We finish off our mid-season prospect reports with a look at the West Virginia Power. This is a team that has seen some of the biggest breakout performers in the system the last few years, and that’s true this year. They also feature most of the key 2014 draft picks, including first rounder Cole Tucker. Here is a look at the top five stories from the first half.
The Breakout Performer For 2015
West Virginia has seen some of the biggest breakout players at their level over the last few years. They had Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson in 2012, Tyler Glasnow in 2013, and on a smaller scale, JaCoby Jones in 2014. This year it didn’t look like they had any big potential breakout guys on the scale of Polanco, Glasnow, or Hanson, but potentially some guys like Jones. They’ve had a few surprising stories so far, with success from right-handed pitcher Austin Coley, right fielder Michael Suchy, and outfielder Jerrick Suiter. The biggest breakout performer so far has been a huge surprise.
Yeudy Garcia was signed by the Pirates at a late age for international signings, and made his pro debut last year at the age of 21 in the DSL. He jumped over three levels this year to go to West Virginia, and the reason why is clear. He features one of the best fastballs in the system, sitting in the 94-96 MPH range and touching 97, with good movement on the pitch.
Garcia is still very raw, and made the jump to the rotation this year after his initial success. He has a good feel for a changeup, and that is currently his best off-speed pitch. He needs to develop a good strikeout pitch in the upper levels. Currently he is getting by with just his fastball, but that alone won’t work above A-ball. Our mid-season rankings will come out tomorrow, and Garcia will make the biggest jump from the pre-season.
Cole Tucker’s Aggressive Push
The Pirates surprised a lot of people when they took Cole Tucker in the first round last year, although quickly after the draft it was revealed that several teams beyond the Pirates were also high on him. The Pirates went the extra step, sending Tucker to West Virginia this year, which is an aggressive push for a guy who just turned 19 this month. The aggressive drafting and the aggressive push is starting to pay off.
Tucker struggled at the plate early in the season, putting up a .608 OPS through the end of May. He has done a much better job since then, with a .791 OPS in 106 at-bats since the start of June. He’s not drawing a lot of walks, but is hitting for average, isn’t striking out a lot, and has a bit of power.
Defensively, Tucker looks smooth and athletic. He’s got the arm strength to stick at the shortstop position, and he does a good job of separating his offensive struggles from his progress on the field. Tucker has done a good job adjusting to the level considering his age, especially when you consider that this is his first time away from home at a young age. He has been improving as the year went on, and is justifying the aggressive path the Pirates took with him.
The Biggest Piece From the Travis Snider Trade
The Pirates traded Travis Snider prior to the 2015 season, getting two left-handed pitching prospects back in return. Steven Brault has been fantastic in higher levels, excelling in Bradenton, and carrying his success over to Altoona after a mid-season promotion. The better prospect of the duo was Stephen Tarpley, who started the year late after a shoulder issue at the end of Spring Training.
Tarpley has lived up to the hype so far in West Virginia, with a 2.38 ERA in 53 innings, along with a 46:16 K/BB ratio over his first ten starts. That includes a recent six inning no-hitter. He will most likely remain in West Virginia the entire 2015 season, after missing the first two months of the season, but could move quickly like Brault when he hits higher levels next year.
Tarpley works in the low 90s and can reach the mid-90s with his fastball. He gets a lot of soft contact, and mixes in a curveball and a slider, while working to develop a changeup. He made a mechanical adjustment with the Orioles last year that led to him dropping to a three-quarters arm slot and seeing a lot of success. He continues to refine his mechanics in West Virginia, mostly focusing on some fine tuning to improve on repeating his delivery. That should remove some of the control problems he’s had this year.
So far the results from Tarpley have been encouraging. He has emerged as the best left-handed pitching prospect in the system, which isn’t a hard feat to accomplish, considering he is one of the few lefty prospects they have. That said, he’s also one of the top pitching prospects in the system, and gives the Pirates a very interesting lefty to watch in their sea of right-handed pitching prospects.
Converted Position Players
The Pirates have been taking athletic hitters and moving them to difficult positions over the last few drafts. They did the same with Jordan Luplow and Connor Joe last year. Luplow was drafted as a right fielder and moved to third base. Joe was drafted as a right fielder and moved to first base. That move doesn’t fit the profile, and Joe has played the position throughout college. He was originally expected to catch and play some third base, but a back injury put him out for a long period of time, and removed the plans to put him behind the plate. He spent time at third base during Spring Training, but Luplow received the priority at the position.
Luplow has struggled with his glove work at times at third, while also adjusting to the speed of the game. His offense has been decent, with a low average, but a lot of walks and a good amount of power. Meanwhile, Joe has a lot of raw power, but that hasn’t shown up in the box scores. He is getting on base at a great rate, but overall the stats haven’t lived up to his skills and potential.
The Pirates had a lot of success with this approach last year with JaCoby Jones. They haven’t seen the same level of success with their 2014 picks so far, although there is still the second half to watch.
Other Struggling Players
Connor Joe isn’t the only hitter with good skills and a lot of potential who has struggled at the plate. West Virginia has a lot of talented hitters who haven’t quite lived up to their potential this year. One of the biggest cases has been Tito Polo, who shortened his swing this year and removed a big Jung-ho Kang style leg kick, but has only been hitting for a .636 OPS. This came after he was one of the best hitters in the GCL last year.
Pablo Reyes hits for a lot of power from the middle infield, currently sporting a .163 ISO. However, he’s not hitting for average, and only has a .694 OPS on the year, while showing some very inconsistent performances on both sides of the ball. He has the range of a shortstop while playing second base, but at times he can get a bit too wild and go all out, which ends up resulting in sloppy play. That overly aggressive approach can be a problem at the plate at times too.
Taylor Gushue had a lot of upside when taken in last year’s draft, looking like a very interesting catching prospect. He hasn’t shown much with the bat, posting a .577 OPS, and his defense behind the plate is a work in progress. He’s a smart catcher, and has shown improvements in his receiving, framing, and shows a strong arm. Perhaps all of the focus on his defense is taking away from the offense, which is something that a lot of catchers go through in the lower levels of the Pirates’ system.
On the pitching side, John Sever came into the year looking like a very interesting prospect due to his high strikeout totals and low-to-mid 90s velocity from the left side. He’s still getting strikeouts, but has some control problems with 26 walks in 65 innings. He also has been left in the bullpen to pitch long relief, which isn’t a position where the Pirates put their best pitching prospects in the lower levels.