The West Virginia Power have been home to some of the biggest breakout prospects over the years. Gregory Polanco, Tyler Glasnow, and Mitch Keller were some of the players who made the jump to top prospect status during their time in West Virginia. The Pirates have also seen smaller scale success stories in West Virginia, with breakouts like JaCoby Jones and other players who wouldn’t crack a top 100, but could and have reached the majors.
This year’s team had the breakout players, but didn’t have the impact. The breakouts of Eduardo Vera and Oddy Nunez were more of the smaller scale variety. The performance from Adrian Valerio wasn’t quite small scale, but wasn’t a big impact yet either. You see so many young players breaking out at this level for a reason. The Pirates load up on highly projectable players, then challenge them with an aggressive push to West Virginia. Some of them respond well and take steps forward as breakout players. But as we saw in 2017, those breakouts aren’t always huge.
Don’t expect this trend to continue in 2018.
The 2018 West Virginia Power is lined up for one of the most exciting groups I’ve seen at the level since 2012, when guys like Polanco, Josh Bell, Nick Kingham, Alen Hanson, Willy Garcia, Elias Diaz, and Jose Osuna were at the level. That list has six players who have made the majors, one more who will make the majors, and two players who have already established themselves as starters in the big leagues. Considering the attrition rate of guys from Low-A to the majors, that’s a great outcome.
The Pirates can only hope for the same from the 2018 group. Fortunately, there is a lot of talent among the candidates for the level.
The pitching side is led by Shane Baz, the first round pick in 2017. I don’t know if Baz will make the jump to West Virginia right away. The Pirates haven’t had a first round prep pitcher since Jameson Taillon in 2010, and they did start Taillon at West Virginia after a month in extended Spring Training. Every other prep pitcher in every other round has spent at least one full season in short-season ball before making the jump to full season ball in West Virginia. My guess is that Baz would be the exception, although he could be delayed a bit.
Baz has top of the rotation upside, but some of the other pitchers who could make the jump are projects. The 2016 prep pitching class of Braeden Ogle, Max Kranick, and Travis MacGregor provide some good wild cards. Their performances during Spring Training will determine if they start off at that level. You can read about all three in John Dreker’s article from this weekend. Ogle is a lefty with good fastball velocity, movement on his pitches, and a slider that is an out pitch. Kranick has strong control of his fastball, the frame and ability to add velocity, and is working on developing a better out pitch. MacGregor has been working through control problems, and is showing promise, but is still more of a project than the other two.
The Pirates have more pitching talent behind those guys, although they tend to be a little more cautious with their young pitchers, moving them along slow until they learn fastball command. They’ve been much more aggressive with their hitting prospects.
It has been pretty standard for the Pirates to give their prep hitters and young Latin American players an aggressive jump to West Virginia. There could be a lot of players making that jump in 2018.
From the draft, the candidates would include second round outfielders Calvin Mitchell and Conner Uselton, plus 17th round first baseman Mason Martin. The international talents are led by Lolo Sanchez, who was the top hitting prospect in the GCL this past year, along with infielder Rodolfo Castro and outfielder Jeremias Portorreal.
A guy who doesn’t really fit into either one of those lists is Oneil Cruz, who the Pirates acquired for Tony Watson, and who already has some of the best raw power in the system, despite turning 19 just two weeks ago. Cruz is raw, and will likely return to West Virginia for his second year, which really isn’t an issue considering he was already there early. He’s got some of the best upside on the team, and if I had to pick a potential breakout candidate from this group, his name would be at the top of the list.
This group doesn’t even include the Spring Training breakouts. Every year there is some sort of surprise during Spring Training. Polanco was one of those surprises in 2012. Vera and Nunez were the surprises this past year. Guys who weren’t in the top 50, and weren’t discussed as big breakout candidates before the season, who suddenly improved by the time Spring Training rolled around. This list could get deeper by the start of the 2018 season.
The Pirates have a lot of young talent about to make the jump to West Virginia. Not all of those guys will make the majors, which is just the nature of following the progress of low level players up the system. But they have enough talent in the upcoming group that it seems inevitable that they will get a strong result, with a starter or two, and several other players who could reach the majors in smaller roles. And in the short-term, those players should do a lot to help rebuild the Pirates’ farm system from the lower levels on up.