The 2012 West Virginia Power will feature one of the most interesting teams to watch in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ minor league system this year, with a lot of high upside prospects at the level. The team will open with three top ten prospects in Josh Bell, Stetson Allie, and Nick Kingham. High upside guys like Jose Osuna, Alen Hanson, Willy Garcia, Gregory Polanco, Ryan Hafner, Zack Dodson, and Zack Von Rosenberg will also be on the team.
There’s some potential for a lot of breakout candidates from the West Virginia roster. That combined with tracking the progress of Josh Bell during his pro debut will make the Power a team to focus on this year. Here is the rundown of the 2012 roster, and what we can expect from each position.
C – Elias Diaz
1B – Jose Osuna
2B – Dan Gamache
SS – Alen Hanson
3B – Kirk Singer
LF – Willy Garcia
CF – Gregory Polanco
RF – Josh Bell
DH – Chris Lashmet
The West Virginia lineup might have more upside than any other lineup in the system. Several young international prospects will be making the jump from the Gulf Coast League in 2011 to full season ball in 2012. They will be joined by top hitting prospect Josh Bell, who will begin his career in full season ball.
Bell was ranked as the fourth best prospect in the system in the Pirates Prospects top 10, and the number two hitting prospect behind Starling Marte. The Pirates drafted him in the second round of the 2011 draft, signing him for a record-setting $5 M bonus. He’s a switch hitter, coming out of high school, and has the potential for plus hitting and plus power from each side of the plate.
The move to full season ball is aggressive for Bell, but not as aggressive as the promotion of four international players from the GCL. Jose Osuna, Alen Hanson, Willy Garcia, and Gregory Polanco will all make that jump, and all four have the ceilings to respond well to the aggressive push.
Osuna is the best of the bunch. He’s got a strong bat, with raw power. He had a .511 slugging percentage in the GCL last year. Originally a pitcher, the Pirates signed Osuna in 2009 for $280 K, after his stock fell on the mound. He ran a 6.7 60-yard dash, and showed a good arm from the outfield, which drew the Pirates’ attention. In his first year in the pros he handled the transition well, hitting a league leading ten homers in the Venezuelan Summer League. The Pirates moved him to first base due to his lack of a strong defensive position, and most of his value will come from his bat going forward.
Hanson was signed in 2009, and also made a strong debut, with a .324 average in the Dominican Summer League in 2010. He moved up to the GCL last year and got off to a great start at the plate. He’s a speedy player and flashes great defense from shortstop. The Pirates were obviously high on him, playing him at shortstop over two of their highest paid international shortstop signings: Yhonathan Barrios and Jodaneli Carvajal. He’s an exciting prospect to watch, making flashy plays on the field, hitting line drives, and showing great speed.
Garcia is a five tool outfielder who was signed by the Pirates for $280 K out of the Dominican Prospect League in 2010. He led the GCL Pirates with five homers in 2011, making the jump to the states after one year in the DSL. He’s got a strong arm, good base running skills, and good power potential.
Polanco is another interesting prospect from the 2009 signing class. He didn’t hit well in 2011, with a .237/.333/.361 line in the Gulf Coast League. He’s a tall, lean player with good speed and the defensive skills to play in center field. He made strong contact with the ball throughout Spring Training, showing some of his power potential. He’s a sleeper candidate to watch in 2012. He’s raw, but if he can carry his Spring Training success over to the games, he could be primed for a breakout season.
Dan Gamache, Kirk Singer, and Chris Lashmet were all drafted in 2011. Gamache was taken by the Pirates in the sixth round. He was drafted as a third baseman, although the Pirates moved him over to second. He’s got strong defense and a line drive stroke, which profiles better at second. Gamache hit well throughout Spring Training, although that’s not as impressive coming from a college guy in A-ball. He should carry that hitting over to West Virginia, where he will also work on transitioning over to second base. He could see some time at third during the season.
Singer shows strong defense on the field, capable of playing shortstop, although he doesn’t profile as well with the bat. Lashmet has a big frame, which could lead to the potential to be a good hitter, although he’s not strong on defense.
Elias Diaz will return to West Virginia as one of the options behind the plate. Diaz has a good frame, a good arm, and a lot of upside, but he’s raw at the plate, and showed that last year in West Virginia. He should split time with Jonathan Schwind, and Samuel Gonzalez will factor in to the mix once he comes off the disabled list from his shoulder injury.
Eric Avila, Jodaneli Carvajal, Jonathan Schwind, Junior Sosa
Avila will get playing time at third base, splitting with Kirk Singer. He showed improved defense last year, with a strong arm, but was over-matched at the plate.
