Where are the West Virginia Breakout Candidates?

Over the last few years, West Virginia has been the team to watch in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ farm system. The 2012 season saw the breakouts of Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson. It had top draft prospects like Josh Bell and Nick Kingham. There were also guys who eventually improved their prospect status in the upper levels, like Elias Diaz and Willy Garcia.

Tyler Glasnow was the big breakout performer in 2013, emerging quickly as one of the top pitching prospects in the game. That same season saw a much better performance from a healthy Josh Bell, who missed a lot of time in 2012 with a knee injury. The 2013 season also saw Stetson Allie emerge as a power hitting first base prospect, and Dilson Herrera step up as a strong middle infield prospect, which eventually led to him getting traded by the end of the season for Marlon Byrd. Speaking of trades, Joely Rodriguez was another player who stepped up in West Virginia in 2013, and was traded this off-season for Antonio Bastardo.

The 2014 season didn’t have the big breakout performer like Glasnow or Polanco. That’s not to say it didn’t have any good stories. JaCoby Jones was impressive at the plate, but had some strikeout issues that prevented him from being considered a top prospect across the game. Austin Meadows performed well once he got healthy, but he was already considered a top prospect heading into the season. Reese McGuire was also considered a top prospect heading into the year, but didn’t have a big breakout with the bat. There were good signs from guys like Edwin Espinal, Wyatt Mathisen, and Erich Weiss, but no breakout performances.

Heading into the 2015 season, the West Virginia team looks to be the weakest team we’ve seen in the last few years. There are no big breakout candidates. And if Meadows and McGuire both go to Bradenton (which isn’t guaranteed), then there won’t even been an elite prospect at the level. The top guy is Harold Ramirez, but he’s only projected to be in West Virginia because he missed a lot of time at the level in 2014. Stephen Tarpley, who was acquired for Travis Snider, could also join the team, although the odds of him breaking out seem lower than the guys in previous years.

Part of the down year is due to the approach in the 2014 draft. The Pirates went with prep players with most of their top picks, taking Cole Tucker, Mitch Keller, and Trey Supak. Those guys aren’t locks as breakout guys, but they definitely seem like locks to spend the year in short-season ball. The upper round picks who will be playing in West Virginia are Connor Joe, Jordan Luplow, and Taylor Gushue, although I’d hesitate to call them breakout candidates at this point. They look interesting on this team, but by comparison, they’d probably rank with the Mathisen/Espinal/Weiss group from last year’s team.

For the last several seasons, West Virginia looked like the team to watch in the Pirates’ farm system. Now they look like a team that is about to have a down year in talent. Here are the projections for the 2015 roster, along with some potential position battles for roster spots that could be up in the air.

Position Players

C – Taylor Gushue

1B – Connor Joe

2B – Pablo Reyes

SS – Tyler Filliben

3B – Chase Simpson

LF – Jordan Luplow

CF – Harold Ramirez

RF – Jerrick Suiter

DH – Michael Suchy

Bench – Elvis Escobar, Carl Anderson, Michael Fransoso, Danny Arribas

Battling For a Spot – Andrew Dennis, David Andriese, Trace Tam Sing

Analysis – I could see this lineup being very flexible, especially due to Connor Joe. The Pirates drafted him as a right fielder, but said they wanted him getting work at first base, and also had him working behind the plate. I’d expect Taylor Gushue to get most of the work at catcher, but Joe could get some time at the position, especially if Reese McGuire and Kevin Krause both move up to Bradenton, which I detailed yesterday.

The right field position could be split between Jerrick Suiter, Michael Suchy, and Elvis Escobar. However, I could also see Joe getting time there, with someone like Suiter taking over at first base.

I didn’t include many players battling for a spot on the bench, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a lot of options. There were some options that I thought had a much better chance of going to Morgantown as a regular starter, as opposed to sitting on the bench in West Virginia. As for the current bench, I think Escobar and Fransoso have a good shot at making the team, while the other two spots are up in the air.

Pitchers

SP – Stephen Tarpley

SP – Hector Garcia

SP – Jake Burnette

SP – Austin Coley

SP – Alex McRae

Analysis – I could see a lot of potential piggyback situations in the West Virginia rotation at the start of the season. There are four guys in the bullpen who I think could get extended innings, based on their usage and results last year. Yet, there’s not really anyone I’d take out of the rotation above.

