For the second straight year, the West Virginia Power featured the biggest breakout prospects in the system. Last year it was Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson who broke out. This year it was Tyler Glasnow and Stetson Allie. Along with those two, West Virginia had one of the most talented groups of prospects in the system this year. That was fueled by a strong pitching staff with ten players who have hit 93 MPH or better, and four players who have hit 95 MPH or better. Below is a recap of the hitters and pitchers at the level, followed by the top ten prospects this year.
The 2012 West Virginia team had a lot of talented young hitters. There were some interesting hitters at the level in 2013, although none broke out in the way that Gregory Polanco or Alen Hanson did in 2013. One of the youngest players on the team actually made an impact for the Pirates at the major league level. Dilson Herrera had a strong season considering he was only 19 years old. He improved his prospect stock enough to be traded with Vic Black in exchange for Marlon Byrd. Byrd provided a boost for the Pirates, filling in for the production lost from an injured Starling Marte in September, then hitting a home run in the Wild Card game, and playing well in the NLDS. Herrera was a good prospect, but he was also expendable, since the Pirates have a projected future middle infield of Jordy Mercer and Alen Hanson.
Josh Bell started the 2012 season with West Virginia, but missed most of the season with a knee injury. He returned in 2013 and quietly had a strong season. Bell was passed up by Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson last year. This year he was overshadowed by the dominant hitting from Stetson Allie, and the breakout performance from Tyler Glasnow. Bell didn’t have earth shattering numbers, but he did hit 13 homers, 37 doubles, and put up a .174 ISO. Jim Callis said he could emerge as a top 100 prospect in next year’s MLB.com rankings. The interesting thing about Bell is that he was relied upon to be a key part of the future when he was drafted. Now, with the breakout of Polanco, and several other talented outfield prospects in A-ball, Bell making the majors as an impact player is just a bonus.
Two players who saw their seasons derailed by injuries were Wyatt Mathisen and Barrett Barnes. Mathisen had a small labrum tear which didn’t require surgery, but which put him out most of the season. He felt it the first series, and it never got better in the following month. That could be why his offensive numbers were so poor at the level. It’s a lost opportunity for Mathisen, as he now gets grouped in with Reese McGuire and Jin-De Jhang, rather than moving ahead of those two and joining Bradenton next year. Barrett Barnes suffered several small injuries, including a few hamstring strains. One of those ended his season early. He’s got a lot of talent and upside, but he’s been very injury prone in his first year and a half in pro ball.
The biggest breakout hitter at the level was Stetson Allie. A year ago, Allie made it to West Virginia as a pitcher. After just two appearances, he went to extended Spring Training and worked on being converted to a hitter. Allie broke out with the bat in West Virginia this year, hitting 17 home runs and 16 doubles in 244 at-bats. There were concerns about his high strikeout rate, and ultimately that led to him looking over-matched in Bradenton. He’s still relatively new to hitting, having taken the last few years off with the bat. Because of this, and the rapid improvements he has already shown, he can’t really be viewed the same as someone else with high strikeout rates. Those are still a concern, but there’s a chance he could show improvements, or at least provide enough power that you can ignore the strikeouts.
There were some other interesting prospects at the level who don’t profile as major leaguers yet. Max Moroff showed some promise at times at the plate, although he had a lot of defensive struggles on the field at shortstop. Moroff is a very athletic player with good range at short, making him a prospect to watch despite the poor numbers. Eric Wood also had his moments at the plate this year, showing some pop in his bat. He struggled in the second half, but the lack of third base options in the system should keep giving him chances, with the hope that he learns some consistency. One surprising player this year was Walker Gourley, who hit for average and got on base at a good rate. Gourley didn’t hit for power, but is very athletic and can play anywhere on the field. He will probably max out as a utility player in Double-A due to the lack of power.
Last year West Virginia was loaded with young, talented hitting prospects. This year’s team had a lot of young, talented pitching prospects. That was shown by the fact that most of the starters this year were 21 and younger. The average age for a pitching staff in the SAL was 21.8. West Virginia had the youngest staff in the league at 20.8, and no other team was below 21.2.
The top pitcher at the level was Tyler Glasnow. In 2012, West Virginia had Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson as prospects who broke out on a national level. This year it was Glasnow who broke out, likely propelling himself to plenty of top 50 lists next year. Prior to the season I wrote that Glasnow has the chance to be as good as Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. He quickly moved to potential number one stats with a dominant season this year. The highlight was that Glasnow struck out 164 batters in 111.1 innings. He struggled with his control, although the walk rate went down as the season went on, showing some improvements. Glasnow was limited with his innings, but still had a good amount for his first full season at an individual level.
Next year he will go to Bradenton to start the year, and if he follows the same path as Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham, he could be in Altoona by June or July, depending on how quickly he adjusts to high-A. A key for Glasnow going forward will be his continued command. He throws a mid-to-upper 90s fastball that can get up to 99 MPH, along with a plus curveball and an improving changeup. Glasnow’s 2014 season will be similar to Taillon’s 2012 season in that the changeup will likely be a big focus, adding to his plus fastball and plus curve.
