Pittsburgh Pirates: Checking in on Ben Cherington's Most Significant International Signings

Where are the significant international signings Ben Cherington has made since becoming general manager?
Attendance was just over 60 people. The Florida Complex League (FCL) Orioles played their first
Attendance was just over 60 people. The Florida Complex League (FCL) Orioles played their first / THOMAS BENDER/HERALD-TRIBUNE / USA TODAY
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Other notable players

We’re not done with the Pirates’ 2021-2022 international class. The next large signing they inked was with catcher Axiel Plaz. Plaz had a 209 wRC+ in his brief 2022 season, but struggled to an 81 wRC+ at the FCL in 2023. But Plaz has yet to record 150+ plate appearances at any minor league level. Plaz has the potential to be an above average hitting defensive catcher with some pop. He was one of the highest paid players from this international class.

Then we have Pitterson Rosa, one of the higher profile international pitchers the Pirates signed. Rosa pitched well in 2022, but struggled in 2023. Keep in mind, however, that he has barely pitched 50 innings. Like most international guys, Rosa is a projectable pitcher, standing at 6’2”, 178-LBS. He is an athletic pitching having moved from the outfield to the mound. Rosa is still 18 and won’t turn 19 until the last days of November.

Finally, we have Hung-Leng Chang. The Taiwaneese right-hander also had a promising 2022 campaign and continued to pitch well early into the ‘23 season at the FCL, before struggling the following season at Bradenton. He walked the same amount of batters he struck out, with a dozen each while allowing seven homers in 25.1 innings. Chang is a projectable pitcher, weighing in at 6’1”, but a lanky 160-LBS. Chang has a wide variety of pitches. His sinker and four-seamer sit in the low-90s, while also throwing a slider, change-up, curveball, and cutter. Chang just turned 22, and was one of six international free agents to sign for at least $350K that off-season.

Last off-season, the Pirates went big once again, signing two of the top 30 international prospects ranked on MLB Pipeline’s top international prospect list. Of the two, Jun-Seok Shim was the best. Shim was projected to be the best pitcher and a potential number one overall selection in the KBO draft. But he instead opted to go to the United States to search for an opportunity with a Major League team.

Shim is already sitting mid-upper-90s, and topping out at the triple-digits before his 20th birthday. He also has a 12-6 curveball with plus potential. Both his slider and change-up could become average offerings in his arsenal. Shim is a big kid, listed at 6’4”, 215-LBS already. But he should eventually develop solid command. Scouts liked his arm action, as well as his athleticism on the mound. Plus he already showed a decent feel for everything.

The other highly noteworthy player is Raymond Mola. A 17-year-old outfielder, Mola is already a strong-built prospect at 6’2”, 190-LBS. Mola has above average power potential, though his hit tool will be key to his development, according to MLB Pipeline. He’s an average defender who runs decently, and has a strong arm. He’ll likely move to a corner outfield spot long term. 

As is expected, even though we are going back to 2020, few are going to be MLB ready by the end of the 2024 season. Of the ones mentioned today, Chen has the likeliest chance to make his debut. I think that if he stays healthy and continues to pitch well, he’ll at least make his debut. But there are a handful of potential fast risers. If Shim stays healthy next season, he could become one of the Pirates’ best prospects. Blanco Jr. and De Los Santos are also breakout candidates to watch.