Is West Virginia Primed For Another Year of Breakout Players?
I don’t like same-organization player comps. I think they’re lazy, and provide a very limited view. Yet we see them all the time. When the Pirates have a left-handed pitching prospect, he’s just the next Zach Duke or Paul Maholm. The only reason he’s compared to those players is because that’s the frame of reference that Pirates fans have for a left-hander. This is the age of MLB.tv and internet stats, so it’s possible to see other left-handers around the league. But the comparisons still tend to stay in-house.
I was thinking about that when I was thinking about the 2013 West Virginia Power roster. I previewed the 2013 club yesterday, noting that they’ve got a lot of potential breakout prospects this year. After writing that, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t making a same-organization comparison. The 2012 West Virginia team had the two biggest breakout prospects in the system in Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco. The obvious approach this year would be to look for the next Hanson and Polanco in West Virginia.
Here’s the flaw with that line of thinking. The next Hanson or Polanco might not come from West Virginia. They could come from Bradenton, or Altoona, or lower in the system. It could be that we won’t see a guy break out this season like Hanson and Polanco did last year. They were two of the biggest breakout prospects in baseball. Having that happen two years in a row in the same system would be rare.
It’s true that West Virginia has a lot of young talent. They’ve also got guys who look like they could have a Hanson/Polanco sized breakout. But is that view because the Pirates actually have another group of guys who are primed for a breakout, all at the same level, and all one year later? Or are we forcing a comparison and trying to find a breakout player on this year’s West Virginia team because Hanson and Polanco broke out last year?
To get an idea of the chances of a breakout from this year’s players, let’s look at some of the candidates. We’ll not only look at what makes them a breakout candidate, but what other outlets are saying about them.
Dilson Herrera - It only seems fitting to start with the guy who was picked as the most likely to be this year’s Hanson/Polanco. That’s according to Ben Badler of Baseball America, who named Herrera number one on his ten international players most likely to break out in 2013. The bar for the ten players was Hanson and Polanco. Herrera is a plus hitter, and can hit for some power, despite a smaller size. He’s also a good runner on the bases, and looked like a threat to steal every time he was on base this Spring. Herrera is very advanced for an international hitter, with a 20.6 K% and a 7.9 BB% in the GCL last year. He also had a .340 wOBA. By comparison, Hanson had a 17.2 K%, a 9.0 BB%, and a .335 wOBA in the GCL. So Herrera is in a similar range, and his other stats are either similar or better.
Wyatt Mathisen - Speaking of Ben Badler, he also did the top 20 prospects list for the 2012 Gulf Coast League. Herrera came in at seventh, but two spots higher was Wyatt Mathisen. The Pirates took Mathisen in the second round of the 2012 draft. He’s a prep catcher, although he didn’t spend a lot of time behind the plate in high school, as his coach used him more at shortstop. It’s not just Badler who had Mathisen ranked high. Keith Law had him as the ninth best prospect in the system. Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com listed him just outside of baseball’s top ten catching prospects. Kylie McDaniel also had a good report on Mathisen during instructs. He displayed some good hitting skills this Spring, and has a good frame and good tools behind the plate. When he was drafted he seemed like a really strong pick for a second rounder, and the Pirates obviously feel highly of him, sending him to low-A in his first full season.
Tyler Glasnow - Moving down the 2012 GCL top 20, the next prospect we come to is Glasnow. The tall right-hander came in at number nine on the GCL list from last year. He already has a fastball that can touch 96-98 MPH, and has a curveball which can be a plus offering when he’s commanding it well. Glasnow is only 19 years old, and already has the makings of two plus pitches. That gives him the chance to be as good as prospects like Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. Of course having an upper 90s fastball and a plus breaking pitch doesn’t guarantee success. Stetson Allie had those two things, but struggled with command. Glasnow has dealt with some control problems, which will be something for him to work on. He also needs to develop his changeup. He’s starting to get some attention, and if the control and changeup come along this year, he could start drawing consideration for top 100 lists next year.
Clay Holmes - Holmes is a similar situation to Glasnow. He’s a tall right-hander who has a good fastball, although not with the 96-98 MPH velocity. Holmes was getting his fastball up to the 93-95 MPH range this Spring, and pairs that with a strong curveball. He was consistently rated in the top ten of the Pirates system by a lot of national outlets. Holmes might not have as high of a ceiling as Glasnow, but he also might have a higher floor. He seems more likely to become a strong number three workhorse starter, rather than a potential top of the rotation guy. But I couldn’t help but notice his fastball velocity keeps creeping up, and he’s still young enough that we probably shouldn’t put a hard ceiling on him just yet.
Barrett Barnes - I hesitated to put Barnes on this list. He was a first round compensation talent, and the Pirates got him with their first round compensation pick (which was lower than where he was ranked). Barnes is pretty consistently ranked in the top ten in the Pirates’ system, and higher than the other guys on this list. He’s got a chance to be an impact bat in the majors one day, and a five tool talent. He’s not in West Virginia yet, as he’s getting more at-bats in extended Spring Training after some back tightness late in camp. The reason I was hesitant about including him was because, as a highly ranked draft pick, it wouldn’t be a shock if he’s a top 100 prospect next year. But if I drew the line here, then I’d have to consider Mathisen as a second round pick, and then where do you draw the line? Well, that answer comes next.
The Others - Ben Linus is a good sleeper prospect, but I think he’ll be facing a one year suspension after originally coming into the league under the name Henry Gale. Oh, wait. Not those “others”. I didn’t include Josh Bell on this list, because he didn’t really belong. Bell had a ton of hype last year, and while some of that died off because he missed some time, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he broke out. In fact, if he has a great season like Hanson and Polanco did last year, it wouldn’t be the same as those two, since Bell is already considered a top prospect. So I guess Josh Bell was the line as far as guys who are expected to have good results and become top 100 prospects. I also didn’t include Max Moroff or Eric Wood. I think both could have a future as major league players, but I don’t see them having a shot at becoming top 50 or top 100 prospects in the game a year from now.
Will Someone Have a Breakout Season?
So could the Pirates have another Alen Hanson/Gregory Polanco in West Virginia? As coincidental as it seems, I would say yes. There’s definitely some talent there, with a lot of breakout candidates. On that same note, I don’t think it’s fair to label anyone as the next Hanson/Polanco. It’s also not really fair to have this discussion. Dilson Herrera could have a good year that would validate his prospect status, but if he doesn’t put up ridiculous numbers and become the talk of minor league baseball, he might be seen as somewhat of a disappointment. Without the lofty Hanson/Polanco expectations, that wouldn’t be the case.
This time last year we didn’t even expect Hanson/Polanco results from Hanson and Polanco. I first wrote about the international prospects at the beginning of March last Spring in this article. At the time, Jose Osuna was a higher ranked prospect than Hanson and Polanco, and none of them were really expected to have huge breakout seasons. They were just guys to watch, who could eventually develop into strong players. Granted, I did say in that article that Polanco could have a breakout season. However, if you ask Wilbur Miller, that’s something I said every time I saw Polanco. So I happened to be right last year, but I was wrong in 2011. And looking at that article, I guess I’m still waiting on Luis Urena.
I think a fair approach with the guys above would be to take the Hanson/Polanco approach from last year. All of these guys are talented players, and all could eventually go on to be top 100 prospects. But I think Hanson and Polanco have us expecting another breakout candidate from West Virginia, which means if one or more of these guys don’t have a monster season and end up on the top prospect lists next year, it would be a disappointment. That shouldn’t be the case. As long as the majority keep progressing forward, and don’t take a step back, that will be good. Any Hanson/Polanco type breakouts would just be a bonus.