When potential breakout prospect Victor Fernandez and first baseman Albert Baur went to the DL within a day of each other, the West Virginia Power were limping through their first home stand. Fernandez, who is riding the pine thanks to a hamstring injury, led the team with a .375/.444/.375 slash line and had swiped two bases in three games. Baur also contributed to the team, collecting a pair of RBI and a solid .267 batting average in his four games. Without their offense, the Power looked to be in deep trouble.
However, their untimely departures have opened up a second chance for several players from last year’s Power squad: Ty Moore and Carlos Munoz. Logan Ratledge, this year’s leadoff man, rounds out the returning players from the 2016 roster.
These three veteran players have found varying success so far with the Power, but their presence has gotten the team back on track.
As the only returning West Virginia Power player on the opening day roster, Ratledge represents the player who will do everything to help the team. In 15 games with the team in 2017, Ratledge has appeared at second base, shortstop, third base, left field, center field, right field, designated hitter, and pitcher. (The pitching stint did not go well.)
This versatility is Ratledge’s greatest asset, but his bat is holding him in Low-A ball. He has struggled against right-handed pitchers with his 2016 OPS being more than .200 lower against them as opposed to left-handed hurlers. He also pulls the ball almost exclusively, which can hurt him as he rises through the ranks and faces pitchers with better control who can pound the outside corner.
Ratledge has been quickly improving as a leadoff hitter, though. His plate patience seems to have made strides overnight. He worked 10 walks in his first 11 games; he didn’t reach 10 walks until his 57th game in 2016. On average he sees just over three pitches per at-bat, and he rarely falls behind in the count, something manager Wyatt Toregas has noticed.
“Rat is giving us professional at-bats at the top of the lineup right now,” Toregas said. “He’s not scared of anybody, and he’s been barreling up some balls.”
Three of the balls he’s barreled up have cleared the fence, and four more have resulted in doubles. Two of those doubles went up the right field line, indicating that the right-handed hitting Ratledge may be on his way to a more balanced approach at the plate.
Carlos Munoz, though not on the opening day roster, could be seen on the bench while technically being in extended spring training. Munoz split time at first base and DH with Daniel Arribas in 2016, but Arribas, the more mobile and consistent of the two, got the call to Bradenton.
Toregas explained that the extended spring training for Munoz was a result of the Power’s plan to carry 13 pitchers and 12 position players to start the season. Considering that the team played three consecutive extra inning games, the choice to keep an extra reliever helped West Virginia through the early troubles.
Munoz’s greatest attribute is his plate discipline; in his first four seasons of professional ball, he walked more often than he struck out. However, in 2015 and 2016, that trend has been reversing. Last year, he struck out 54 times with West Virginia while walking 51 times.
He struggled to start off with West Virginia, going 3-for-21 in his first five games, but he is showing signs of heating up. He blasted his first homer of the year, a grand slam, on April 16th, and followed with a three-run four-bagger just two days later. His slash line has risen to .267/.353/.467. (Take note, Munoz was incredibly streaky in 2016 so next week he could be running cold again.)
The thing to be concerned about is Munoz’s defense at first. His reaction time is fairly slow, and as a result, liners up the right field line easily slip past him. Regular Power second baseman Trae Arbet isn’t the best fielder either, compounding Munoz’s negative impact on the infield.
Whereas Munoz has been surprisingly weak, Ty Moore has been electric. He joined the team on April 11 and brought an immediate energy to the clubhouse. Toregas noticed Moore’s influence from the moment he arrived in Charleston.
“Our morale might be a little low. We need some guys to come in and pick it up and show us how to fight,” he said. “Ty, he was here to play.”
Moore has made his impact felt in the ten games he has played so far. He reached base four times on April 11 and fell a triple short of the cycle on the 14th. He has been fairly successful with runners in scoring position, a weak spot for West Virginia. He’s 7-for-12 in that situation with eight RBI. As of April 21, his slash line stands at .435/.480/.630, and he’s collected six doubles and one home run.
The biggest difference this year according to Moore isn’t his results on the field; it’s his confidence.
“Last year, I felt like I wasn’t seen as a guy that could lead the team,” said Moore. “I know I am a leader, but last year, I didn’t believe in myself.”
When Moore joined the Power last week, though, Toregas explicitly asked him to put the team on his back. Moore explained, “He told me to be a leader and said, ‘I know you can lead this team.’”
Moore worked this offseason to take advantage of a chance like this. He plays the corner outfield spots, where a quick first step can mean the difference between an out and an extra-base hit so he spent the offseason working on his footwork. He also understood the physical demands of full-season ball, having played with West Virginia in 2016, so he worked to build endurance.
“I’m not a guy that’s going to be throwing around a ton of weight in the weight room,” Moore admitted. “I did things that were specific to me. I ran a lot.”
Now that he’s back playing ball regularly, the fruits of his labor are starting to show. The consistent contact that made Moore a 12th round draft pick in 2015 has been joined by surprising power and clutch hitting. If Moore manages to continue his hot streak, he’ll likely be the leader in the Power clubhouse for the duration of the year, which is what Toregas wants to see.
“Hopefully some of these young guys who are kind of timid right now can see what these older guys are doing and try to mimic and copy them a little bit,” Toregas said. “Right now, [the younger players] are trying to figure out whether they belong. I know they belong, I think deep down they know they belong, the Pirates know they belong or they wouldn’t have put them here so it’s a matter of committing and believing.”
If nothing else, the younger players can see the power of that belief in Moore, who decided to believe in himself despite the early trip to extended spring training.
“Instead of losing confidence, I took it as a building block and something to light a fire under me,” he said.
To keep West Virginia’s winning ways, he, along with Logan Ratledge and Carlos Munoz, will need to fan the flames in their teammates.