After the completion of the regular season and alternate training sites, most player development staffs have turned their attention to instructional league play. In the past, instructs have been populated by new draftees, recent international signings and players at the bottom rungs of their organizational ladder. This year, in an attempt to make up for lost time due to the pandemic, it’s been expanded to include many more players. MLB Pipeline will be providing position-by-position reports from instructional league camps in Florida and Arizona.
Gilberto Alcala, RHP; Braxton Ashcraft, RHP (No. 16 prospect); Parker Brahms, RHP; Michael Burrows, RHP (No. 29); Wilger Camacho, RHP; Christopher Cruz, RHP; Oscar Echarry, RHP; Adrian Florencio, RHP; Santiago Florez, RHP (No. 19); J.C. Flowers, RHP; Grant Ford, RHP; Nick Garcia, RHP (No. 17); Ryan Harbin, RHP; Jack Hartman, RHP; Logan Hofmann; RHP; Jared Jones, RHP (No. 13); Travis MacGregor, RHP (No. 30); Brennan Malone, RHP (No. 7); Carmen Mlodzinski, RHP (No. 8); Yojeiry Osoria, LHP; Quinn Priester, RHP (No. 4); Austin Roberts, RHP; Tahnaj Thomas, RHP (No. 15); Noe Toribio, RHP; Jesus Valles, RHP
The pitchers from this year’s Pirates Draft class -- Competitive Balance Round A pick Carmen Mlodzinski, second-rounder Jared Jones and third-round selection Nick Garcia -- are technically at instructs in Bradenton, Fla., but they’re not being pushed to compete in games at this point. The same can be said of the young arms from the 2019-20 international signing class: Gilberto Alcala, Christopher Cruz and Yojeiry Osoria, who also happens to be the lone left-hander in camp.
But the past two Draft classes? They’re getting into games and opening some eyes. No one has looked better than 2019 first-rounder Quinn Priester. Thanks to the opportunity he had to join players at the alternate site about midway through the shortened season, the right-hander hit the ground running at instructs. In a marquee matchup against the Phillies last week, facing 2020 first-rounder Mick Abel, Priester’s average fastball was 97 mph and he touched 99 in his three innings of work.
“We’ve been encouraged with both the way the ball is coming out of his hand and the way he’s matured as a young man and his presence in camp,” Pirates assistant director of Minor League operations Brian Selman said. “His repertoire is advanced beyond his age. It’s just refining it to the point where he’s ready to compete next year.”
Braxton Ashcraft, the club’s second-rounder in 2018, has also impressed. He’s completely past the shoulder injury that hampered him in 2019 and the 6-foot-5 right-hander continues to work on his breaking stuff and repeating his delivery well.
“He’s made some real strides in terms of mound presence and the physical maturity he’s added in the last year doesn’t hurt,” Selman said. “We’re encouraged by the direction of that arrow. His mound presence and fastball command has really progressed.”
Daniel Angulo; Luis Hernandez; Raul Hernandez; Joe Jimenez; Geovanny Planchart; Jhan Polanco; Kyle Wilkie
The Pirates don’t have a single catcher on their Top 30, but there are a trio of young backstops who played in the Dominican Summer League in 2019 who could climb onto that list in the near future, and they're all at instructs currently.
Luis Hernandez is the elder statesman of the group, having turned 20 last month. He and the 19-year-old Geovanny Planchart, both from Venezuela, have been in Brandenton all spring and summer while Polanco, also 19, is a Dominican catcher who was at the academy in the DR before coming to the states for the first time now.
“We’re encouraged by all of them,” Selman said. “They have a feel to catch, move around, call a game, they’re advanced beyond their years. They’re a little overmatched in the box, which is to be expected, but they’ve shown up and competed. It’s really exciting.”
This is the most interesting and deep group in the system and, as a result, at instructs this fall. They largely can be put into three buckets. There’s the group that came down from the alternate site in Altoona, Pa.: 2020 first-rounder Nick Gonzales (who’s been getting most of his work at second base), Liover Peguero (the talented shortstop from the Starling Marte trade), Mason Martin (the power-hitting first baseman) and Rodolfo Castro (who has the look of a very valuable super-utility type).
“They came down to get more at-bats and get more work in,” Selman said. “They look like they’re going to challenge us in the near term for opportunities in Pittsburgh.”
The second group is made up of players who weren’t in Altoona, but were just on the outside looking in. The trio of 2019 11th-round pick Jase Bowen, Dylan Busby, a 2017 third-rounder, and 2019 draftee Jared Triolo in particular all were very productive during the offseason and shutdown and showed up ready to go.
The last group is the players who were in the DSL a year ago, namely Dariel Lopez and Alexander Mojica. Both really hit in the Dominican in 2019, with Mojica leading the circuit in OPS (1.048) and Lopez finishing with a .341/.404/.485 line.
“For guys coming to the United States for the first time, this is certainly not too big for them,” Selman said. “We’re excited about them on both sides of the ball.”
There are three Top 30 prospects in the outfield crop, but it’s been Matt Gorski, the club’s second-round pick out of Indiana in 2019, who has stood out the most. The toolsy outfielder had some strikeout concerns as a Draft prospect and they followed him during his pro debut when he struck out in 23.8 of his plate appearances, with a wrist injury not helping his cause. Now healthy, Gorski is continuing the work he began last offseason in refining his approach.
“It feels like he’s cut down on his swing-and-miss,” Selman said. “He has a better feel for his lower half on his swing and he can be electric with the bat.”
Like with the infielders, a pair of players from last year’s group laying in the DSL have made a very solid first impression in the States. Sergio Campana has shown off his athleticism and tools on both sides of the ball, while Nolasco continues to get attention because of how he can impact the baseball, with high exit velocities, at such a young age.