West Virginia has been the home of the breakout prospect the last few years. They had Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson in 2012 and Tyler Glasnow in 2013. They had smaller scale breakouts like JaCoby Jones and Yeudy Garcia after that, then returned to the big impact breakout guy with Mitch Keller last year. This year looks to be a down year for the club, as there aren't as many high upside guys who could take a step up to the top of the system.
That's not to say that West Virginia doesn't have prospects. Luis Escobar is a top 20 prospect who could be a top five prospect one day, while Stephen Alemais is a top 30 prospect with some breakout potential. Beyond those two, the West Virginia group has a few guys in the back-end of the top 50, along with a group of guys who don't factor in to the rankings. As a result, we're less likely to see the Polanco/Glasnow/Keller type of prospect emerging, with the hope that a Jones or Garcia can step up.
1. Luis Escobar, RHP - Escobar was ranked as the 19th best prospect in our 2017 Prospect Guide. He already moved up one spot with Josh Bell graduating on Opening Day, but he has a chance to jump into the top five prospects by the end of the season. Escobar has a fastball that sits 93-95 MPH and can touch 97. He has a strong changeup that can be used as a strikeout pitch. He also has a curveball that gets swinging strikes and looks like a plus pitch at times. Those are the makings of a top of the rotation pitcher, but he does have plenty of work to do before you can start to dream big.
Escobar doesn't have the best control, which can lead to some short outings. He has a high-effort delivery and doesn't have the biggest frame, so there are concerns that he could end up as a power reliever. The Pirates will keep him as a starter for as long as possible due to the upside. He doesn't turn 21 until the end of May, so time is clearly on his side. Escobar doesn't throw his curve for strikes often, as it is more of a chase pitch. That works well at the lower levels, but he's going to need to be able to throw it for strikes to succeed at higher levels. I would expect him to spend the entire season at West Virginia (possibly moving up late like Mitch Keller did last year). Escobar will work on throwing strikes and building up his innings. His progress will determine whether he makes the jump to the top group of prospects for the Pirates, or remains in the back of the top 20 prospects.
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John was born in Kearny, NJ, hometown of the 2B for the Pirates 1909 World Championship team, Dots Miller. In fact they have some of the same relatives in common, so it was only natural for him to become a lifelong Pirates fan. Before joining Pirates Prospects in July 2010, John had written numerous articles on the history of baseball while also releasing his own book and co-authoring another on the history of the game. He writes a weekly article on Pirates history for the site, has already interviewed many of the current minor leaguers with many more on the way and follows the foreign minor league teams very closely for the site. John also provides in person game reports of the West Virginia Power and Altoona Curve.