Minor League look: Latin America
VSL Pirates played for championship; DSL pitchers struggled
Here is the final part of a seven-part series in which we take an in-depth look at how each of the Pirates' Minor League affiliates fared during the 2009 season. Previously, we examined Triple-A Indianapolis, Double-A Altoona, high Class A Lynchburg, and Class A West Virginia, short-season State College and the Gulf Coast League Pirates. Up last are the Pirates' Dominican and Venezuelan Summer League teams:
Record: Venezuelan Summer League Pirates: 48-22, first in the VSL standings; Dominican Summer League Pirates: 29-38, eighth in the B.C. DSL north division
What went right?
-- The VSL club had a sensational season for the second year in a row and came two outs away from claiming a second straight championship. After winning the first game of a best-of-three championship series against the VSL Rays, the VSL Pirates lost a lead in Game 2 and then were beaten easily in the series' deciding game.
-- Outfielder Exicardo Cayonez (VSL) was a priority sign for the organization in July 2008 and then performed quite well in his first full season. He hit .302 with 34 RBIs in 65 games. He showed good tools across the board, and his body strength and development made a significant jump in his first season.
-- Another 2008 signee, right-hander Roberto Espinoza (VSL) impressed on the mound. He made 14 starts and finished 4-1 with a 2.74 ERA. The most encouraging aspect of Espinoza's season, though, was the jump seen in his velocity. While scouting Espinoza, the Pirates saw a fastball velocity of 81 to 85 mph. That jumped to 88 to 93 mph during the season. Espinoza's above-average arm action is expected to help him continue to develop his fastball and slider.
-- Gavi Nivar and Gregory Polanco, both outfielders in the DSL, caught the eye of the Pirates' development team in 2009. In his first year, the 6-foot-4 Nivar showed above-average speed and arm. Pittsburgh is hopeful that Nivar's bat can now develop to make him a more dynamic player. Polanco hit .267 in 63 games and is expected to show more power as he matures. The Pirates were especially impressed with his character and instincts in his first professional season.
-- One of the DSL's biggest offensive forces in 2009 was Eric Avila, who hit .315 with 20 doubles, nine homers and 50 RBIs in 67 games last season. While his tools have been described as just ordinary, the Pirates still believe he can continue to develop an impact bat as an infielder.
What went wrong?
-- The youth on the DSL Pirates team hurt the club in 2009, especially on the pitching end. The club lacked pitching depth and did not have a large enough group of consistent strike throwers. As a result, the DSL Pirates finished 32nd in the 33-team league with a 4.92 ERA. The team's 325 walks in 591 1/3 innings was the league's 10th highest total.
On the rise:
-- Third baseman-shortstop Jonathan Barrios (VSL) didn't have a standout season in 2009, but the Pirates still expect significant development to occur as the 17-year-old matures. Although he hit just .241 in 54 games, Barrios was still seen as having above-average bat speed and an above-average arm. His athleticism is expected to serve him well in the future.
-- Jorge Bishop (VSL) showed that he could hit for average (.308), hit for power (20 extra-base hits), and use his speed (24 stolen bases) to cause fits for opponents. Bishop, a first-year player, was also lauded for having impressive instincts for the game, even though he was a player that was not heavily scouted out of Panama.
-- Left-handed pitcher Joely Rodriguez (DSL) is one to keep an eye on. He had a 4.60 ERA in 12 starts and showed an especially lively break to his curveball.
-- Right-hander Emmanuel De Leon (DSL) made a team-high 14 starts in 2009 and finished with a 4.52 ERA. He struck out 52 in 48 2/3 innings while showing solid to above-average arm strength and stuff. If De Leon can improve his command, the Pirates see some intriguing potential.
VSL statistical leaders:
Batting average (minimum 100 plate appearances): Eduardo Cabrera, .371
Doubles: Cayonez, 18
Triples: David Pino, 8
Home runs: Michaelangel Trinidad, 14
RBIs: Trinidad, 56
Stolen bases: Junior Sosa, 25
Wins: Raul Ruiz, 7
ERA (starter, minimum 40 IP): Yomar Pacheco, 1.93
ERA (reliever, minimum 20 IP): Ruiz, 0.53
Saves: Ruiz, 6
Strikeouts: Oscar Verdugo, 53
DSL statistical leaders:
Batting average (minimum 100 plate appearances): Avila, .315
Doubles: Avila, 21
Triples: Polanco, 6
Home runs: Avila, 9
RBIs: Avila, 50
Stolen bases: Jodaneli Carvajal, 17
Wins: Martires Cadet, 7
ERA (starter, minimum 40 IP): Porfirio Lopez, 1.23
ERA (reliever, minimum 20 IP): Oliberto Guzman, 2.25
Saves: Guzman, 5
Strikeouts: Fraylin Campos, 92
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.