Pirates' Minor Leaguers in Spring Training
After my spring training prospect spotlight article came out, I posted about how I would like to give every player that has had the opportunity to contribute to the Pittsburgh Pirates spring training, their time in the “spotlight." Over my next 3 prospect articles I am going to attempt to do this a thoroughly as I can, although I might not be able go into as great of depth as I have in a lot of my previous prospect pieces. Once again many of these players will be here and gone before you know it, but they are all still a part of the Pirates' farm system. A bunch of them are being “bussed over” from Pirates City for an afternoon, a day or maybe a little longer for depth in games; especially on days that there are split squad contests. Today I will be focusing on 8 such players in no particular order. Hopefully this information will give Pirates's fans some insight behind many of the players’ names that they will hear as they tune into the television to watch or the radio to listen to Pirates games over the next few weeks.
Dylan Busby - 3B/LF
Busby was the Pirates 3rd round pick of the 2017 MLB June Amateur Draft from Florida State University. After the draft he was assigned to the West Virginia Black Bears (Pittsburgh’s Short Season A Affiliate) of the New York-Pennsylvania League, where he struggled to get things going; ending up with a .188/.266/.256 slash line and 1 home run.
The following year he was assigned to the West Virginia Power (Pittsburgh’s Low A Affiliate through 2018) of the South Atlantic League. Busby was putting together a solid season for the Power when his season was abruptly knocked off course by a Collin Snider fastball in the 5th inning of a game against the Lexington Legends. Snider’s fastball hit Busby in the head, resulting in the young man being transported to the hospital and missing almost three months of time with the Power. He did get some rehab starts prior to returning to the Power, but only lasted approximately a week until he was shut down for the remainder of the season.
In 2019 Busby was assigned to the Bradenton Marauders (Pittsburgh’s High A/Advanced Affiliate) of the Florida State League where he would go on to complete his first full season of professional baseball, earning both FSL Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star Honors, as well as being named FSL Player of the week on September 2. By the end of the year Busby had smacked 22 HRs and compiled a total of 42 extra base hits.
Adrian Valerio - SS/2B
Valerio was originally signed by the Pirates as a 16-year-old international free agent out of Salcedo, Dominican Republic. It wasn’t until the following year that he was assigned to play for the DSL Pirates in the Dominican Summer League. After his original assignment in 2014 he steadily climbed his way through the Pirates' farm system; from the DSL Pirates to the GCL Pirates to the Bristol Pirates (Pittsburgh’s Advanced Rookie Level Affiliate) of the Appalachian League to the West Virginia Power to the Bradenton Marauders in 2018.
In 2018, Valerio was the team’s starting short stop for the majority of their games and put together a fairly solid season at the plate, hitting .243, with 6 HRs and 49 RBIs. This past season he began the year with the Altoona Curve (Pittsburgh’s AA Affiliate) of the Eastern League, but was demoted back down to the Marauders a month into the season. Toward the end of the year Valerio was once again back with the Curve, but unfortunately was not able to get things on track. He does have age on his side as he is only 22 years old (he will turn 23 during the season). However, he is in a difficult position as he is in one of the most log jammed/stacked positioning groups in the Pirates' farm system. This will be the year where he will have to perform to a level that will set himself apart from the others.
Lolo Sanchez - OF
Currently the #17 prospect on the Pirates' MLB Pipeline Top 30, Kevin “Lolo” Sanchez was signed in 2015 out of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic as an international free agent and received a contract of $450,000.
After a strong first season in professional baseball playing for the DSL Pirates, Lolo exploded onto the scene in the GCL with the Pirates; hitting .284, with 4 HRs, 16 extra base hits and 14 stolen bases. After a performance like this Sanchez was quickly elevated to the West Virginia Power in 2018, where he experienced a little bit of a bump in the road. While he did steal 30 bases that year, his average dropped to .243 and his strike out rate double to 16.3%.
This past year, he began at the same level, but in a new uniform as the Pirates Low A Affiliate moved from West Virginia to Greensboro and became the Grasshoppers. In the first 61 games of the season Lolo’s average shot up to .301, his strike out rate dropped back down to 10.6% and slugging percentage soared back above .400, landing at .451. This earned him a promotion to the Bradenton Marauders, but as with the promotion to West Virginia the previous year struggles quickly followed. In 52 games his average plummeted to .191 and his strike out rate once again rose to 15.9%.
Lolo’s main strengths are his Speed (60 Grade), his Arm (55 Grade) and his Fielding (Grade 55), but his hit tool has shown some potential (Grade 50). Due to his decreased production in Bradenton last year it could be beneficial for him to repeat a year in High A/Advanced.
Ji-Hwan Bae - SS/2B
Bae had originally been signed by the Atlanta Braves for $300,000 in September of 2017, but this deal was eventually voided due to international market violations on the part of former general manager, John Coppolella, who was ultimately banned from MLB for life. This gave the Pirates the opportunity to sign Bae in March of 2018 for $1.2 million from Daegu, Korea, thanks in part to the extra international bonus money they had acquired in the Andrew McCutchen trade earlier that off-season.
