Two Top West Virginia Power Pitchers Switching Roles

Midway through the month of May, two of the top Low-A West Virginia Power pitchers changed roles.

Right-handed pitcher Yeudy Garcia is having one of the biggest breakout performances this season by any player in the Pirates’ system. He was our Pitcher of the Month for the month of May, and was shifted into West Virginia’s starting rotation.

Garcia is equipped with a plus-fastball that sits regularly in the mid-90s with good command, along with an improving slider/change-up combination. The switch over to the rotation was aimed at giving the 22-year-old more innings and more opportunities to improve his secondary pitches, something that was not easily achievable coming out of the bullpen.

“When pitching in relief, a lot of guys can get away with fastballs and just one secondary pitch,” West Virginia Pitching Coach Mark DiFelice told me last weekend. “We are thinking about developing his changeup as well as his slider. This move [to the rotation] gives him more pitches and more innings to develop them.”

In his first five starts, Garcia’s transition to the rotation was seamless. In 24.2 innings pitched, he had a minuscule 1.09 ERA with a 23/8 strikeout-to-walk ratio. However, Garcia has had a drop-off in his last three starts. He has been unable to work past the fourth inning, and has a combined 6/8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in those outings.

DiFelice believes that fatigue has contributed to Garcia’s recent struggles, something that many young pitchers face as they head into the middle of the season. The fatigue triggered some inconsistencies in Garcia’s delivery. In order to get his mechanics back in line, the coaching staff had him focus on using the lower half of his body, which he got away from doing. This adjustment should help Garcia push through this mid-season “hump,” as described by DiFelice.

Garcia was selected to the SAL All-Star Game and gave up a run in his inning pitched. The Pirates will slot Garcia at the end of the starting rotation coming out of the All-Star break, aiming to give Garcia a breather and lightening his workload. They hope that this break will allow him to regain his early season form to start the second half of the season.

Meanwhile, 21-year-old LHP John Sever was moved back into the bullpen at the end of May once Stephen Tarpley returned from injury. This seemed to be the Pirates’ plan all along as they envision Sever as a power-lefty out of the bullpen going forward. The Pirates believe that his repertoire is most effective in that role.

“We love his stuff as far as his fastball and slider combination,” DiFelice said. “He’s basically a power lefty when you think of the 90-93 MPH fastball, touching the 94 MPH range — to go along with that wipe out slider.”

Sever was dominant in Bristol last season, and much of his dominance occurred when pitching in relief. Sever struck out 63 batters in just 40.2 innings pitched. He has not been as consistent this season – He’s been Jekyll and Hyde-like in his five appearances in the month of June.

On June 1st, Sever pitched three scoreless innings while striking out seven batters in the process. His next outing, he pitched 2.1 innings and gave up a whopping seven earned runs on seven hits. In his next two outings, Sever pitched a combined 7.2 scoreless innings. Then this past weekend, he gave up another seven earned runs in just 1.1 innings pitched. I was in attendance for his most recent outing, and it looked as if Sever was throwing batting practice. He missed up in the zone his entire outing, and the opposing batters were having no trouble barreling up the baseball.

Sever has a bit of a funky delivery that creates some deception. When he is commanding his fastball low in the zone, his slider becomes a very effective pitch and he becomes hard to hit. If he is able to become more consistent going forward, his ceiling could be a Tony Watson-type lefty out of the bullpen.