Last week, I took a mini-baseball vacation through Pennsylvania (and a one-day stop in West Virginia) to see three of the Pirates’ minor league affiliates as well as the big-league club. This is the last of three reports on the minor league teams.
Thursday August 4 — West Virginia Power
Before I talk about individual players (which I usually find more interesting in the minor leagues than the “game” itself), I noticed a bunch of really good stuff that the Power as a team does. Here’s a list I put together as I was watching the game:
(1) They executed two hit and runs perfectly
(2) They went from first to third on almost every single
(3) Twice runners advanced on pitches in the dirt (which bounced in front of the catcher) by getting a good secondary lead and taking off as soon as they saw the pitch heading towards the dirt
(4) On singles to the outfield, the batter ran hard to first base and took an aggressive turn just in case the outfielder misplayed the ball at all
(5) Batters went deep into counts, swung at very few bad pitches and took very few fastball strikes
(6) The catcher backed up 1B on every ground ball
(7) On every fly ball, there was excellent communication among the fielders (one of the advantages of minor league games is that the fans can hear the players calling for the ball)
These are the types of things that elevate a team’s play above the talent level they have. This won’t turn a bad group of players into world champions, but it will take an average group and make them above average. And if this list sounds familiar, I believe Clint Hurdle was preaching this to the major league team during spring training. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen much of it happen with the Pirates (except for #6 due to Michael McKenry).
As for the players, the night belonged to the starting pitcher, Zac Fuesser. Zac was a strike-throwing, pitch to contact machine. His fastball didn’t break 88 MPH, but with a curve in the low 70′s (and one that didn’t even get to 70) and a change up in the middle, all of his pitches were very effective. His strike to pitch ratios were as follows: 1st inning 10/13; 2nd inning 7/7; 3rd inning 5/8; 4th inning 7/8; 5th inning 11/14; 6th inning 12/16; 7th inning 7/11. Totals: 59 strikes out of 77 pitches through 7 innings. There is no doubt in my mind that he could have gone the distance.
He gave up 7 hits, 3 of which were opposite field bloops, and no walks. The one run came on a home run on the 1st pitch of the 4th inning — this didn’t rattle Fuesser as he set the next three batters down on only 7 pitches. Zac picked off a runner using the unfair lefty pickoff move; his stride to the plate was quick enough to allow his catcher to easily throw out the one runner that tried to steal (although this may have been a hit and run); and to top things off, on a ground ball directly at the second baseman, Justin Howard (the Power first baseman) moved to his right which meant he couldn’t cover the base; no problem as Fuesser was running to cover the base anyway. In short, he did all the little things right to help his team win the game.
This team does not have a lot of top prospects in the lineup (and that’s an understatement). Drew Maggi looked very good at the plate. His first at bat ended with a deep fly ball to left center — this was not a pop-up but rather a hard struck fly out with some power — a little more and it would have been a homer. He got an RBI in his 2nd at bat by hitting a grounder with runners at the corners and beating out the double play at first base — that may not sound “exciting” but he did his job. He also had a 2-out RBI in the 6th inning with a single to end a good at bat. That was his only hit on the night, but he had at least 3 good at bats and drove in two runs.
Mel Rojas Jr. had the other two RBIs, both of which came in the 1st inning on a two-out broken bat single. He also had a bloop single later in the game. I didn’t see him hit the ball hard during the game. Justin Howard, conversely, had two hard hit singles but wasn’t involved in any of the scoring. Those two at bats looked good, but on the other hand he got caught looking at strike 3 with the bases juiced and one out; and bounced out weakly to the pitcher in another at bat.
None of the other players looked all that exciting. Again, the Power played as a team, which elevated them above the talent they have. I wish this would bubble up through the system.
Lastly, about the stadium. This is clearly the “worst” looking of the stadiums I visited, however it is really easy to get to — straight down I-79 from Pittsburgh, just over a 3-hour drive once you’re on the interstate. The atmosphere was a whole lot of fun, in part due to the famous Toast Man. I highly recommend going to see these minor league teams if you have the chance.