Bae debuted for the Pirates less than 3 months later in the GCL. In 35 games he batted .271, with a .362 OBP and 10 stolen bases. After his first year in professional baseball he was convicted of assaulting his former girlfriend in his home country, resulting in 30 game suspension for violating Minor League Baseball’s domestic violence policy.
After he had served his suspension the Pirates assigned Bae to the Greensboro Grasshoppers, where he continued to impress on the field. For the season he slashed, .323/.403/.430 while compiling 25 doubles and 31 stolen bases. Due to participating in a shorted season, Bae went on to play 19 games for Geelong-Korea in the Australian Baseball League. During his time there he hit his first 2 professional home runs.
Currently #10 on the Pirates MLB Pipeline Top 30 Prospect List, Bae is due to start the season playing for the Bradenton Marauders. However, if he continues to build upon his hit tool I could easily she him being promoted to Altoona by the end of the season because his glove, arm and speed/range is already above his current level.
Logan Hill - OF/1B
Hill was drafted by the Pirates in the 25th Round of the 2015 June MLB Amateur Draft from Troy University.
The nearly 27-year-old had his best season as a professional baseball player in 2017 as he started the season in High A/Advanced Bradenton and was promoted to the Curve prior to end of the year. That season, Hill batted .269, with 18 home runs and an .850 OPS. For the next almost two years Hill’s career stalled in AA with Altoona as his average dropped to .228 in 2018, his strike out rate increased to nearly 30%, and his OBP dropped considerably.
Fortunately for Hill his power didn’t suffer as belted 14 HRs across two levels (he was promoted to Indianapolis for 14 games at the end of last season) and a .187 ISO (Isolated Power). To put this in perspective the league average ISO is around .140. Throughout his career he has shown the ability to hit for average and hit for power, but has only been able to put it together for one season (2017). If he can do it again this year he could put himself back on the Pirates’ radar.
Deon Stafford - C/OF
Stafford was drafted by the Pirates in the 5th Round of the 2017 MLB June Amateur Draft from St. Joseph’s University and based on his performance you can see why.
In three seasons with the Hawks, he slashed .348/.459/.586, with 28 HRs and 69 extra base hits. Immediately after being drafted he went down to West Virginia to play for the Black Bears and stayed in the state the following year to suit up for the Power. Over those two years, he maintained the power he had displayed in college, hitting 15 combined home runs and producing a 123 and 113 wRC+ respectively.
Following the 2018 season, Stafford was listed as the #29 prospect on the Pirates’ Top 30 from MLB Pipeline. Last year he started and finished his season with the Bradenton Marauders, playing in 79 games. For the season he batted .229, with 6 HRs; while maintaining an above average wRC+ (101). He also improved upon his walk rate topping out at 11.0%. Defensively, Stafford projects to be a durable back-stop with average to slightly below average grades of 50 Fielding and a 40 Arm. He is committed to improving upon his work behind the plate and looks to start the season in AA with the Curve.
Hunter Owen - 3B/OF/1B
Owen was drafted by the Pirates in the 25th Round of the 2016 MLB June Amateur Draft out of Indiana State University.
The first time I got a chance to see him play was in 2018 when he was manning the hot corner for the Bradenton Marauders. The first thing I noticed about Owen was the power that he possessed in 5'11", 197-pound frame. That year for the Marauders he hit 18 home runs, posted a wRC+ of 123 and an ISO of .202. I thought that this would be his ceiling, which turned out to be a very silly thought.
This past year in 68 games with the Altoona Curve he hit 15 home runs, posted a gaudy 172 wRC+ and a .270 ISO, earning himself a mid-season promotion to the Indianapolis Indians. In his first taste of AAA ball Owen struggled mightily, as he saw his numbers drop in the majority of hitting categories and his K% soar to 32.6%. However, he did get to show off some of his power by hitting 4 home runs in his time there. A lot of what will happen for Owen depends on the many moving pieces ahead of him, including Ke’Bryan Hayes, Erik Gonzalez, and the recently signed JT Riddle. I would like to see him get a decent amount of playing time in Indy to see if he can capture some of the magic he put on display in Altoona this past year.
Mitchell Tolman - 2B/3B
Tolman was drafted by the Pirates in the 7th Round of the 2015 MLB June Amateur Draft from the NCAA College Baseball Tournament regulars, the University of Oregon.
Since being drafted Tolman has steadily progressed through the Pirates’ farm system, elevating himself one level each year and earning a spot in Indianapolis for the last 12 games of the season. A more natural 2B, he has the ability to slide his way across the diamond to 3B, which is not a very easy adjustment.
Tolman has also shown the ability to adjust across levels. This past year he was promoted from Altoona to Indianapolis with 12 games to go in the season and his numbers improved. His average went from .254 to .273, his OBP rose from .340 to .368 and his SLG exploded from .344 to .576. I know that this a very small sample size, but it possible that this most recent promotion was a shot in the arm for this young man and could be a prelude for things to come. Whatever the case, I look forward to watching this young man again in Altoona or for the first time when I travel to Indy.
If I didn’t get to one of your favorite minor leaguers, do not to worry as I am going to do my best to get out two more articles with players each as fast as my fingers can move. And if you have a specific player that you think I should focus more attention on please let me know.
Follow Craig on Twitter: @BucsBasement