Pirates agree to deals with pair of top int’l prospects

January 26th, 2023

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates announced on Jan. 15 that they have signed 22 players on the first day of the 2022-23 International Signing Period, a group that includes players from Aruba, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, South Korea, Uganda and Venezuela.

“Our international scouting group will go anywhere in the world to find the right players, and our development staff works just as hard to make sure each and every one of those players can thrive with the Pirates,” general manager Ben Cherington said in a press release. “We are excited to welcome this international class to the Pirates organization and can’t wait to support their growth as players and as people.”

The group is headlined by right-handed pitcher Jun-Seok Shim, the No. 10 prospect in this year’s international class, per MLB Pipeline. Shim, signed by scout Jong Hoon Na, officially inked his contract in Pittsburgh on Thursday.

Shim, 18, can touch triple digits with his fastball, a pitch that averages in the 94-96 mph range. Director of international scouting Junior Vizcaino noted that Shim’s fastball provides the illusion that the pitch goes up, not down, because of its backspin and velocity.

“Jun-Seok has been on our radar for a few years and we are fortunate with the opportunity to bring him into the organization,” director of player personnel Max Kwan said in a press release. “He has quality power traits coupled with a strong ability to spin the ball. We are really excited to collaborate with Jun-Seok on his development to the big leagues.”

“He is one of the top prospects internationally, and rightly so,” Vizcaino said. “He can do some things with the baseball, God-given.”

Also leading this year’s signing class is 17-year-old outfielder Raymond Mola, the No. 26 international prospect. Mola, who hails from Peravia, Dominican Republic, and was signed by Daurys Nin, projects as a corner outfielder and can “turn on the baseball with power”, per Vizcaino.

Vizcaino shared that Mola had “some softness” and “a little baby fat” when they first met. Vizcaino challenged Mola to improve his physique, and Mola responded with significant strides.

“We’re really happy with that because it speaks to his work ethic,” Vizcaino said.

Added Vizcaino: “[It’s] really surprising how he plays the game for such a young kid, just the way he runs the bases, does some things at his age that tells you that he’s a little bit advanced [in] the way he’s thinking about the game.”

Another notable signee is right-handed pitcher David Matoma from Uganda, who was signed by scout Tom Gillespie. Prior to this year, only two Ugandan-born players -- Ben Serunkuma and Umar Male, both of whom signed with the Dodgers -- had been signed into MLB-affiliated baseball.

Vizcaino shared that Gillespie spent significant time scouting Matoma. Gillespie frequently sent footage of Matoma’s pitching, and the right-hander steadily showed improvement, particularly with his velocity. After several videos were exchanged, Vizcaino asked Gillespie, “What do we want to do?” Gillespie affirmed that he wanted to sign Matoma. Following some cross-checking, Vizcaino gave Gillespie the green light. 

“[Gillespie] went over there and met with the family and the kid,” Vizcaino said. “He felt comfortable enough with Tom to trust the Pittsburgh Pirates and come over with us. It’s a little different being that Africa is not a normal hotbed for us as far as looking for players, but once we identified the talent, we pretty much approached him like we would do any other pitcher that we like."

On Sunday, Vizcaino, international supervisors Jesus Lantigua and Saul Torres, senior advisor for Latin American Operations Luis Silver and the remainder of the club’s Venezuelan scouting staff took part in a ceremony in Valencia, Venezuela, to sign its seven Venezuelan players. Members of the leadership group will be in the Dominican Republic on Tuesday for another official signing ceremony as well.

“The scouts here in Venezuela did a great job getting it together and all the families came in,” Vizcaino said. “Everybody walked away with a great experience and happy that they became Pirates.”