Coming in to the 2011 season, the West Virginia rotation was one of the biggest stories in the minors. The rotation was set to have all of the guys from the 2009 draft class, as well as Jameson Taillon and possibly Stetson Allie. Allie didn’t make it, but Taillon and the 2009 prep pitchers did. The Pirates had more pitching prospects than roster spots, constantly making paper moves to “send a player down to State College” after a start, in order to bring up a pitcher for the next day. The players never actually left West Virginia. They were just left off the roster until their next start, all to create extra space.
Here is a rundown of all of the pitchers at the level this year, broken down by age group.
The standout from this group is top prospect Jameson Taillon. The 2010 first round pick didn’t make his debut until late April, in order to limit his innings and prevent using him in cold weather starts. Earlier today I discussed his first pro season. Looking at the numbers, it’s difficult to get an idea of just how good he was this year. The biggest highlight was his curveball, which is already a major league pitch. He will do a lot of damage with the pitch as he moves up in the minors, especially if he learns to drive his fastball down through the zone.
The other big highlight was the first full season from the 2009 prep pitchers. There were mixed results here. Zack Von Rosenberg got the most hype coming out of the draft, due to his $1.2 M bonus. He also had the worst season, with a 5.73 ERA and a 1.4 HR/9 ratio. Those numbers are actually lower thanks to a strong second half. The biggest difference between his first half and his second half was that he was using his curveball more often in the second half. He struggled leaving the ball up in the zone, which was still an issue in the second half, and will be something he needs to work on going forward. His second half success doesn’t really represent serious progress, just a change in approach.
Colton Cain had the best season of the 2009 group, putting up a 3.64 ERA, along with a good K/BB ratio in 106 innings. He tired towards the end of the year, seeing his fastball dip to the upper 80s, and moving to the bullpen. That’s going to be the biggest focus for him, getting him to the point where he can throw a full season. He’s already got a great mix of pitches that, when combined with his big frame, could set him up to eventually be a 200 inning a year workhorse.
Zack Dodson had a good season, with a broken hand breaking up a strong start in April/May and a strong finish in August. He still has some issues with his fastball command, but those issues have improved over what I saw last year.
Brooks Pounders and Zac Fuesser both had impressive seasons out of the bullpen. Pounders was the most impressive of the two, throwing his fastball in the 90-93 MPH range, and flashing a great assortment of secondary pitches. His size of 6′ 4″, 270 pounds will probably limit him to relief work for now, although he has the stuff to be a starter if he can work on adding stamina. Another bullpen arm that had a great season, especially in the second half, was Casey Sadler, who was throwing in the low 90s by the end of the year, up from the upper 80s.
Trent Stevenson had a down year, suffering from the same issues as Von Rosenberg in that he left the fastball up in the zone too often. Unlike Von Rosenberg, Stevenson doesn’t have a strong secondary pitch to bail him out, which resulted in him going back down to State College, where he didn’t fare much better.
Orlando Castro is one of the more interesting names on the list. He was the youngest pitcher on the team, and while he didn’t pitch much, he was impressive in the lower levels this year. I’d expect him to return next year for a full season in West Virginia.
At the beginning of the year, the Pirates focused on Tyler Waldron and Brandon Cumpton to anchor the rotation, with the goal of moving them up to Bradenton early in the season. Both pitchers struggled out of the gate, although Cumpton was able to turn his season around early, getting that promotion to Bradenton. Cumpton allowed 21 earned runs in his first three starts, then was removed from the bullpen. He returned after Waldron got injured, and put up a 1.76 ERA in his next 56.1 innings, with a 42:12 K/BB ratio.
Waldron stuck around until the final month of the season, struggling a bit with his ERA, but putting up good secondary numbers, especially in his final month at the level. He’s got a pretty straight fastball, and probably profiles as a reliever in the long term.
Victor Black was taken in the compensation portion of the first round in 2009, but has dealt with a lot of injuries since then. This year was mostly about getting him adjusted to the workload of a reliever. The focus was getting him to pitch one inning every three days, then two innings, then outings with two days rest, and so on. He was pitching in the low 90s, which is down from the 96 MPH that he was said to hit when he was drafted. Even though he pitched, it was kind of a lost year, as he should be in Altoona by now.
Jason Townsend had some good stuff coming out of the bullpen, with the key thing being his low walk rate. Townsend has a lively fastball, but dealt with some control problems last year. Those problems didn’t exist in 2011, and he did well as the West Virginia closer.
Two interesting stories from this list were Rinku Singh and Kevin Mort. Singh’s background, coming from a non-baseball country, combined with his results this year make him an interesting case. He’s not a major prospect, but he has taken the jump to “fringe prospect” territory. It’s still unlikely that he makes it higher than AA, and only that high because he’s a left hander. Mort is a second baseman, but made three pitching appearances, including 5.1 innings in an extra innings game. The Pirates changed two position players to pitchers this year. Could Mort be the next in line based on his stats this year?
The fact that West Virginia only had one guy in this category showed how young the team was this year. Foster was moved up to Bradenton after starting off early in the season with West Virginia.