International bonus pool “money” is a term that has been back in the news throughout the baseball world recently. Most of this is due to the buzz surrounding the “Cuban Shohei Ohtania” Oscar Colas. However, in Pittsburgh Pirates fans’ minds much of this has been caused by only receiving $250,000 in international bonus pool space from the Philadelphia Phillies in the trade involving Corey Dickerson at the trade deadline on July 31.  The Pirates received another $250,000 in international bonus pool space in the Starling Marte trade, which is not actual money for anyone that was wondering. It is not money going into Bob Nutting’s pocket. It is the ability to spend $250,000 extra on international free agents during this signing period. If the money is not spent it goes away, it does not roll over to the next year and once again for clarification, it does not go into Bob Nutting’s pocket. All the talk/arguments/discussions about this “money” really got me thinking about the player’s that the Pirates have signed using it and where they are at in Pirates organization or elsewhere in Major League/Minor League Baseball. If you remember my article from last week I talked about one such player, Rodolfo Castro. This week I am going to talk about another player that was signed using this “money” in the year after Castro; right handed pitcher, Santiago Florez. 

On July 2, 2016 the Pittsburgh Pirates signed 16-year-old Santiago Florez to a $150,000 contract. At the time the young man from Barranquilla, Columbia was still growing into what is now a 6’5’’ 222 pound frame, but the Pirates saw potential in his fastball, breaking ball and overall mechanics. After a full year of training and conditioning Florez made his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League pitching for the DSL Pirates, starting in 14 of the team’s 71 games that season. In his 14 starts, Florez’s youth showed as he struck out only 30 batters and walked 38 in 53.1 innings. He also posted a less than impressive 4.56 ERA and a 1.519 WHIP. Nevertheless, these less than flashy numbers did not stop the Pirates development arch for Florez, probably due to his inexperience and the fact that he was almost a full 2 years younger than the average player in the league. 

The next season Florez was sent to the Gulf Coast League to play for the GCL Pirates (Pittsburgh’s rookie level affiliate), where he was almost 2 and half years younger than the average player in the league. Again Florez did not light the world on fire, but he also did not regress either. Instead he continued to progress little by little. In `10 starts and 43.1 innings, Florez lowered his ERA to 4.15, his WHIP to 1.385 and his walks to 23 (down to 4.8 BB/9 from 6.4). He also increased his strikeouts 35 (up to 7.3 SO/9 from 5.1). It should be noted that he did this all in spite of the fact that his season was derailed a little bit by an elbow tweak. For his efforts Florez was rewarded with his first appearance on MLB’s Top 30 Pirates’ Prospects, sneaking in at #30. 

Last summer Florez continued his steady progression through the system as he was assigned to the Bristol Pirates (Pittsburgh’s advanced rookie level associate) of the Appalachian League. And just like he had over the past two seasons, he continued to grow and develop. Florez started 10 games, just like he had the previous year, and pitching a few less innings (42.1). For the season Florez posted a 3.46 ERA, a 1.344 WHIP, struck out 36 batters (7.8 per 9) and walked 21 (4.5 per 9). The highlight of Florez’s season came in his next to last start of the season on August 20 against the Bluefield Blue Jays , when he struck out 7, walked none, didn’t allow a run and gave up only 4 hits in 6 innings. At the end of the year, just as he had steadily progressed through the Pirates system, he also steadily progressed up the MLB’s Top 30 Pirates’ Prospects, landing at #22. 

As with many of the Pirates other young pitching prospects it is quite difficult to predict exactly what the future holds for them; especially when you are asked to look 3 or 4 years into the future. At least for this year it is pretty easy to determine where we will find Florez. More than likely he will begin his 2020 campaign with the Greensboro Grasshoppers (Pittsburgh’s low A affiliate) of the South Atlantic League. However, I wouldn’t be at all shocked if he was assigned to the Bradenton Marauders (Pittsburgh’s advanced/high A affiliate) of the Florida State League to begin the season. He has shown continual improvement of the past 3 years and it may be time to see how his pitches play in a higher league. His fastball is more than ready as it is a 65 grade (out of 80) and tops out at consistently at 96 mph, with the potential of eventually reaching triple digits. His curve his also nearing above average at 50/55, as it often falls into or out of the zone with limited recognition from opposing batters. As with many young pitchers command is sometimes an issue, but when he is on, he is nearly unhittable. For the foreseeable future I expect the Pirates to continue to give him starts at whatever level he is at and wait to see if he struggles and/or stumbles. If this happens a future role in the bullpen cannot be ruled out. If it doesn’t I could easily see him taking the mound to start a game for the Pirates at PNC Park, as an extremely imposing figure, as early as 2022. 

 Follow Craig on Twitter: @BucsBasement