As I mentioned yesterday, the fifth spot in the Bradenton rotation is still up in the air. I could see someone like Coley or McRae making the jump to Bradenton to fill that spot, which would also make things easier in West Virginia. Or, it could be one of the guys in the bullpen list making that jump.

I’m not sure where Stephen Tarpley will make his debut, but considering he was in short-season ball last year, I could see the Pirates starting him off in West Virginia to ease him into the system. That would still leave open the possibility of a mid-season promotion.

RP – Frank Duncan

RP – John Sever

RP – Dovydas Neverauskas

RP – Montana DuRapau

RP – Sam Street

RP – Eric Karch

RP – Junior Lopez

Battling For a Spot – Julio Eusebio, Nick Neumann, Luis Paula, Omar Basulto, Palmer Betts, Christopher De Leon, Mervin Del Rosario, Eric Dorsch, Marek Minarik, Colten Brewer

Analysis – The guys who I see as piggyback candidates are Frank Duncan, John Sever, Dovydas Neverauskas, and Montana DuRapau. Duncan and DuRapau were college seniors last year, and put up good numbers in the Jamestown rotation. If they aren’t starters, and aren’t in a strict piggyback role, expect them to get multiple innings out of the bullpen. Sever was very impressive last year, posting one of the best strikeout ratios in the Pirates’ system. We’ll get a better indication this year about whether that was legit, or just an older lefty carving up inexperienced lower level hitters. Neverauskas has really good stuff, with the ability to consistently hit 95 MPH. His issue in the past has been a lack of command.

I think those four have a really strong chance of making the roster. The other three spots are up in the air. The difference between West Virginia and other levels is that if a player doesn’t make it to West Virginia, he can just go to Morgantown. And in some cases, it might make more sense to send the player to the lower level. For example, Luis Paula and Omar Basulto would both be better off getting extended innings in the Morgantown rotation, rather than battling for innings in West Virginia. Colten Brewer and Marek Minarik might have a shot at making West Virginia, but those are two more cases where additional innings in Morgantown might be better than a bullpen spot at a slightly higher level.

Analysis

  • Call me crazy, but I like this team, I’m also an hour a way from the stadium and plan on making a few trips this year. In particular I’ve been a supporter and believer in Conor Joe and am really looking forward to seeing him play. I’m also a fan of Suchy, Gushue, Luplow, and Escobar a little less. Reyes and Filliben are nice up the middle players too with Ramirez holding court with some exceptional center field range. What I like most about this team is that I’m expecting it to produce power as a group which hasn’t exactly been something the minors have produced lately.
    I’m not expecting much from the starting pitching group, but I think the relievers have a chance to be really good prospects. Street, Sever, and DuRapau, Duncan are a little underrated perhaps.
    Maybe not having a ‘Superstar’ prospect will help all the guys believe in each other and each be successful, but most of all I’m looking forward to the lumber.
    Good Luck Black Bears!!

  • I am wondering if it is a bad thing to not have the breakout candidates at WV or is it just a cyclical thing?

    • I think it reflects a dry spell in Latin American talent more than anything.

      Stealing a term from the Cardinals, I think there are plenty of draft guys on this WV roster that can save you money. Bench guys, bullpen arms, back end starters. But most likely not any above average big leaguers.

    • Dave Parker's Unfiltered Camel
      February 19, 2015 1:59 pm

      Me too Lee. Would like Tim’s thoughts on this.

  • Tim, After readig this I am kind of disappointed that Tito Polo was not mentioned as a possibility for the WV Power Roster. He was going to be my breakout candidate this year. I suppose with Harold Ramirez needing more time keeps him at short season??

    • I think there is a chance that Polo makes the jump, but there seems to be so many players for these top four levels that it’s hard to see people making a jump from the GCL to full-season ball at this point. Once you list about 6-7 outfield candidates from higher levels, you just get to a point where there doesn’t seem room. The Pirates by our count, have 150 players for 100 roster spots. Some will be cut, some injured, others sent to Extended Spring Training to work on things and still others will be on the phantom DL, where they suddenly become healthy the same day someone else gets hurt, but really they are just like healthy scratches in hockey. Most teams have 1-2 guys like that, usually one is a third catcher.
      Polo could make the jump, Julio Vivas could make the jump, both excelled in winter ball against older competition. That would mean that even more players got cut though. It doesn’t hurt to play in Extended ST for the younger players. You’re still playing games against equal competition, just no stats are being kept.

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