I think the addition of the Bristol Pirates is finally making sense to me now. It is related to how they are doing Latin American signings. The Pirates are doing Latin American signings different than most every other team. Perhaps it is motivated by money. They are not spending big dollars and are not incurring penalties like some teams are doing. They are pretty minor slaps on the wrist, and would be worth it if it landed a big name. But the Pirates are going to the other extreme. The Pirates are signing anyone they can get their hands on.
Yes, the Pirates announced this week that they signed 18 people on July 2 this year. That is over 10 more people than originally thought. No real high dollar signings, but money spread around over some young guys and some old guys. The Pirates again are not going above 6 figures and did not make a serious play for any big names. The Pirates clearly believe sign many, train hard, and see what turns up is a better fiscal policy than sign big names and hope they are worth it.
The obvious example is Luis Heredia who signed for 3 million and his chance of making the pros is now low, and if he does it will be as a bullpen guy. You can add the bonuses of Polanco and Marte and multiply by two and still not get close to Heredia’s bonus. The Pirates cannot really afford to miss big like this, especially in the new system where some penalties happen. I know I said the penalties are worth it, but they are only worth it if the guy you signed that busted the cap is a success. And nothing is for sure. So, the Pirates have decided not to take the chance. The new way of doing things is too new to see how it will play out. Some are going to flop like Michael Del Cruz seems to be doing, but Adrian Valerio is a man who looks to be a prospect. He signed for 400,000, and Cruz about the same. And that is on the high side of what the Pirates do now. But for less than half what it took to sign Harold Ramirez and less than a third of what it took to sign Heredia, the Pirates have a prospect and a dud. Same number of prospects at a much cheaper rate, but it does require more warm bodies.
So this is why the Pirates are in need of a second Rookie level club. They are going to be sending a lot more talent up from Latin America. In the past the GCL Rookie team was simply a place to put high schoolers just drafted and some of the smaller college players along with the few who were getting the promotion from the Dominican League. Now with lots more players expected to come from the Dominican, another landing place is needed. Some of those smaller college guys can be diverted to a slightly higher level of competition with the Appy Rookie League, and maybe some guys who are not quite ready for Low A can move a half step in competition rather than eating a slot by repeating with the GCL team (think Jhoan Herrera this year). This is especially important for pitchers.
Just look at an example from this year. In 2013 the Pirates signed Nestor Oronel when he was 16 years old. He spent a year playing for the DSL. 31 K’s with only 14 walks in 14 starts was good enough to have him come up in 2015 to the GCL. There he started 9 games and appeared in a few more. Not a great performance as he failed to win any games, but actually had a better WHIP. He was not ready for a move to Low A ball to pitch against college hitters who were going to be 2 or more years older than him. But the Pirates need to be looking at new prospects, so Oronel moves up to the Appy league and start 8 games and appear in more innings this year than last. He recorded more strikeouts with 36. Now he is still far from a prospect, but he will be 20 going into next season. He may even need to start off in the Appy League again. But, the fact he did not need to eat a starting spot in the GCL helped pave the way for like Miguel Hernandez. He was signed when 18 (I think), and spent a season in the Dominican and earned his way as a 20 year old to pitch in the GCL where he started 9 games and appeared in one more. He is a bit wild, but won a couple of games and did not give up as many hits as you might expect.
Since the Pirates are going with the more the merrier approach in International signings, it is almost a necessity to have that extra Rookie level team to evaluate the people as they go through the system.
It is a little early to tell if this approach is better than chasing after big names in Latin America, but failure here will be a lot easier to absorb as a system than failure like we see with Luis Heredia. For a financially strapped organization, I am all for giving it a try.