The West Virginia Power have featured a lot of breakout players over the last few years. In 2012 it was Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson. Last year it was Tyler Glasnow emerging as a top prospect. This time around they were expected to see a lot of breakout candidates. However, injuries prevented that from happening on a grand scale, limiting the seasons of Austin Meadows, Harold Ramirez, and others. They still had breakout players, with the most notable one being JaCoby Jones. However, there weren’t any breakouts on the same scale as Polanco or Glasnow. Below is a recap of the hitters and pitchers at the level, followed by the top ten prospects this year.
Austin Meadows was the best prospect coming into the year, and was expected to be the biggest breakout player at the level, with a chance to emerge as one of the top prospects in the game. Instead he missed time with a hamstring injury suffered in Spring Training, then re-aggravated that injury at the end of April, putting him out until early July. He did show some promise in West Virginia when he returned, hitting for a .322/.388/.486 line, while showing off some power with a .164 ISO. The Pirates generally like to have high school players spend a full year at the West Virginia level before moving to the upper levels. Meadows will probably return to West Virginia for the start of next season, although he could make it up to Bradenton by the end of the year. Of course, the Pirates have no reason to rush him, so they could afford to keep him at the level for a full season, just like they did with Josh Bell after he missed most of his first year in West Virginia with an injury.
Fellow 2013 first round pick Reese McGuire was also expected to have a breakout season. McGuire is a strong defensive catcher — one of the best in all of minor league baseball — and his defense lived up to the hype this year. Unfortunately, the offense didn’t match the defense, as McGuire had a .642 OPS. That’s not a long-term concern, as he showed strong plate patience, while also displaying an ability to make solid contact in the past. His hitting will eventually determine whether he is going to be an All-Star two-way catcher, or just a strong defender. Hitting usually comes late for catchers, and McGuire is very young, so this isn’t really a big concern at the moment.
Harold Ramirez also showed a lot of promise, after being rated the top prospect in the NYPL last season. He hit well in his time in West Virginia, with a .309/.364/.402 line. The only issue was a lack of power. Ramirez is young, playing in Low-A at the age of 19, so the lack of power at this point isn’t alarming. His season was shortened by a hamstring injury early in the year, followed by shin splits at the end of the year. Just like Meadows, Ramirez is another guy who could return to West Virginia next year, due to the time he missed at the level in 2014.
The big breakout this season came from JaCoby Jones, who hit for a .288/.347/.503 line in 445 at-bats, with 23 homers and 17 stolen bases. The stats come with the disclaimer that Jones was playing in Low-A, after spending three years in a major college program. He also had a poor strikeout rate, which doesn’t bode well for his numbers in the upper levels. Jones remained in West Virginia all season due to the fact that he was learning the shortstop position. The reports on his defense were mixed, with some reports saying he has a shot at sticking at the position, while other reports had him with defense that would be fine at second base. Either way, his power potential could provide a lot of value from the middle infield, especially if he cuts down on the strikeouts and maintains a high average in the upper levels.
Speaking of position changes, the West Virginia team had several other players playing new positions. Wyatt Mathisen was drafted as a catcher in 2012, but moved to third base this year to make room for Reese McGuire. Mathisen hit for a decent average while showing good plate patience skills. He also showed some improvements throughout the year in getting comfortable at the third base position.
Mathisen’s switch moved Erich Weiss from third base to second base. Weiss also hit for a good average, with a great OBP, although he lacked power in the second half. That’s a concern, since he was older, and came out of the college levels. Weiss could profile as a utility player in the future, capable of playing second and third base.
Edwin Espinal showed some promise this year, hitting 25 doubles and seven homers. He also displayed some good plate patience. Espinal is a big first baseman, and the power potential and lack of strikeouts makes him an interesting option going forward.
Barrett Barnes returned to the level for the second year in a row, but was limited due to more injuries. He was eventually moved up to Bradenton, as his career in West Virginia had stalled due to the lack of playing time he saw with his injuries the last two years.
Luis Heredia was the youngest pitcher at the level, and had a bit of a disappointing overall season. He missed some time with a shoulder issue early in the season, limiting him to 89 innings. He showed improvements in the final month of the season, with a 3.06 ERA in 35.1 innings, along with a 21:7 K/BB ratio. A big issue for Heredia has been a lack of control, and he showed the biggest improvements in that area this year. He has also been working on adding a breaking pitch that can be used as an out pitch. He originally had a big breaking curveball, but needed to change the pitch, as the arm slot for the curve threw off his arm slot for his fastball. He switched to a power curve, but as shown by the strikeout numbers, it hasn’t been effective yet. Heredia has shown some improvements this year, but he’s basically another projectable right-hander, rather than the potential ace he was projected to be when he was originally signed.
The two big college arms from the 2013 draft were Buddy Borden and Cody Dickson. Borden is a hard throwing right-hander who can hit 96 MPH and has a good curveball. He spent most of the year focused on his fastball command, while also working on adding a changeup. The overall results were strong, although Borden was dominant down the stretch. In his final two months of the season, he posted a 2.50 ERA in 57.2 innings, with a 65:15 K/BB ratio. In August, he dropped to a 2.00 ERA in 27 innings, with a 33:4 K/BB ratio.
Dickson is a lefty who can get his fastball up to 94 MPH, although he focused on slowing down the pitch to add better control this season. He had a 5.58 ERA and a 47:29 K/BB ratio in 59.2 innings in the first half of the season. In the second half, he had a 2.45 ERA and a 57:29 K/BB ratio in 69.2 innings. The walks got better at the end of the year, with 11 walks in 29.2 innings in the final month. Dickson has a good fastball and a good breaking pitch, but will need the improved command and a changeup to have a shot at reaching his upside of a number three starter.
Heredia, Dickson, and Borden should all make the jump to Bradenton next year.
Beyond those three, there wasn’t much from the West Virginia pitching staff. Dovydas Neverauskas has a great fastball, which routinely hits 95 MPH, although he lacks control and didn’t show much improvement in that area this year. Yhonathan Barrios is a hard throwing right-hander who started the season in West Virginia, then moved up to Bradenton. He’s got potential because of his fastball, but needs to show his stuff in the upper levels before moving beyond fringe-prospect status. Jake Burnette returned from shoulder surgery, and had poor control in his two outings in West Virginia. Shane Carle was the only other notable starter, putting up good numbers in West Virginia, before moving up to Bradenton. He’s a groundball heavy pitcher who has great control but doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts.
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. Unlike previous lists, all of the guys on this list project to be top 50 prospects next year, with many of them having a real shot at the top 30.
1. Austin Meadows
2. Reese McGuire
3. Harold Ramirez
4. Buddy Borden
5. JaCoby Jones
6. Cody Dickson
7. Luis Heredia
8. Wyatt Mathisen
9. Edwin Espinal
10. Shane Carle