This is the first in a series of stories giving fans an inside look at how the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Dominican academy and international system operate.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have made their Dominican Summer League academy one of their flagship programs in recent years. Pirates’ owner Bob Nutting announced plans to double the facility’s size in 2019, and there’s been buzz about it ever since.
With the advent of social media and advanced statistic tracking, it’s easier than ever for Pirates fans to keep tabs on prospects as they move through the minor leagues. It’s harder to do that, though, when the prospects are playing in relative anonymity in another country—with roughly half a decade to go before they hit the majors, no less.
Pittsburgh Baseball Now spoke with members of the Pirates’ international staff to give fans a look into what makes the academy stand out from the rest.
Amaury Telemaco serves as the Pirates’ Latin American Pitching Coordinator. He also serves as an excellent measuring stick for how far the Dominican facilities have improved over time across Major League Baseball. Telemaco came up through the Dominican Summer League in 1991, during the league’s first decade of existence.
“Earth to heaven. No comparison,” Telemaco said. “There was no gym and no facility…a lot of teams were renting houses and putting players in the empty house with bunk beds. [They’d] have a lady to cook for them and wash their clothes…that’s what we had.”
Relief pitcher Yerry De Los Santos signed with Pittsburgh as an international free agent in 2014. Speaking through a translator, he said that the facility has improved by leaps and bounds in the past decade too.
“It’s A plus, all aspects… [the] gym is unbelievable, food, all that, just A plus,” De Los Santos said. “Big improvement from 2014. I went there prior to coming to spring training a few weeks ago and the change is unbelievable. It’s pretty, it’s a better facility, the gym is bigger and everything is just better than what it was a few years ago. I’m really proud about that.”
Stepping up the Staffing
Hector Morales, the Pirates’ Director of International Development, said that the Pirates have more than 40 full time staff at the facility these days. They have a grounds crew, cooks, a nutritionist and two fully-staffed teams replete with a manager, mentor and various other supporting personnel; pitching, bench and strength and conditioning coaches, as well as an athletic trainer.
The Pirates also have teachers to help signees complete their high school education.
Telemaco described how staffing has improved in the Dominican Summer League since his days as a player.
“Back [in the] day you only had one manager, one pitching coach, one trainer that used to do everything,” Telemaco said. “The trainer was the strength and conditioning [coach], the trainer was everything. [Now,] everything that we have up here in the States at Pirate City, we have [in the Dominican].”
Closing the Gap
Telemaco said they’ve focused on improving the facility to help Dominican prospects compete on even footing with their counterparts in the United States.
“The vision for the Pirates’ academy is to close the gap by the time the players come to the US. That way they’re accustomed to our system,” Telemaco said. “How to hydrate better, how to move better, because we’re training the same way that the Pirates train in the US.”
The staff focuses on every aspect of how their prospects play to ensure that everyone starts at a level playing field in the United States.
“We try to close the gap: mental, so they can hold their own, physical [so] that they get stronger, the fundamentals of the game,” Telemaco said. “That way they can compete with the college players when they get over here, guys playing in high school. Having that in mind, we put them in the best position that we can to make that adjustment.”
Another part of closing that gap is the recent upgrades to the facility. Morales described how members of the Pirates’ organization pitched their planned upgrades to Nutting ahead of the recent renovations.
“We came with a need in how our program was growing…he was immediately supportive, him and the board,” Morales said. “They put the money down for us to make the upgrades and now we have one of the most modern facilities, probably the best performance center.”
Shawn Bowman, the Pirates’ Minor League Field Coordinator, detailed the upgrades to the facility.
“We’ve got three fields including a turf field, a half field, an entire weight room that from my understanding is the biggest one on the island,” Bowman said. “We’re doing a major renovation on our field right now…I can’t speak enough to the job that [Director of Dominican Operations] Juan Carlos Mendoza and his staff do to keep the facility itself up and running at a high level.”
They’ve added roughly ten new classrooms and upgraded the dorms for visiting personnel, making it easier for Pirates’ leadership to visit from the States.
Everything is A+: Even the Food
With a nutritionist one of the newest additions to the Pirates’ facility, it’s no surprise that our conversations kept circling back to the food.
“The food is great!” Telemaco exclaimed, revealing his favorite item on the menu. “The Sancocho, the beef stew.”
De Los Santos backed up his former pitching coordinator’s claim. He even went so far as to divulge some of the recipe.
“It’s a beef stew with some potatoes, sweet potatoes, yam, a bunch of stuff in there,” De Los Santos said. “They’re one of the best, if not the best, at making that stew.”
Morales said that the emphasis on nutrition makes it so that the Pirates’ staff can personalize meal plans to the specific needs of each of their players.
“Starting last year we were the first academy to have a nutritionist on site. [If] our players begin to show issues with weight loss, weight gain, then we begin to create personalized programming for them,” Morales said. “That includes any type of reaction to different foods or something that they’re not getting used to eating. [We] try to help them fuel for performance and recovery.”
With the efforts they’ve put in to improve every aspect of the Dominican academy and bring it closer to the Major League standard, it’s no surprise that the Pirates have made it something to hang their hats on in recent years.
“Our players have everything they need to develop a foundation that’s gonna help them compete, and that’s gonna maximize their potential,” Morales said. “We’re proud of that, and we like to showcase it and talk about it…it was a collective effort from the organization to get that side of the academy to where it is.”