and keep his delivery under control, though his athleticism should help. He throws a curveball and a changeup, with his curveball getting wide at times and it could eventually turn into a slider.

Bladimir Pichardo, RHP, Dominican Republic: A $750,000 signing, Pichardo was 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, but a growth spurt has pushed him to 6-foot-6 at 17. He has a good mix of present stuff, projection for more and pitchability for his age, operating off a low-90s fastball that has touched 94 mph. He has a starter look with his three-pitch mix, showing feel for both a changeup and a curveball. 

Cristian Jauregui, OF, Cuba: Signed for $260,000, Jauregui is 5-foot-11, 180 pounds and has shown a high-contact bat from the left side at 17. He was switch-hitting for much of his time as an amateur, but he’s hitting exclusively lefthanded now. It’s a hit-over-power offensive game, but he has started to show some surprising sting for his size with the ability to get the ball airborne. He’s a solid-average runner whose advanced game awareness and savvy shows up in the way he runs the bases, with a chance to move around all three outfield spots.

Antonio Pimentel, SS, Dominican Republic: Pimentel isn’t that big (5-foot-10, 160 pounds), but he’s an instinctive, high baseball IQ player with a clean glove at shortstop. Signed for $250,000 at 17, Pimentel has the hands and actions that play well at shortstop, though he could see time at other infield positions as well to expand his versatility. He has shown solid contact skills from the left side with doubles power.

Carlos Castillo, RHP, Venezuela: Castillo, 17, signed for $245,000 after showing impressive pitchability for his age. He’s 6-foot-1, 165 pounds, an athletic but slender build that he is starting to fill out with the ability to locate a fastball that has been up to 92 mph and has projection for more. His changeup is an advanced pitch for his age and he does a good job of landing his curveball in the zone already. 

Jonelly Van der linden, SS, Aruba: At $180,000, Van der linden has been the biggest bonus player signed from Aruba this year. He’s 5-foot-10, 145 pounds at 16, so he’s physically behind a lot of his peers for now and doesn’t have the same experience compared to his counterparts from the Dominican Republic or Venezuela, but he has the hands and actions that should stick in the infield and potentially the middle infield, possibly at second base or in a utility role. 

Andres Villafane, OF, Colombia: Villafane signed for $155,000, which so far has been the biggest bonus this year for a Colombian player. At 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, Villafane is a lefty corner outfielder with an intriguing mix of hitting ability and power for his size. It’s a sound swing with an aggressive approach and deep alleys power. 

Miguel Rodriguez, OF, Venezuela: Rodriguez is 5-foot-10, 155 pounds with good wheels, instincts and ability to play a premium position. A 17-year-old signed for $150,000, Rodriguez is a plus runner without much power, maintaining a line-drive approach from the right side. It’s rare to see a player bunt as an amateur, but Rodriguez made that part of his game as well. His speed and instincts should allow him to stick in center field. 

Janderson Linares, LHP, Venezuela: Linares was a projection lefty throwing 83-86 mph when teams were scouting him. That projection has started to come through, with his fastball increasing to 92 mph at 17. His delivery and arm action work well, with more room to fill out at 6-foot-2, 175 pounds. He shows feel for a changeup, and while his curveball is inconsistent, he has shown some aptitude for that pitch as well. He signed for $130,000.

Sleeper Watch

The Pirates went way outside the usual scouting trail to sign righthander David Matoma out of Uganda for $20,000. The Pirates scouted Matoma in Uganda, where he showed a good foundation to build on between his athleticism, delivery, arm action and a fastball that was touching 88 mph from his skinny 6-foot frame. Matoma, who turned 17 in February after signing, has seen his velocity take off since getting to the team’s academy in the Dominican Republic, touching 96 mph in April. There’s still quite a bit of understandable rawness to his game, but the early jump in his fastball has been encouraging. 


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