2-26-22 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement On Twitter)
A couple of blog posts ago I wrote about the general overuse of the terms underrated, overrated, under the radar, relative unknown, forgotten or even breakout when it came to describing Pirates Prospects in the Farm System. Towards the end of my rant piece I made mention about the possibility of bringing up names from either the Florida Complex and/or Dominican Summer Leagues if you really wanted to talk about players with little to no publicity. Well, that’s pretty much where I am right about now.
After nearly three months with no real baseball news to be discussed I found myself perusing the stat lines of the Pirates Black and Gold Teams to pass the time one evening last week, while patiently awaiting the start of Minor League Spring Training.
In the past my focus had been drawn toward the position players on the roster; specifically Tsung Che-Cheng, the Romeros, Sergio Campagna and Rodolfo Nolasco. However, this time it was several of the young arms that caught my eye; mostly in terms of their ability to generate the swing and miss. For some it also didn’t hurt that they had a tendency to keep runners off the base paths in general.
Now obviously I completely understand that the performances of players from 18 to 22 years old will do little to move the needle for the casual Pirates Fan; especially those that have yet to make their way out of the Sunshine State. I am also well aware that the chances of even one of these prospects eventually taking the field at PNC Park-or at the Major League Level in general-is extraordinarily slim.
On the other hand it’s not like every single player experienced success in the FCL, so why not given credit where credit is due?
1) Joelvis Del Rosario
Signed by the Pirates in January of 2018, a few months before his 17th Birthday, Del Rosario would began his professional career later that summer with a brief appearance in the DSL; only totaling 11 innings before returning to the same Pirates1 team the following season. Over two years and 61.1 innings the young Dominican right-hander would post a 3.08 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP with 47 strikeouts and 22 walks. On the surface a couple of these numbers were less than overwhelming, specifically his strikeout to walk ratio; yet, it always seemed liked there was some sort of underlying promise for improvement due to how in command and in control he appeared to be on the mound.
When MiLB finally resumed play this past summer, Del Rosario finally had the opportunity to tap into at least a portion of this potential. In another small sample size-only 38.2 innings-he saw his K/9 jump to 12.10, while his BB/9 and ERA remained consistent at 2.33 and 3.26.
In spite of his improved performance some durability concerns have been raised due to Del Rosario’s size-5’11 170 pounds, which would make a transition to a relief role more likely; although it should be noted that on paper he was more effective as a starter, with a 1.93 ERA and .964 WHIP versus a 6.75 ERA and 1.406 WHIP out of the pen.
2) Valentin Linarez
In direct contrast to Del Rosario, Linarez stands 6’5” and weighs in at 225 pounds; looking the part of a starting pitcher, and even bigger in person if you can believe it.
Signed by Pirates in January of 2018, this imposing figure from the Dominican Republic split time between the bullpen and the rotation during his first professional season in the DSL; finding more success in the former role. Overall he struggled with command, which led to a BB/9 rate of 5.0 and K/9 rate of 6.6.
Returning to the DSL in 2019, Linarez worked strictly as a member of the rotation; starting 12 games, pitching 55.1 innings and making clear improvements across the board. His BB/9 dropped to 2.3, his K/9 raised to 8.9 and both his ERA (2.28) and WHIP 1.03) were better for it.
Due to the positive steps he had made throughout the season it was likely that complex league would be in the plans for 2020. Nevertheless, this promotion would have to wait until this last summer, where it quickly became apparent that he was likely more advanced than this assignment. Sure his walk rate elevated back up to 4.1 BB/9, but his K/9 also took a jump to 14.3; ultimately resulting in a bump up to High-A Greensboro towards the end of season when they were in need of a few arms to help them finish out the year. In 2 starts and across 9 innings, Linarez walked 2 and struck out 7, however he also gave up 3 homers-all of which took place on the road, just in case anyone thought it had something to do with the First National Bank Effect.
