Wednesday, October 6, 2010

West Virginia Post Season Wrap

The West Virginia Power were not what they were supposed to be coming into the season. Injuries cut down several hot prospects, and the team ended up with a squad of low batting average long-ball hitters and organizational pitchers. But they did have a handful of guys that kept on track.

Jarek Cunningham, 20, hit .258/12/49 and was third in the Sally League in extra base hits after missing last season with ACL surgery. A 2008 draft pick out of high school, the infielder has to cut down on his K's; he whiffed 132 times in 488 at-bats. His problem is two-fold at the dish; little patience and trouble with the off-speed stuff.

Drafted as a shortstop, he played entirely at second base in 2010, improving as the season wore on and he gained confidence in his knee. That looks like the position he'll remain at in the system. He's young and has pop; now he needs to develop an eye. He probably did well enough to merit a promotion to Bradenton next year.

Infielder Elevys Gonzalez, 20, who arrived partway through the year and hit .275/.354/.424, was a fast riser. He started the year ticketed for State College, but when the need for a utility infielder popped up at West Virginia, the Venezuelan got the call.

He began as a jack of all trades, gradually supplanting Jesus Brito at third late in the season. Gonzalez has decent speed, range and arm, and is fairly disciplined at the plate. The switch hitter doesn't have much pop, and profiles as a middle infielder. He also has a good chance at beginning 2011 at Bradenton.

Evan Chambers, 21, is an interesting prospect. He may be the most selective hitter in the organization, drawing 92 walks, but hit only .239. The poor average is because he took so many pitches and fell into a hole, often trying to hit while deep in pitchers' counts.

Still, Chambers, a 2009 draft selection out of Hillsborough CC, has an impressive toolbox. The CF is speedy, a good defender with a strong arm, and has a little pop (he hit 12 HR). If he gets more aggressive at the plate earlier in the count, he could be a keeper. He's also thought to be ticketed for Bradenton next season.

Aaron Baker, 23, (his birthday is in September, so he played mostly as a 22 year old) is a big-bopper first baseman. He hit .253/18/79 with a .453 slugging average. The lefty is just average at first, but is still expected to go to Bradenton. As an ex-college player, his stats in West Virginia aren't special; he'll have to break out in the next season of two if he wants to earn a blip on the Bucco radar.

Rogelios Noris, 21, is a guy with a big bat and limited skills beyond swinging the stick. His line was .236/15/56, and his 144 Ks against 15 walks is a huge red flag. The Mexican OF'er has a good arm, but his range limits him to right field in the show. His lack of discipline at the plate makes him a very iffy prospect.

He's too young to completely write off yet; the second half of the year was much better statistically than his first after the Pirates aggressively placed him in A ball last year, bypassing State College. Noris will probably start on the Power roster in 2011.

Puerto Rican SS Benji Gonzalez, 20, is another in a long line of good glove, weak bat infielders in the system. C Ramon Cabrera had a good year with the stick (.269, 1/40). The 20 year old Venezuelan got limited at-bats for the Power, but there's a lot of room to move up in the system for catchers. 3B Andy Vazquez had a good run when he was promoted at the end of the year. He's a 23 year old (22 during the season; he has an October birthday) Domincan, but is probably an organizational player at this point.

Jesus Brito, 22, came to the Bucs in the Brian Bixler deal. He tore up in the low minors in 2009 for the Tribe, but hit .197 at West Virginia this season, though the ball flies off his bat when he does hit it. He draws walks, but also K'ed 123 times. The Dominican will play in West Virginia in 2011, and is all but off the Pirate radar now.

CF Wesley Freeman, a highly touted five-tool guy when he was drafted out of high school in 2008, is a web-gem fielder but still can't hit worth a lick (.155 in 84 at bats with 44 Ks), and was sent back to the GCL after opening with the Power. He may be written off. Jose Hernandez and David Rubinstein had nice years, but they're considered organizational depth for the Pirates.

The Power's pitching staff was supposed to be loaded with young stud arms, but Victor Black, Quinton Miller, Jeffrey Inman, Brett Lorin and Hunter Strickland were all injured.

Miller, 20, was shelved with tendinitis, and only got 10 starts for the Power. He was 3-6 with a 5.13 ERA, and didn't have it after his layoff. Brett Lorin, 23, managed nine starts, and like Miller, had his problems, finishing 2-3 with a 5.18 ERA after coming back from hip surgery. Hunter Strickland, 22, (he was 21 through most of the year, with a late September birthday) was beat up at West Virginia and surprisingly promoted to Bradenton, where he did much better before elbow problems shut him down. Go figure.

22 year old Black, also a victim of bicep tendinitis, ended up pitching 4-2/3 innings. Inman, 22, missed the entire season with shoulder and elbow problems. It was pretty much a lost season for all five hurlers.

LHP Nate Baker, 22, pitched well (6-5, 2.99), and nearly threw a no-hitter before being promoted to Bradenton, where he'll continue on a fast track as a high college-level (Mississippi) draft pick (#5-2009).

The Power's three mainstays, Phillip Irwin, Kyle McPherson and Jason Erickson, carried the staff. RHP Irwin, 23, came from Ole Miss and was 6-3 with a 3.35 ERA and an OBA of .235. His walks, K's and WHIP were all outstanding, but as an older college pitcher in Low A, it's hard to read much into his performance yet.

RHP McPherson, 22, had a strong season, going 9-9 with a 3.59 ERA and averaging better than a K per inning. A 2007 draft pick, the Pirates have moved him through the system a step at a time.

His heat is 92-93 and he loses steam the deeper he gets into games. He relies heavily on a changeup; that may or may not work against him as he gets into higher levels of competition. K-Mac took an additional step this year, and finished the season at Bradenton as a late call up. He's Rule 5 eligible, though not likely to be protected, and after two good seasons, he's on the Pirate map even if not a blue chip prospect.

Erickson, 23, a draft pick in 2009 from the University of Washington, was 8-6 with a 4.27 ERA, and led the team in innings. The RHP's peripherals weren't especially strong and he doesn't miss too many bats. But he did well as a swingman before becoming a full time starter, and that may be his organizational niche.

Eliecer Navarro, 22, a small Panamanian lefty the Bucs signed in 2006, has put up good numbers in the DSL and low minors, and was 1-2 with a 3.49 ERA and a save for the Power. He pitched for Panama in the 2009 WBC. Navarro isn't a power arm, but he has great control and strikeout numbers, and is being converted from a starter to the bullpen. He's worth keeping an eye on as he moves up the ladder.

LHP Jhonathan Ramos started and finished the year at West Virginia. He was hammered with the Power, but kept a strong K rate and low walk rate, and was outstanding at State College in between. The Venezuelan is only 21, and has a fastball-slider-curve combo. He's a small guy, and the Bucs are using him out of the bullpen, where he's already a LOOGY in the making, holding lefties to a .118 BA.

One last name to throw is Duke Welker. He's so far been an underperforming high draft pick (#2-2007), but a switch to the bullpen has increased his velocity to the mid-nineties. Welker was 1-1 with a 3.63 ERA and 5 saves. In 22-2/3 frames, he walked 24 and struck out 25, so control is still a major issue. He moved to Bradenton in mid-season, with the same 50-50 split between walks and K's. At the age of 24, he's got the look of an organizational pitcher, but if he ever finds the strike zone...

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