The 2014 minor league season begins today. To prepare for the start of the season, we have previews of all four of the full season affiliates of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Here are the previews for each team:
West Virginia Power – READING
Here is a look at the 2014 West Virginia Power, who will feature top prospects Reese McGuire, Harold Ramirez, and Luis Heredia on their Opening Day roster, with Clay Holmes on the way.
C – Reese McGuire
1B – Edwin Espinal
2B – Erich Weiss
SS – JaCoby Jones
3B – Wyatt Mathisen
LF – Danny Collins/Candon Myles
CF – Barrett Barnes
RF – Harold Ramirez
DH – Michael Fransoso/Danny Collins
The West Virginia lineup is loaded with a lot of high upside players, which gives them a great chance at a breakout candidate once again. 2013 first round picks Reese McGuire and Austin Meadows will both be at the level. Meadows isn’t on the Opening Day roster, as he is recovering from a hamstring injury. He hopes to join the team by the end of April, although he hasn’t been playing in games yet. Meadows has plus power potential, and could eventually be an impact hitter at a corner outfield spot in the majors. McGuire is one of the best defensive catchers in the minors, with outstanding maturity and discipline behind the plate. Both of these guys are already rated as top 100 prospects, so they don’t necessarily fall in the typical “breakout” category.
Wyatt Mathisen was drafted as a catcher in the second round of the 2012 draft, but moved to third base this year to get playing time with McGuire at the same level. The move to third might end up helping Mathisen. He played more shortstop in high school, due to his athleticism. Learning third base might be more natural for him than learning catcher, which could allow him to focus on his hitting more.
The move for Mathisen meant that Erich Weiss moved over to second base. The Pirates drafted Weiss in the 11th round of the 2013 draft, and gave him a $305,000 bonus, which ended up resulting in a tax after they went over their bonus pool. They liked Weiss for his bat, which should play better at second base.
JaCoby Jones is another 2013 draft pick who has a lot of upside due to his speed and athleticism. There were concerns about his swing around the draft, but he’s shown a good hitting ability since entering pro ball, leaving no reason to change his approach at the moment. He will be moving to shortstop this year, and is one of the biggest breakout candidates on the team. If his bat continues to do well, and he can handle the shortstop position, he will shoot up the prospect ranks.
The most exciting thing about the West Virginia team is the outfield, especially when Meadows returns. Alongside Meadows will be Barrett Barnes and Harold Ramirez. Barnes was a first round compensation pick in 2012. He has a lot of tools, and can play center field. The only problem is that he’s been hurt pretty often since entering pro ball. As a result, he has missed a lot of development time. That has him back in West Virginia, rather than where he probably should be, in Bradenton. He might make Bradenton by the end of the year if he can finally stay healthy and hit in A-ball.
Ramirez had a small breakout last year, being named the top prospect in the NYPL by Baseball America. He has strong defense, a great arm, and plus contact skills with a quick bat. He doesn’t hit for a lot of power, which doesn’t make him your typical corner outfielder. However, his speed, defense, ability to hit for average, and gap power more than makes up for the lack of home runs. If Ramirez repeats his 2013 season in West Virginia, then he could see another breakout, this time ending up on a lot of top 100 lists.
Danny Collins will play left field at the start of the season, while also getting time at first base and DH. Collins was a 2013 draft pick, and has some pop in his bat. He’s got more value if he can stick in left field, although his only chance of playing there all year is if Barnes moves to Bradenton when Meadows returns.
A deep sleeper on this team is Edwin Espinal. When Espinal first came to the US, he had the nickname “Tank” due to his huge size. He has slimmed down since his rookie season, and has moved to first base from third base. Espinal has a lot of raw power, and some good potential with his bat. Raw is the key word when describing him. The numbers don’t say that he’s a top prospect, but I get a lot of unsolicited praise about his game and his potential, especially when asking people about the promising Latin American prospects in the lower levels. He’s a guy to watch, especially if that power finally clicks.