Carvajal will get some middle infield time, mostly at second, and could get some time at third. He’s speedy and strong defensively, and will probably get the most playing time off the bench.
Schwind will split the catching duties with Diaz. Samuel Gonzalez will also factor in to the catching mix by mid-season, although he will start the year on the disabled list.
Junior Sosa will serve as a backup in the outfield. He’s a speedy player, but he’s a singles hitter and more organizational depth.
Stetson Allie, Zack Dodson, Nick Kingham, Zack Von Rosenberg, Matt Benedict/Zac Fuesser
The starting rotation will be interesting to watch this year. Last year West Virginia had too many starting pitchers and not enough rotation spots. That led to a lot of piggybacking, where one starter would throw five innings, and another starter would follow up with four innings.
The starters who are guaranteed to get innings are Allie, Dodson, Kingham, and Von Rosenberg.
Dodson and Von Rosenberg will return to West Virginia this year, after pitching at the level in 2011. Dodson pitched well overall, but had a few inconsistencies with his command, and missed a large part of the year with a hand injury. The left-hander could move up to Bradenton if he gets off to a good start, repeating his 2011 numbers, and showing consistent command. He threw 90-93 MPH at times last year, and flashed that velocity at times during Spring Training.
Von Rosenberg was hit hard last year in West Virginia, and that didn’t change in Spring Training. He has a tendency to elevate his fastball, which combined with his 88-91 MPH velocity makes him very hittable. The right-hander has a good curve and a good change-up, but until he can keep his fastball down on a consistent basis, his secondary pitches will be neutralized, and he’ll continue to get hit hard.
Making their first appearances in West Virginia are Allie and Kingham. Both starters pitched in State College last year, and both ranked in the Pirates Prospects 2012 top ten prospects this year.
Allie began the 2011 season in the State College rotation, but was eventually moved to the bullpen to focus on his command issues. He showed improvement with his command, and came in to Spring Training looking like a new pitcher compared to how he looked during Spring Training in 2011. He still has some command issues to work on, and the Pirates will have him work on those issues in the rotation. He’s looked good in the first inning of each of his starts, but his command has quickly gotten worse as the outing goes on. That could be something that improves with added experience, as Allie has only been a pitcher for two years.
Kingham had one of the best seasons in the Pirates’ organization last year, leading all starters with a 2.15 ERA over 71 innings. He pounds the strike zone with his fastball, throwing the pitch on a downward plane, and touching 95 MPH on several occasions this spring. The 20-year old starter usually sits in the 90-93 MPH range, and has a tendency to see his velocity drop in the fourth and fifth innings. As he gets more experience and gets used to throwing every five days he should learn to hold that velocity deeper in to his starts. He’s got a good curve and a good change-up, although both pitches were rusty in 2011 as he didn’t use them as much as his fastball. He will incorporate the secondary stuff in to the mix more often in West Virginia.
Matt Benedict and Zac Fuesser will start the year in a piggyback situation, although they could eventually be replaced by Ryan Hafner. Hafner is returning from a hamstring injury, and didn’t start pitching in games until the final week of Spring Training. He will begin the year in extended Spring Training, and will take over a rotation spot once he’s stretched out. The right-hander put up good numbers in State College last year, with a 3.15 ERA in 65.2 innings. The 6′ 6″, 205 pound pitcher saw a velocity increase at the end of the year, moving up to the 90-93 MPH range. He carried that increase over to Spring Training, sitting 90-92, and touching 94 with his fastball.
Once Hafner returns, Benedict and Fuesser should move to piggyback roles, pitching 3-4 innings in relief appearances.
Jordan Cooper, Emmanuel DeLeon, Justin Ennis, Mike Jefferson, Rinku Singh, Trent Stevenson
Stevenson and Jefferson could serve as multiple inning relievers, coming on to pitch three or four innings after the starter leaves the game. Stevenson looked good this spring, pounding the strike zone, and flashing an improved slider which he can throw for strikes. He got a lot of ground ball outs, and will need to carry his spring success over to West Virginia, where he was hit hard in 2011.
DeLeon and Cooper are both hard throwers, but both need to refine their control. DeLeon was 94-96 MPH in Spring Training, and is only 21 years old. Cooper sits around 92-93 MPH, drafted in 2011 as a sophomore eligible player.
Singh has a lot of movement on his breaking pitches, which could make the left-hander difficult to hit in the lower levels. Ennis will also serve as left-handed relief out of the pen, making his return to West Virginia for the third straight year.