Because of his age, a looming service time decision-Rule 5 Eligible in December of 2022-and the fact he was there already, it probably makes sense that he would start the year with the Grasshoppers; hopefully to figure out his eventual role, as well as to see if he can find some balance between his walk and strikeout rates.
3) Darvin Garcia
When Garcia was signed by the Pirates in July of 2019 he had already turned 20 years old, so it only made sense to immediately get him some action in the DSL. Over an extremely small sample size of 11.1 innings-and looking very raw-the 6’3” native of the Dominican Republic walked 5 batters and struck out 15, all in a relief role.
Upon his arrival in the FCL this past summer, the now 22 year-old once again found his place in the bullpen; this time will a little more control. Over 33 innings of relief he kept his strikeout rate fairly high at an even 12 batters per 9, while lowering his walk rate from 4 to 2.5.
Set to turn 23 shortly after the start of the upcoming season, Garcia is likely to join Linarez in Greensboro, with the hope that he continue to miss bats at a similar rate.
4) Carlos Jimenez
In spite of still being 16 years old when the 2019 season began, and missing a month’s worth of games during the year, Jimenez’s professional debut was pretty impressive. Over 10 starts and 39 innings the 6’2” Venezuelan posted a 2.54 ERA, a 1.359 WHIP and 10.4 K/9 to 3.9 BB/9. At his age it was a forgone conclusion that 2020 would be a repeat of the DSL, with hopes of advancing to the states in 2021.
Clearly the second part of this plan worked itself out, as he would make his stateside debut for the Pirates Black Squad at the end of June. At nearly 3 years younger than the average player in the league, Jimenez improved upon his WHIP (1.165) and K/9 (11.5), but saw a slight bump in his ERA (3.15); although, it would be the stagnant BB/9 (3.9) continues to raise a little bit of concern from some scouts. However, at that point I could just refer back to the right-hander’s age, his limited experience and the obvious consequences of a year without baseball.
For these three reasons-along with the fact that he has a solid three pitch mix, which includes an above average changeup-it’s easy to see the potential for Jimenez to show improvement when he takes the mound in the FCL and/or with the Marauders this summer.
5) Po-Yu Chen
Of the five pitchers mentioned in this post, Chen is clearly the most recognizable name; mainly due the fact of how, when and by whom he was acquired.
On August 28, 2020 the Pirates-and more specifically Ben Cherington-traded outfielder Jarod Dyson to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for an additional $243,300 of international bonus pool space; a bump in available funds that they almost immediately put into signing this 22nd Ranked International Prospect of the 2019–20 Class, from Taiwan, for $1.25 million.
In 2019 the 6’2” 198 pound right-handed hurler pitched in the WSBC U-18 Baseball World Cup, where he put up a 1.29 ERA over a total of 14 innings thanks to his high 80s/low 90s sinking fastball, curve ball and somewhat advanced changeup.
With the Pirates, Chen would begin his professional career in the aforementioned FCL; a situation in which he was nothing shorting of dominating. Over 26 innings of work he did not walk a single batter, struck out 29-good for a rate of 10.0 K/9-and posted an nearly identical 0.69 ERA and .692 WHIP.
Unfortunately his transition to Low-A Bradenton did not go smoothly as put up a 5.63 ERA and a 1.688 WHIP, while walking 12 and striking out 15; although his one start was a 7 inning, 3 hit, 0 run and 6 K performance.
Now, as far as Chen’s future is concerned, I still hold the same belief that I did the last time I wrote about it; which is that much of his success-or lack thereof-will depend on his ability to add strength and velocity.
As much as I like pouring over over stats, projections, rankings, etc., it’s time to have baseball back; because in all honesty, this off-season has felt like an eternity. Yes, I realize I have college games to watch, with a Minor League Season on the way; but without MLB, it kind of feels incomplete.
Obviously, I will continue to provide updates on analysis on players in the Pirates Farm System, including these five young men. It’s what I’ve done ever since I started blogging about the team over two years ago. The only difference is that it becomes much harder to envision their individual developmental paths from level to level-and hopefully to Pittsburgh one day-without a clear picture of the depth that lies in front of them.