|Julio De La Cruz at the plate.|
The Pirates signed Heredia, the consensus top Latin American pitching prospect in 2010, and he hasn't disappointed. This came just one year after the Pirates attempted to sign shortstop Miguel Sano, the top Latin American prospect in 2009, but ultimately failed, as Sano signed with the Twins. However, going after both players and signing one of them showed the Pirates commitment to spending money in Latin America. Despite this new commitment, money did not play a part in Marte, Hanson, and Polanco's success. The three players signed for a total of $310,000 dollars, $90,000 less than the Pirates paid Exicardo Cayonez, a outfielder who was the Pirates largest international non-Cuban signing ever in 2008. Cayonez never amounted to much and was part of the package sent to the Yankees for A.J. Burnett this past offseason.
Recently though, bigger bonuses seem to have a chance to pay off. In 2010, the same year the Pirates paid Heredia $2,600,000 million dollars, they also paid Willy Garcia $280,000 and Dilson Herrera $220,000. Garcia just hit 18 homeruns as a teenager in the South Atlantic League, although he struggled with strikeouts. Herrera just had a phenomenal year in the Gulf Coast League as a 18 year-old and was named Baseball America's ninth best prospect in the league. Personally, he's a candidate for a breakout season next year, similar to Hanson.
In 2011, the Pirates continued to spend, paying two 16 year-old outfielders, Harold Ramirez and Elvis Escobar, $1,050,000 and $570,000 respectively. Both players went straight to the Gulf Coast League and both held their own, making it a successful season.
2012 brought changes to the CBA and a monetary limit, this year 2.9 million dollars, is now set for international spending, with penalties in place to prevent overspending. In 2010, the Pirates broke that mark, and last year they may have came close (the Pirates paid 7 undisclosed bonus amounts). That said, it shouldn't be a big issue for the Pirates.
In fact, thus far, the Pirates have only signed 4 players and haven't come close to breaking the limit. That said, the Pirates still spent money, giving more than half a million dollars to a non-Cuban Latin American player or only the 4th and 5th time in organizational history. They also shelled out another $350,000 dollar bonus, making it one of the biggest bonuses handed out in Pirates history.
Julio De La Cruz
Country: Dominican Republic
The first thing that stands out about Julio is his advanced approach for his young age. Julio has both a good hit tool and maturity, both on and off the field. Furthermore, unlike both of the Pirates big Latin American signings last year, Julio actually stands over six feet, at 6'1 inches. He's already 190 pounds, so he doesn't offer significant projection, but that also means he should be an adequate defender at third base going forward. If his hit tool pans out and Julio adds enough strength to hit 20 homeruns, he could be a solid major leaguer. Overall, the young Dominican doesn't have massive potential but has a significantly better floor than the average Latin American teenager, meaning he should start his career stateside and could move quickly.
Michael De La Cruz
Country: Dominican Republic
The "second" De La Cruz offers a bit more upside than Julio. Michael is a centerfielder who allegedly has plus speed. He also has an arm that ranges from fringy to above-average depending on the scouting report. Michael hits lefty handed with a loose swing that suggests the potential for future development of significant bat speed and with it significant power. Overall, this young Dominican is raw-er with more upside than Julio. That also means he might start his career overseas, although the success of both Ramirez and Escobar, plus Michael's bonus suggests the possibility he could start in the Gulf Coast League.
Kennelly possess a projectable 6'2, 187 pound frame and enough athleticism and arm to have a good chance to stick at shortstop long term. Kennelly - a right-handed hitter and thrower - participated in Major League Baseball’s Australian Academy this year. He hit for a .250/.308/.271 line in 48 at-bats this past year in the MLBAAP. Kennelly comes from a baseball family as three of his older brothers all have played or are playing professional baseball in the major leagues.
Country: Dominican Republic
Gonzalez stands out due to his lithe 6'1, 175 pound frame and solid arm. Potential with the bat keeps Gonzalez off the mound, as he signed as a catcher. He's athletic enough to stick behind the plate long term and while he doesn't have impressive bat speed at the moment, he's got a loose swing with good bat control and could develop good power. Overall, Gonzalez has good projection and plenty of feel for the game of baseball for a young player, although he'll be best served by playing in the Dominican for at least a year. He's a long-term investment, especially as a catcher, but one that might pay off huge dividends with patience and a bit of luck.
Assuming Kennelly's bonus was somewhere in the $100,000 to $300,000 range, the Pirates have $850,000 to $1,050,000 to spend left in the international market. They could shell out another significant 6 figure bonus, but more than likely they will spend their allotment left on several small bonus players. If nothing else, they will need to add quantity and sometimes that turns into quality. Just ask Starling Marte, Alen Hanson, and Gregory Polanco. Let's hope the international pipeline continues and that these four players have a major impact on that happening.