West Virginia has been the level recently where young players break out and establish themselves as legit prospects. That happened last year again with Mitch Keller, although the Pirates didn’t get an extreme version like Keller with this year’s West Virginia team. The 2017 team wasn’t packed with prospects, but they had two of the biggest movers among prospects in pitchers Eduardo Vera and Oddy Nunez. They also had shortstop Adrian Valerio, who was able to show why he was ranked in our top 50 two years before he showed any offensive potential. The list below really drops off after the top four prospects, and some of the best prospects who saw action for West Virginia this year didn’t play long enough for the team to qualify for the top ten list. So keep those two things in mind while looking at the list. Here are the reports on the top prospects at the level.
TOP 10 WEST VIRGINIA POWER PROSPECTS
The cutoff for eligibility on this list was 140 at-bats, 40 innings pitched, or 20 relief appearances. That left off a lot of interesting prospects, as you will see in the section of other notable players at the bottom. This has typically been the level over the last few years where the biggest breakouts have come from, and that happened again this year, though no one from the level moved to the top level of the prospect list for the entire system. However, just like the lower levels, these players are still graded mostly based on projection rather than actual results, so there is time for them to establish themselves as top prospects.
1. Luis Escobar, RHP – Escobar was the top prospect for this team coming into the season and he remained in that top spot all year. The 21-year-old righty didn’t make huge strides this season, though he did lead the entire system and the South Atlantic League with 168 strikeouts. Escobar showed the same three-pitch mix that got him rated high coming into the year and still had the occasional inconsistencies that keep him out of the top ten prospects in the system. He throws a mid-90s fastball that touches 97 MPH. He has a big breaking curveball and a changeup with late drop and good separation, with all three pitches being used as out pitches. He doesn’t always fill the strike zone though, which led to 60 walks and 13 hit batters. At Low-A, you can still get away with not throwing a lot of strikes due to impatient hitters chasing pitches, but he needs to improve his control for it to work at the upper levels. Escobar will move up to Bradenton next season, where he will continue to work on his control, and he remains a potential breakout prospect.
2. Adrian Valerio, SS – Valerio was hitting very well during Spring Training this season, but a broken hand due to a hit-by-pitch kept him out of action until mid-May. After a poor first week, his hitting really took off for the first time in his career. His season was interrupted two more times by minor injuries, but he remained consistent throughout the year. Valerio had a problem in the past with trying to be a power hitter after anytime he hit the ball well. A home run or a ball off of the fence would lead to him trying to hit homers. This year, he found out that he didn’t need to change his line drive, gap-to-gap approach to hit homers and have success at the plate. Valerio kept that approach all season and it led to a .273/.301/.442 slash line. His defense was excellent and continues to improve as he cleans up his fielding mechanics. As a lead-off hitter, you’d like to see him draw more walks and use his speed better, but he doesn’t chase a lot of bad pitches, so that limits his strikeouts. You would assume he moves up to Bradenton next season, although that might mean that he splits his time at second base and shortstop with Stephen Alemais.
3. Eduardo Vera, RHP – The awards for most improved player, biggest surprise and biggest breakout pitching prospect would all go to Vera after his terrific 2017 season. He had Tommy John surgery in 2015 and came back last year looking a lot like he did before his injury. Vera always had above average control. He didn’t throw hard though, topping out at 91 MPH and he lacked a solid off-speed pitch. He also had limited innings coming into 2017, so there weren’t big (any?) expectations for this season. That changed a little in Spring Training when the early reports had him sitting 91-92 MPH and showing improvements to his curveball and changeup, which played up due to his control. That was just the start though. By mid-season, he was throwing 93-95 MPH, hitting 97, while continuing to improve his off-speed pitches. By the end of the season, he put everything together, going seven innings in each of his final three starts, twice taking no-hitters late into the game, and he didn’t walk a single batter in those 21 innings. In fact, Vera walked 14 batters in 132.1 innings. He now has command of three average or better pitches. He will go to Bradenton next year, but if he pitches anything like he did this season, he would be a candidate for a mid-season promotion to Altoona.
4. Oddy Nunez, LHP – If it wasn’t for Eduardo Vera, Nunez would have been the most improved pitcher this season. He showed signs of success during his first two seasons, but that was in a limited role each year. Left-handed pitchers with decent control usually get by without strong stuff in the lower levels. What they usually don’t do is skip two levels and more than double their combined innings from the previous two seasons. Nunez came into Spring Training throwing harder this season, going from 88-89 as a reliever, to 91-93 MPH as a starter. He’s 20 years old, with a 6’8″ frame that filled out some, so it’s not a surprise that he added velocity. He has an easy delivery as well, so there should be some more miles per hour in that arm. Nunez relies on a sinker for a lot of grounders, which didn’t always work with the defense that West Virginia put behind him, but it’s what you want to see from him. He worked on tightening up his slider and throwing his changeup more often, which was a pitch that he didn’t use often as a reliever. There is still a lot of projection with Nunez, so we could see him take a jump in the prospect rankings next season with Bradenton.
5. Hunter Owen, 3B – As mentioned above, there is a big difference from the top four and the rest of the list. Owen put up solid hitting stats with the Power this year, posting a .292/.388/.505 slash line in 83 games. Those numbers would normally get you ranked higher, but he’s now 24 years old and lacks both defensive value and speed. His OBP was also helped by a high hit-by-pitch total, which in turn cost him some playing time. He also lost time due to a hamstring injury. As one of the older players at the level, you expect him to hit well in Low-A ball. Owen showed some power in his bat and did it while maintaining a decent strikeout rate. Those are good signs for his hitting potential, and it’s the bat that will need to carry him through the system. His defense at third base was not good, but he has shown decent defense in the outfield before this year and that’s his likely position in the future.