Clay Holmes was taken in the same 2011 draft as Glasnow, and received a bigger bonus at the time. Glasnow has passed Holmes on the prospect ranks, but Holmes is still showing his potential. Holmes had a season very similar to Nick Kingham in 2012. He started off slow, posting a 5.60 ERA in 45 innings over the first two months, with a poor 31:32 K/BB ratio. He was dominant the rest of the season, with a 3.09 ERA in 75.2 innings, along with a 59:37 K/BB ratio. In his final nine starts, Holmes had a 2.51 ERA in 43 innings, with a 41:18 K/BB ratio. Just like Kingham in 2012, the season numbers don’t look strong for Holmes. However, when you look at how he adjusted to the level throughout the year, you’ll see that he was quietly a dominant pitcher by the end of the season. If he carries that over to Bradenton in 2014, he could be another guy to arrive in Altoona by the end of the season. He was hitting 94-95 MPH with his fastball, and projects as a strong middle of the rotation innings eater.
The youngest pitcher at the level was Luis Heredia. He arrived by mid-season, which was about a month later than expected. Heredia was supposed to arrive by the end of April, but came into Spring Training out of shape and was held back during extended Spring Training. He looked to be in better shape when he arrived in West Virginia, compared to when he came into camp, although he lost a bit of velocity on his fastball. Heredia also struggled with his control, much like Holmes and Glasnow. Just like those two, he improved the control down the stretch, with a 1.78 ERA and a 28:12 K/BB ratio in his final 30.1 innings. The key difference is that Heredia is 1-2 years younger than the other two, but was pitching at the same level. It’s easy to go with the instinct that he had a poor season, but his season was actually very strong considering his age, and the progress he made throughout the year. It’s hard to say where he will be in 2014 due to that age, and the fact that he hasn’t pitched a full season at a level.
Joely Rodriguez and Orlando Castro both spent half the season in West Virginia, getting moved up mid-season to replace Nick Kingham and Eliecer Navarro in the Bradenton rotation. Both lefties posted strong numbers in West Virginia, although Rodriguez profiles better going forward since he has a better fastball, and slightly better quality to his breaking stuff. Castro didn’t see the same success once he moved up a level, while Rodriguez saw very similar numbers, despite the promotion. I profiled Rodriguez on Monday, noting that he has a future in the majors. I’m skeptical about Castro making it past Double-A.
Jason Creasy was a surprise pitcher from the 2011 draft class. It’s easy to get lost in the mix with that group, since the top ten rounds featured Gerrit Cole, Josh Bell, Glasnow, and Holmes. Creasy was an eighth rounder that year, signing a slightly above slot deal. He didn’t have a great season last year in the State College rotation, although he added a slider at the end of the season, aimed for more ground balls and strikeouts. This year he started off in the bullpen, pitching multiple innings. The slider obviously worked, as it led to an 8.5 K/9 in relief. By mid-season, Creasy moved to the rotation and did even better. He posted a 2.42 ERA in 67 innings, with a 7.4 K/9. Creasy was the Pitcher of the Month for August, putting up a 1.56 ERA in 34.2 innings, with a 31:4 K/BB ratio. He doesn’t have the upside of Glasnow or Holmes, but Creasy has emerged as a potential major league starting option, and one that fits well in the Pirates’ system due to his reliance on a two-seam fastball. He hit 94 MPH out of the pen, so if the doesn’t make the rotation, he could be a potential late inning reliever.
After struggling at the level in 2012, Ryan Hafner returned to West Virginia, pitching out of the bullpen this time around. The results were more than impressive. Like Creasy, Hafner added a slider aimed at getting more strikeouts. Last year he posted a 4.3 K/9, which was similar to his numbers in 2011. The new slider led him to a 10.6 K/9 in 87.2 innings, which is a massive improvement. His problems last year involved a lack of control, although the walks decreased this year. That was especially true after the first two months of the season. Hafner walked 19 batters in 32 innings in the first two months of the season, and walked 21 in 55.2 innings over the final three months. He’s got a great fastball, sitting 92-93 MPH and touching 94. He didn’t see an increase in his move to the bullpen, but those numbers were still strong. He could be a candidate to move back to the rotation in the future, and as a starter he could have the same upside as Clay Holmes as a middle of the rotation pitcher with a 200 inning per year frame.
The Power also had a lot of hard throwers who project as wild cards going forward. Jhondaniel Medina threw 93-94 MPH in relief, and posted an amazing 14.0 K/9 in 35.1 innings, although he did struggle with his walk rate. Cesar Lopez was hitting 93 MPH, and posted an 11.6 K/9 and a 1.2 BB/9 in 23.1 innings. Kyle Haynes was throwing 93-94 MPH in relief, and has touched 96 in the past. He moved to the rotation where he was only 90-92, but was also very effective. John Kuchno is another hard thrower who had a decent season in the rotation, although he profiles best as a power reliever down the line in the majors.
Top 10 Prospects
The cutoff for eligibility on this list was 140 at-bats, 40 innings pitched, or 20 relief appearances. Guys who are no longer in the organization were also excluded. Players in West Virginia usually stay in West Virginia all season, so there weren’t any key players left off due to a lack of playing time. The only top prospect who was left off the list was Dilson Herrera, since he is no longer in the system. Of the four prospect lists so far, this one has definitely been the deepest, with some tough decisions for the final pick. That is opposed to previous lists where the final picks were guys who don’t have a shot at the system top 50. All of the guys on this list could have a real shot at the top 30, and all project to be top 50 prospects next year.
1. Tyler Glasnow
2. Josh Bell
3. Luis Heredia
4. Clay Holmes
5. Barrett Barnes
6. Stetson Allie
7. Joely Rodriguez
8. Jason Creasy
9. Ryan Hafner
10. Max Moroff