Today we wrap up the early 2018 minor league roster previews with a look at the anticipated West Virginia Power roster. This is a group that feels like a classic West Virginia team under Neal Huntington. You’ve got a lot of young players who have shown potential, and some smaller breakouts, with the chance to continue their development in 2018 and go for a big breakout.
In a lot of ways, this group reminds me of the 2012 group, which was one of the strongest lower level teams in the system under Huntington. That group saw breakout seasons from Gregory Polanco, Alen Hanson, Jose Osuna, and Willy Garcia. They also had Josh Bell, Elias Diaz, and Nick Kingham at the start of the year.
This group might be better, fueled with a lot of talented prep picks from the 2017 draft class, some talented international players, and a lot of young pitching talent that could include 2017 first round pick Shane Baz.
The 2017 West Virginia group wasn’t nearly as strong, leading to me needing only one trip to the level. Looking at this roster, I think two trips in 2018 will be a necessity. Here is a look at the expected group.
C – Jason Delay
1B – Mason Martin
2B – Tristan Gray
SS – Rodolfo Castro
3B – Oneil Cruz
OF – Calvin Mitchell
OF – Lolo Sanchez
OF – Conner Uselton
DH – Edison Lantigua
Bench – Yoel Gonzalez, Brett Pope, Chris Sharpe, Ben Bengtson
It can be tough to project any team this early, but the West Virginia team is especially difficult. At this level you have to determine if a young player will get an aggressive push to full season ball, or spend time in extended Spring Training and go to a short-season team. The Pirates have a tendency to aggressively push their hitters to full season ball in their first full year, which led to a lot of these projections.
I’ve got 2017 prep draft picks Mason Martin, Calvin Mitchell, and Conner Uselton going to West Virginia, getting that same aggressive push. I also expect the same from international players like Lolo Sanchez and Rodolfo Castro. Sanchez seems like a guarantee to make it, and is the guy I’m most confident in to get this promotion, US players included.
As for Castro, I put Stephen Alemais and Adrian Valerio in Bradenton yesterday. Part of that was because that is what the Pirates had planned, and what they did last year. Another part is that I think Castro will push both of them up a level. I could otherwise see Tristan Gray going to Bradenton, but Alemais and Valerio will keep him down. There’s always a chance the Pirates could keep Valerio down and have him split time with Castro in the middle infield, with Alemais at shortstop in Bradenton and Gray at second base. But that doesn’t help Valerio, unless you want extra shortstop time at the expense of Castro’s development.
Oneil Cruz provided a challenge to the projections. The Dodgers gave him a very aggressive push, sending him to West Virginia in his first year in the US. He didn’t fare the best from a stats standpoint, but in my limited view of him after the trade, he didn’t look completely over-matched, and had the confidence to handle such an aggressive push. I could see two scenarios here. One is that the Pirates continue that aggressive approach and send him to Bradenton, keeping Dylan Busby back in West Virginia. The other is that they push Busby up higher, and keep Cruz back another year, which would still be an aggressive placement, similar to what they would do with guys like Sanchez. Considering that’s their usual approach, I kept Cruz in West Virginia for now.
The catcher situation is interesting. I put Deon Stafford in Bradenton and Jason Delay in West Virginia, figuring the Pirates would want the stronger defensive catcher with the younger pitching group. That was their approach last year. However, I could see Yoel Gonzalez getting a good amount of time as well, especially after he showed some improved results last year in West Virginia.
Rotation Candidates – Shane Baz, Braeden Ogle, Max Kranick, Domingo Robles, Ike Schlabach, Alex Manasa, Travis MacGregor, Gavin Wallace, Hunter Stratton
There are some question marks here, and the biggest one is with Shane Baz. The Pirates have only drafted one other prep pitcher in the first round, and that was Jameson Taillon. He went to West Virginia after a brief stay in extended Spring Training, aimed at limiting his innings. The Pirates aren’t as conservative with limiting innings these days. They typically send their prep pitchers to Bristol for their first year, and I think that is where Steven Jennings and Cody Bolton end up. But Baz could be an exception, getting pushed up to West Virginia for full season ball.
Braeden Ogle is the only other person that I’m sure will be in the West Virginia rotation. That matches the approach the Pirates typically take after Bristol, and his performance last year warrants the move to full season. Domingo Robles didn’t have the stats, but I could see him making the same jump for the same reasons, due to his stuff.
Max Kranick was limited last year due to an injury, but I could still see him getting this push, as he showed good stuff in his return. Travis MacGregor showed some improvements throughout the year, but wasn’t consistent, so there’s a chance he could be left in extended Spring Training. With both of these players, I think the way they show up to Spring Training will largely determine their Opening Day placement.
Schlabach, Manasa, Wallace, and Stratton all have good chances at the rotation, or to get innings. I could see a lot of piggyback roles here.
Bullpen Candidates – Joel Cesar, Scooter Hightower, Sergio Cubilete, John Pomeroy, Matt Seelinger, Jacob Taylor, Drew Fischer, Beau Sulser, Mike Wallace
This is the spot for the disclaimer about how low-level relievers aren’t typically legit prospects, and that the best arms usually go to the rotation. Now the disclaimer to that disclaimer: There are some interesting hard throwers in this group, such as Joel Cesar, Sergio Cubilete, John Pomeroy, and Jacob Taylor. They all have things to work on, whether it’s control or secondary stuff. Being a hard thrower gets them on the radar as a project, but isn’t everything.