BRADENTON, Fla. – If the Pirates are going to get some breakout prospects this year, those prospects are most likely going to come from West Virginia. That’s not saying that the system doesn’t have breakout potential at other levels. It’s just that the amount of potential breakout guys in West Virginia this year is much larger than the amount of potential breakout guys at the other levels, possibly combined.
While the rosters aren’t official, the guys I’ve seen playing with the West Virginia squad during Spring Training this year show a lot of potential. There is a lot of exciting young talent on the roster, with plenty of breakout potential. That’s true almost every year, and most of the breakout guys in the past have come from West Virginia for that reason. But this year’s group looks like it could be one of the strongest groups that I’ve covered.
Yesterday I wrote about how Bradenton looks strong on the pitching side. West Virginia looks strong on both sides.
The offense is helped by a mix of interesting draft picks, and a few international signings who looked promising last year. The biggest name in the group right now is Lolo Sanchez, who is already one of the top ten prospects in the system, and could be a top 100 prospect in baseball by the end of this year with a big season in West Virginia.
Sanchez will likely be joined by Mason Martin and Calvin Mitchell, two prep hitters from the 2017 draft who have shown good power potential. Rodolfo Castro, an interesting middle infield prospect with good offensive potential, should also make the jump from the GCL and play second base. He’s moving to second because the Pirates have Oneil Cruz at shortstop. Cruz was acquired for Tony Watson last year, and has some of the best raw power in the system. Interesting college guys include 2017 third round pick Dylan Busby and fifth round pick Deon Stafford.
The biggest thing I’ve noticed from this group is how much power potential exists among the top hitting prospects. Cruz, Martin, and Mitchell are one of the best power potential trios I’ve seen coming through the lower levels. The other guys also have some potential as well.
On the pitching side, the best prospect from the group might not arrive until the end of April. That would be 2017 first round pick Shane Baz, who will likely take the Jameson Taillon path of pitching in extended Spring Training to limit his innings, and making his West Virginia debut at the end of April or early May. Baz doesn’t really qualify as a potential breakout guy, since his draft status puts him on the radar. But the rest of the rotation looks promising.
The Pirates went heavy with prep pitchers in 2016, and three of them could be in West Virginia this year. Left-hander Braeden Ogle leads the group, with a fastball that can sit mid-90s and top out at 97 or higher. He also has promising secondary stuff and the chance for a three-pitch mix. Travis MacGregor is a tall, projectable right-hander who has already added some velocity. Max Kranick has gotten his velocity up to 92-94 MPH, and has recently added a new slider to the mix. The approach with prep pitchers is to draft a lot of them, and hope one breaks out. Ogle looks most likely to break out from that group, but all three guys show some promise.
The pitching staff also has Domingo Robles, who took a big step up last year with Bristol, and has the look of a guy who could pitch in the majors one day. Ike Schlabach and Gavin Wallace also provide potential as starting options for the rotation, while Joel Cesar, Sergio Cubilete, and Jacob Taylor are among the hard throwing options in the bullpen.
This group, with quality hitting and pitching from all avenues, looks like the best West Virginia squad I’ve covered, which is saying a lot considering the 2012 group that had guys like Gregory Polanco, Josh Bell, Nick Kingham, Jose Osuna, and Elias Diaz. The group will look strong at the start of the year, led by Lolo Sanchez, and will only get stronger when Shane Baz joins the mix. The hope is that several prospects end up breaking out at the level this year, leading to a rebuild in the Pirates’ system.