6. James Marvel, RHP – Marvel put up decent results with West Virginia, but he made this spot due to his success after he was promoted to Bradenton in August. He’s now 24 years old, which is normally too old for this level. Marvel missed a lot of time due to Tommy John surgery, so that gave him some leeway with his age. He added a bit of velocity this season, sitting low-90s with his sinker. He also started throwing his four-seam fastball more often and worked on improving his changeup. Marvel relied heavily on his sinker and it would get him in trouble when batters started expecting the pitch. Adding the four-seam and changeup in more often, keeps the batters guessing. He also throws a curveball, which he will go to more often when he doesn’t have the feel for his changeup. Marvel should be in the Bradenton rotation next season and his age, plus experience at the level, gives him a chance to move up during the season.
7. Cam Vieaux, LHP – Vieaux spent half of the season at West Virginia and had the opposite results of Marvel. While Marvel put up average results with the Power and then finished strong with Bradenton, Vieaux dominated early at Low-A and then struggled with the jump to the next level. Vieaux is a 6’4″ lefty, who turns 24 in December. He is a soft-tossing southpaw, who gets by due to mixing his pitches well and throwing strikes. That worked well in West Virginia, but the pitcher-friendly Florida State League wasn’t so friendly to him. He went from a 2.73 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP with the Power, to a 4.69 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP with the Marauders. Vieaux’s low strikeout rate went up slightly in High-A, but his walks also increased and his GO/AO ratio dropped to 0.98 at the higher level. He also doesn’t have splits that show a lot of success against left-handed hitters, so being a lefty only reliever is probably out of the question. The Pirates have tried to get more velocity out of Vieaux, who has a solid frame and low-effort delivery. If he can do that, while maintaining his control and continuing to mix his pitches well, then we should see better results.
8. Geoff Hartlieb, RHP – Hartlieb absolutely dominated in West Virginia, then moved up to Bradenton and put up average results. That’s quite a jump for a late round draft pick, who struggled in his first taste of pro ball last year in Bristol. The difference between the two years is the added velocity and improvements with his sinker. Hartlieb has four pitches, which is unusual for a reliever, but he started in college. Besides the sinker, he has a four-seam fastball that is absolute gas, along with a slider that shows plus potential at times and a seldom-used changeup. We saw Hartlieb hitting 97 MPH when he first joined Bradenton. Multiple scouts reported that he hit 98 MPH, and he has reportedly touched 100 MPH. That was after topping out at 95 MPH before this season. His biggest issue is that the velocity is inconsistent, which is something we saw with Indianapolis reliever Brett McKinney through the years. He would be sitting 90 MPH one day and hitting 97 the next. Hartlieb has an even bigger range if the 100 MPH reports are accurate. If you can get a control pitcher who sits 96-98 MPH consistently, with a sinker and an above average slider, you’re talking about someone who could be in the majors next season. Hartlieb is occasionally that exact pitcher.
9. Matt Anderson, RHP – Anderson is a tough pitcher to figure out. He doesn’t throw that hard, sitting low-90s with his fastball, and doesn’t have the best control, but he’s a strikeout pitcher who is tough to hit. Over his two seasons of pro ball, he has held batters to a .200 average and he has 132 strikeouts in 112.1 innings. He has missed some time as a pro, once due to a blister issue, but he is 23 years old and had a lot of college experience as a four-year starter, so he was advanced for Low-A ball this season. Anderson uses his curveball often as an out pitch and can throw it for strikes as well. When his fastball control is on, then it gives him two solid pitches and he has success. When he can’t throw his fastball for strikes, then he can run up his pitch count and get in trouble. Anderson had much more success as a reliever this season, holding batters to a .120 BAA in 30 innings. That’s his likely role going forward, although he will probably remain in a multi-inning role for now.
10. Blake Cederlind, RHP – Cederlind took a step back in the rankings this year. He was a pitcher who could sit mid-90s, but lacked strong control or a solid secondary pitch. After his first full season of pro ball, the 21-year-old righty is still that same pitcher, except he finished the season in relief. Cederlind made the top ten due to his fastball velocity, but he will need more than that to succeed in pro ball. We recently saw him sitting 96 MPH during the Fall Instructional League. That’s a great starting point, but he doesn’t command the pitch well, leaving it up in the zone often. So he should return to this level next year and continue to work on fastball command, rather than take a step up in the system. Both Power manager Wyatt Toregas and pitching coach Drew Benes believe that confidence played a factor in his poor results because they have seen him look much better in bullpens, then not trust his stuff once the games begin.
Other Notable Players: This section is almost as good as the list of top ten players. Shortstop Stephen Alemais, third baseman Oneil Cruz, catcher Yoel Gonzalez, and relief pitcher Angel German all missed out on the list due to lack of playing time. All of them would have been in the top ten without the restrictions. Alemais had a tough time hitting at this level, but after suffering a hand injury, he made some adjustments to his plate approach and had plenty of success at the plate in Bradenton. Cruz is one of the best hitting prospects in the lower levels for the Pirates. The tall, lanky 19-year-old, has tremendous raw power, with plenty of room to fill out. He should return to this level next year and could be that top breakout prospect we didn’t see this season. German is a hard-throwing reliever with back of the bullpen upside, while Gonzalez was a glove-only catcher for three seasons before hitting for average and some power this year. Lefty reliever Ronny Agustin just missed the top ten. He mixes a 90 MPH fastball, with one of the best curveballs in the system, though he needs to tighten up his command of both pitches before you get too excited over his potential. Dylan Prohoroff had a strong strikeout rate, but that didn’t always lead to the desired results.