Chris Diaz, Francisco Diaz, Michael Fransoso, Candon Myles
Fransoso will get time as the designated hitter early in the season. Candon Myles will get some time in left field. These assignments depend on where Danny Collins will be playing, with Collins getting a lot of time in left field. Once Austin Meadows returns, Collins will primarily be the designated hitter, with Barnes moving over to left field. That will make it hard for Fransoso and Myles to both get regular starts. None of the bench players in West Virginia profile as guys who could make the majors.
Buddy Borden, Shane Carle, Cody Dickson*, Luis Heredia, Dovydas Neverauskas
The West Virginia rotation has a lot of talent, led by returning pitcher Luis Heredia. The Pirates are sending Heredia to West Virginia on Opening Day this year, with the goal of him pitching a full season. He might move up to Bradenton after a month or two, and there would certainly be room for him in that rotation. Heredia has been throwing in the low-90s in Spring Training, and has hit 95 MPH. He’s in much better shape this year than he was last year. He needs to work on his control, along with getting command of his new slurve. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s in Bradenton by the start of the second half.
Buddy Borden and Cody Dickson are two promising pitchers from the 2013 draft. Borden was a seventh round pick who throws 89-93 MPH, touching the mid-90s at times. He also throws a low 80s curve, and an upper 70s changeup. Both pitches could be average offerings in the majors one day. Borden has a clean delivery, and can be dominant while attacking hitters and challenging them to hit his stuff. He’s a nice sleeper to be a starter in the majors one day, and possibly more than just a back of the rotation guy.
Dickson is a lefty who can throw 91-94 MPH, and pairs that with a great curveball. He needs to work on his fastball command and develop a changeup. If those two things fall in place, he could end up as a number three starter in the majors. If that doesn’t happen, his fastball/curveball combo will make him a power lefty reliever.
Dovydas Neverauskas has been a guy who has been on my radar ever since he came into the system. I saw him hitting 95 MPH at the age of 18, and he started hitting that more consistently the following year when the Pirates made him a starter in the GCL. Last year he was a starter in Jamestown, and was a strong pitcher for the most part, with a few horrible outings. He pairs his fastball with a curveball, but the pitch didn’t generate a lot of strikeouts. He’s going to need to develop an out pitch. For now, his tall, projectable frame, easy delivery and arm action, and already-mid-90s velocity has him on the radar as a starting pitching prospect to watch.
Finally, Shane Carle was taken in the tenth round of the 2013 draft, and is another sinkerball pitcher with good velocity. Carle had a lot of success in the Jamestown rotation last year, working primarily with his 92-94 MPH sinker. The pitch was a swing and miss pitch at times, and generated a 56% ground ball ratio. He didn’t get the aggressive push to Bradenton that Chad Kuhl received, although he could end up in Bradenton by the end of the season. That type of promotion is also possible for Borden and Dickson, since both were college pitchers, like Carle. Neverauskas is the only guy who could spend the entire season with West Virginia.
Yhonathan Barrios, Henry Hirsch, Will Kendall*, Jerry Mulderig, Clario Perez, Isaac Sanchez, Justin Topa
Last year the West Virginia bullpen started off with Jason Creasy, Ryan Hafner, Pat Ludwig, and Kyle Haynes. The first three are now in the Bradenton rotation. Haynes was traded over the off-season for Chris Stewart. This year the West Virginia bullpen shows some upside, possibly more than most low-A bullpens show.
Yhonathan Barrios is a hard thrower who can consistently hit 98-99 MPH. Barrios was signed as a shortstop out of Colombia, and was given one of the biggest international bonuses in Pirates’ history at the time. He was converted to a pitcher last year, which is what he was before being signed by the Pirates. His velocity is the feature, but he also has some nice break on his slider, making him a sleeper reliever to watch.
Isaac Sanchez has the best chance of making the eventual jump to the rotation. This is especially true once one of the members of the starting rotation leaves for Bradenton. Sanchez has good stuff, and was a member of the Jamestown rotation last year, showing promising stuff and getting good reviews from coaches in the organization.
Henry Hirsch and Justin Topa are two hard throwers who can hit mid-90s with their fastballs. I could see Topa getting extended work, and possibly a few starts by the end of the year.