BRADENTON, Fl. – There has been no shortage of young, top prospects playing for the West Virginia Power the last few years. The team saw big breakout seasons from Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson in 2012. They saw the same thing from Tyler Glasnow in 2013, and Dilson Herrera on a smaller scale. The breakout in 2014 was on a smaller scale with JaCoby Jones, but the 2015 season saw Yeudy Garcia becoming the Breakout Prospect of the Year in the system.
The 2016 West Virginia team will once again be a team to watch, as two of the best young talents in the lower levels of the system will be heading that way. This afternoon I spoke with Larry Broadway, the Pirates’ Director of Minor League Operations, who confirmed that Ke’Bryan Hayes and Mitch Keller will both go to West Virginia to play full season ball this year.
This isn’t a big surprise for Hayes. He was taken in the compensation portion of the first round last year, selected with the pick the Pirates got for losing Russell Martin. They’ve sent their first round prep position players to West Virginia in their first full seasons the past few years, with Austin Meadows, Reese McGuire, and Cole Tucker all getting that big push.
It’s not just about being a first round talent though. Broadway noted that it’s about the player, crediting the maturity, approach in the batter’s box, and defense for Hayes as things that give them trust that he can handle the promotion.
Mitch Keller is a bit of a different situation. In the past, the Pirates would send prep pitchers to the NYPL in their first full season, followed by a move to West Virginia in their second full year. However, they’ve since added an extra rookie league team in Bristol, and that’s where they sent Keller for his first full year. It was unknown where they would send the prep guys after that, since there haven’t been any examples with the Bristol team in the mix.
Keller will go to West Virginia, and again this looks like it’s all about the player, rather than a typical approach, since it doesn’t appear for now that Gage Hinsz or Luis Escobar will start the year at the same level.
“He’s shown just physical maturity and emotional maturity,” Broadway said. “He’s in a good spot, can command the ball. He works his butt off.”
When I saw Keller in the GCL, he had a great fastball that could touch 95 at the age of 18, but some bad command problems. Last year he was limited in innings due to forearm tightness, and didn’t have the best numbers in Bristol when he returned. But what I saw in extended Spring Training and what he showed in instructs are cause for you to look beyond the numbers. He sits 93-95 MPH with ease, showing no effort with his delivery, and has a curveball that can be a strikeout pitch. More importantly, the command has improved since his time in the GCL.
“It’s just a function of strength, and ability to be consistent with his delivery, and consistent with his thought process,” Broadway said of the command. “He’s in a good spot right now.”
Hayes is a top ten prospect, while Keller is in that next tier, and could push up into the top ten by this time next year. They’re not on the same level of breakout candidates as Polanco or Garcia, who were way off the prospect radar before their big years. They could be more along the lines of Tyler Glasnow, where they’re top prospects in the system, and could propel themselves to top prospects in all of baseball. Either way, those two will make West Virginia an interesting team to watch once again.