We’ve covered the Altoona, Indianapolis, and Bradenton infields so far. The final full season team to cover is the West Virginia Power. Here is a look at each position, with an attempt to try and figure out the opening day roster at the end.
The top catching prospects in the lower level are Elias Diaz and Joey Schoenfeld. Both catchers spent time in the Gulf Coast League, and both could move up to full season ball this year. Diaz moved ahead of Schoenfeld as far as playing time last year, and could be ahead of Schoenfeld on the depth chart. One of those two should be the starter in West Virginia, and my guess would be Diaz. It’s possible that both could end up at the level.
Kawika Emsley-Pai was added this off-season, after being released by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Emsley-Pai was drafted by Arizona in the 10th round last year, but was released after a new management group took over. While I was at Spring Training last week, Emsley-Pai spent some time behind the plate with the A-ball team, displaying some good skills framing pitches. He would either serve as the backup to Diaz/Schoenfeld, or possibly as a third catcher.
Matt Curry should start off in West Virginia, as he is blocked in high-A by Aaron Baker and Calvin Anderson. The Pirates have moved Anderson to the outfield, and there’s an outside chance that Baker could jump right to the AA level. If that happens, Curry would start off in high-A, although the Pirates are more likely to be conservative. The goal will be to get Baker to AA by the end of the year, which will eventually clear space for Curry to move to high-A.
Once Curry goes to high-A, Jared Lakind and Justin Howard are two candidates to take over as the starting first baseman. Lakind has the most upside, after being drafted out of the prep ranks last year. Howard was selected out of college, and is a good hitter for average, but doesn’t have much upside as a long term starter at first base, due to his lack of power.
Kelson Brown was getting a lot of playing time at second base last week with the A-ball team, and could be a candidate to start the season in the West Virginia lineup. He hit for a .293/.348/.373 line in State College last year, playing mostly third base, but also getting time at second and shortstop. Gift Ngoepe is also a candidate to move up to full season ball this year, as he also spent time in State College in 2010, although without the numbers Brown put up.
Gift is raw at the plate, and pretty much overall, but is strong defensively and has a lot of speed. He only hit for a .205/.315/.319 line in 2010, although he could use more at-bats to work on his hitting, considering his backstory and lack of baseball experience. There is the chance that Brown could play a utility role, getting starts at second and third, which is similar to what happened in 2010 in State College.
Drew Maggi was drafted by the Pirates in the 15th round last year, and signed for above slot money as a draft eligible sophomore out of college. Maggi didn’t do so well in his move to the New York-Penn League, hitting for a .156/.257/.203 line. I saw Maggi a bit last year, and saw a lot of him last week in Spring Training. He has a lot of speed, and is a good gap hitter, making him similar to Chase D’Arnaud. He will be the everyday shortstop in West Virginia, with a strong chance that he could move up to Bradenton by the end of the year.
Walker Gourley got a lot of time at third base last year with State College, and played there a lot in Spring Training with the A-ball team. Gourley is a little raw, getting drafted out of the high school ranks in 2009. His defense at third base has always looked rough in the times I’ve seen him, both in 2010 and in Spring Training this year. He also didn’t do much at the plate, with a .168/.221/.224 line in 232 at-bats in short season last year.
The guy who would be most deserving of everyday playing time would be Eric Avila. After three seasons in the DSL, Avila moved to the Gulf Coast League last year, putting up a .277/.327/.472 line with seven homers in 195 at-bats, which is impressive considering the GCL is a very pitcher friendly league. Avila turns 21 years old this year, so now is the time for his career to start progressing.
Matt Skirving and Miguel Mendez are both backup options at catcher, although each player could be left in extended Spring Training, and moved to State College when the short season leagues start.
Kevin Mort was signed as a non-drafted free agent last year, and spent most of his time in the Gulf Coast League, before moving up to State College at the end of the year. Mort could serve as a backup in low-A to start the season, although it seems more likely that he will end up in State College this year when their season starts.
Chase Lyles spent a lot of time last week in Spring Training with guys who will be playing in the GCL and State College, which doesn’t speak well to his chances of playing in West Virginia this year. He could make the team as a bench option, although he’s a candidate to move to State College when their season starts.
Opening Day Projection
The estimated opening day starters, with bench players in parenthesis.
C – Elias Diaz (Kawika Emsley-Pai)
1B – Matt Curry
2B – Gift Ngoepe
SS – Drew Maggi
3B – Eric Avila (Walker Gourley)
DH – Kelson Brown
Strong chance at a late season arrival: Jared Lakind, Justin Howard, Joey Schoenfeld.
Could reach A+ in 2011: Matt Curry, Drew Maggi, Kelson Brown.