1-14-22 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement on Twitter)
As the MLB Lockout has continued to trudge on-through December and well into January-I have noticed a trend of discussions and articles moving towards the farm systems across the league, and especially when it concerns a rebuilding organization such as the Pittsburgh Pirates; much to the dismay of certain factions within the Pirates Fanbase, who will be sure to let you how tired they are of reading/hearing about prospects. Over the last week these conversation have been ratcheted up by the impending International Free Agent Signing Period, which is set to kick off on Saturday January 15th; sending some completely over the edge with mutterings about the failings of Gregory Polanco and questions about the refurbished Dominican Academy that Bob Nutting lauded as having a real impact on the future of the organization.
People are impatient by nature; but Pittsburgh Pirates Fans often take this to a whole new level; many times with very good reason.
With an extreme focus not being put on the international stage until this expansion it’s hard to imagine an immediate turn around, particularly with how far behind the Pirates were other ball clubs in this area; coupled with the fact that many of these players join the organization as 16 or 17 year-old kids, and won’t see action stateside for a couple of years.
On the other hand it’s not like the program was completely dormant either, as evidenced by the performance of the DSL Pirates2 in 2019. This is a team that put together an extremely impressive 56-16 record thanks to several players who are starting to make some noise in the city of Bradenton, both in the FCL and for the hometown Marauders; headlined in part by the tandem of Rayber and Randy Romero.
Back in the summer of 2019, 17 year-old second baseman Rayber-signed in July 2018 out of Venezuela-was getting his first taste of professional baseball, while 19 year-old outfielder Randy-inked to a deal in July 2017 from Mexico-was entering his second year in the DSL; with him struggling slightly in 2018 as he put up a .253/.326/.333 slash line with one lone homer. However, that season both young men were firing on all cylinders.
On the year, Randy lead the team in batting average and stolen bases, hitting a cool .376 and swiping a ridiculously high 36 bags. He was also tied for first with five triples and walked more than he struck out-17 to 15. At the same time, Rayber would bat .314 and total 19 walks to 16 strikeouts in nearly half as many plate appearances. Still neither would demonstrate any real power as they only managed three homers combined.
After the season it was expected that Randy would move on to play in the states, leaving Rayber to develop for an additional year in the DSL. Yet, as we all know now 2020 was a complete wash for both ball players, and they ended up coming to Florida together in 2021; spending entire season together in the FCL on different squads. Randy rocked the Pirates Gold alongside fellow outfielders Rodolfo Nolasco and Sergio Campana, as Rayber put on the Black to pair up with Luis Tejada in the middle infield.
In the end the Gold would reign supreme over the Black, but this time it was Rayber that took the step forward, as he bested Randy in nearly every major category, as well as those on the more analytical side of the game. On the season Rayber batted .270 with a .771 OPS, a 125 wRC+ and a 20.3% to 14.4% BB/K Ratio; whereas Randy batted .252 with a .645 OPS, a 75 wRC+ and a 6.5% to 14.1% BB/K Ratio.
In spite of the differences in performance, Randy still remains the more familiar name to many as he has continued to play in the off-season-for the third consecutive year-in Liga Mexicana del Pacifico (aka the Mexican Pacific Winter League). To his credit he appeared to be more polished than he was during the FCL season, and did so against more advanced competition; batting .289 as compared to .140 and .176 during his previous two stints in the league.
For Randy, 2022 will be an important year-not that it won’t be for Rayber-as he looks to rise through the ranks at a more accelerated pace in his 22 year-old season. In contrast, Rayber doesn’t turn 20 until almost two full months into the MiLB schedule; although he does become Rule 5 eligible in December of 2022, so there is still a lot for him to prove.
At any rate, it will be nice too see how each of the Romeros perform outside of the complex leagues; where competition will increase, and the stakes are just a little bit higher.