Is it a bad thing that I’m going to be more interested in watching the State College Spikes once their season begins, than watching the West Virginia Power, a level above State College? It’s not that I don’t like the prospects at West Virginia. It’s just that it’s hard to top what State College has to offer this year, at least at the start of the season.
The big thing to watch for will be the debut of the prep pitching arms that were the focus of the 2009 draft. Zach Von Rosenberg, Zack Dodson, Brooks Pounders, and Zac Fuesser will all start the season with State College, and you can expect Colton Cain and Trent Stevenson to start at the level when each player returns from injury.
I doubt most of these guys will last long in the New York-Penn League, as most will probably move on to West Virginia by the end of July. That still leaves some interesting pitching prospects to follow. The main one will be Mitchell Fienemann, the Australian pitcher who made his debut in the GCL last year, with a 3.79 ERA in 40.1 innings, and a 26:3 K/BB ratio. Fellow Australian pitcher Jarryd Sullivan will make his debut, after posting a 1.35 ERA in 20 innings in the MLB Australian Academy Program’s 19 and under league, with a 21:6 K/BB ratio.
On the hitting side, there’s no big prospect, although two players stand out. Those two players are Gift Ngoepe and Walker Gourley. Gourley was drafted by the Pirates in 2009 in the 13th round. He hasn’t had much playing time since signing, but should get a chance to show what he can do at the State College level. Ngoepe played his first year of pro ball last year in the GCL. He didn’t do much at the plate, although he did draw a lot of walks, leading to a .341 OBP. His best asset was his defense, although he’s a major project, so nothing should be written off just yet.
The Pirates should see some additions to the team through draft pick signings this Summer. They have already added Chase Lyles, Justin Bencsko, Justin Ennis, Kelson Brown, Kevin Decker, and Matt Skirving. I could see them adding college hitters like Mel Rojas Jr., Drew Maggi, and Matt Curry, plus college pitchers like Tyler Waldron, Brandon Cumpton, and Vince Payne. Of course, that assumes all of those players sign first.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pirates see top international prospects like Jorge Bishop, Exicardo Cayonez, and Eric Avila make the jump to State College. All three will likely start in the Gulf Coast League, although with good results we could see them moved up a level, getting ready for a full season of West Virginia in 2011.
The 2010 season starts tomorrow at 7:05 with the debut of Von Rosenberg, who only pitched one inning in pro ball last year due to signing so late in the season. Considering the $1.2 M signing bonus the Pirates paid to lure him away from a commitment to LSU, this starting debut will easily be the biggest thing to follow in the Pirates’ minor league system tomorrow.