The 2015 minor league season begins today. To prepare for the start of the season, we have previews of all four of the full season affiliates of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Here are the previews for each team:
West Virginia Power – READING
Here is a look at the 2015 West Virginia Power, who will feature top prospect and 2014 first round pick Cole Tucker on their Opening Day roster.
C – Taylor Gushue
1B – Jerrick Suiter
2B – Pablo Reyes
SS – Cole Tucker
3B – Chase Simpson
LF – Elvis Escobar
CF – Tito Polo
RF – Michael Suchy
DH – Trace Tam Sing
West Virginia has been the home to a lot of the big breakouts in the system the last few years. They had Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson in 2012, Tyler Glasnow in 2013, and JaCoby Jones in 2014. This year’s team doesn’t feature anyone who could be on the Polanco level, but has a lot of high upside guys who could be more on the Jones level.
The biggest surprise will be Cole Tucker making the jump to the level. He’s going to be 18 years old for most of the season, which means this is an aggressive push that will make him one of the youngest players at the level. Tucker has a good approach at the plate, with a line drive stroke and good plate patience. He’s also very athletic and displays good range at shortstop. The West Virginia infield could be fluid this year, but Tucker expects to be the one guy who will be a primary starter at one position.
Third base will be a big experiment this year. Chase Simpson was drafted as a third baseman and showed a lot of power in Jamestown last year. He’s got the arm for the position, but might not have the range to stick there for the long-term. The Pirates will go with him at first and third base this year, along with getting time at DH. He will play third base early in the season with a few other options out with injuries.
Those other options are 2014 third round pick Jordan Luplow and 2014 first round pick Connor Joe. Both are making the jump from outfield to the infield. Luplow should join the team soon, as he recovers from shoulder soreness during Spring Training. He expects to get the bulk of the playing time at the position. Joe will be arriving later in the year, after he gets built back up from missing so much time last year with a back injury. He will play first and third base when he arrives. Jerrick Suiter is also making the jump from the outfield, and spent some time at third base this Spring, but projects to play more first base this year.
Pablo Reyes will complete the infield, playing second base. He’s a small player, but has some pop in his bat and good contact skills. Reyes should get most of the time at second, but could give up some playing time to a few of the infielders on the bench.
There are some high upside guys in the outfield, led by my breakout pick, Tito Polo. He’s a toolsy outfielder who hits for hard contact to all fields and has the speed to take some extra bases. He’s got the athleticism and the speed to play center field, and will play there most of the year. He profiles best at a corner spot from the long-term, and could hit enough to be a starter in that role.
Elvis Escobar is a bigger bonus international player who has struggled the last few years, but once had similar upside to Harold Ramirez. He has looked good this Spring, and should get an opportunity to prove himself as a starter in the early part of the year before Luplow and Joe return and move some other players to the outfield. Escobar hasn’t done well in his previous attempts in West Virginia, so this could be his final shot.
Michael Suchy has a lot of raw power, but is also very raw overall. He’s built like a linebacker, but has surprising range despite the size. He’ll be a project, with the power potential making him a guy worthy of a starting role and plenty of at-bats.
Trace Tam Sing is a strong defensive middle infielder who showed off some power this Spring, but profiles as an organizational guy. The DH role will be very fluid in West Virginia throughout the year, with the organizational guys making their way into the lineup until Luplow and Joe arrive.
Francisco Diaz, Tyler Filliben, Erik Forgione, Jeff Roy
Filliben might get some time at the middle infield spots, while Roy is a one-tool outfielder who has a ton of speed and could provide some solid defense off the bench. The low-A bench typically is made up of organizational guys. Filliben and Forgione could get some time at third base at the start of the year until Luplow and Joe return.
Jake Burnette, Austin Coley, Alex McRae, Dovydas Neverauskas, John Sever*
The West Virginia rotation saw a late change due to Stephen Tarpley. The left-hander was bumped from his last two starts in Spring Training, and didn’t make the Opening Day roster. I haven’t heard on his status yet, but he has been replaced by John Sever in the rotation at the start of the year. Sever had the best strikeout rate in the system last year, and worked his way into the Bristol rotation. He’s a lefty who works in the low-90s and can touch 94 with good movement on his fastball. It will be interesting to see if he sticks in the rotation, especially if he gets off to a strong start like he did last year in his debut.
The rest of the rotation in West Virginia isn’t that exciting this year. Perhaps the biggest name outside of Sever is Jake Burnette, who signed for $550,000 in the 2011 draft, and looked to be on the same level as Clay Holmes before injuries derailed his career. His velocity was back up to the low-90s this Spring, and his fastball command looked much better than last year. He will try to bounce back after returning from labrum surgery last year, and could move up to Bradenton in the second half if the results are strong.
Austin Coley and Alex McRae are both sinkerball pitchers who were drafted in the late rounds. They’re both out of college, so West Virginia won’t give them a big challenge. I don’t see either pitcher as having a lot of upside right now, with both currently projecting as middle relievers at best. With some development, they could profile as future back of the rotation options.
Dovydas Neverauskas looked interesting the last few years due to his ability to consistently hit 95 with an easy delivery at a young age. He has lacked control in that time, and was working in the upper 80s to low 90s when I saw him this Spring. It’s becoming less likely that he will be a breakout guy to watch, and more likely that he’s another guy who can hit mid-90s with no control.
Eric Dorsch, Montana DuRapau, Yeudy Garcia, Junior Lopez, Nick Neumann, Miguel Rosario, Sam Street
You don’t find a lot of prospects in the low-A bullpens. Montana DuRapau might be the exception here. There’s not a lot that separates him from McRae and Coley, or Frank Duncan in Bradenton. He’s a small pitcher, but works in the low-90s and gets a lot of ground balls. He could be a long-relief option or a piggyback starter this year.