West Virginia Power 2011 Season In Review

Maybe the most salient fact about the 2011 Power is that it was a very young team. But it was also an expensive team - I count 14 players (11 of them pitchers) who received draft bonuses of over $100,000, including nine who got at least $350,000. With big payouts come big expectations. While it would be unreasonable to expect breakouts from every single big-bonus player, more breakouts than this would have been nice. Most members of the Power merely held their own, which certainly is something, given how young most of them were, but I take a couple more complete flops if it also meant more breakouts.

Hitters

Unfortunately, this wasn't a good hitting team. Matt Curry tore the cover off the ball for six weeks or so, then got promoted. After he left, there wasn't much happening there. Dan Grovatt and Justin Howard hit decently, but without defensive value, they've got a long way to go to become prospects. Drew Maggi was dreadful in April and not much better than May, but wound up posting acceptable numbers thanks to a great June and a good August; hopefully his improvement in the second half means something. And Gift Ngoepe actually hit very well in 85 at bats, but missed most of the season with an injury; it would be a huge plus for the Pirates if he were to blossom into a prospect. 

Mel Rojas, Eric Avila, Elias Diaz and Rogelios Noris, who all appeared to have some potential going into the season, didn't really hit at all. Rojas is by far the most important of those four, and the good news is that there might be some flicker of hope there - he had 57 strikeouts and 34 walks in the second half, compared to 62 strikeouts and 12 walks in the first, so he might be learning the strike zone somewhat. Unfortunately, he still only batted .237 in the second half, which is terrible, particularly for a player with his speed.

The good news is that most of these players are really young. Maggi, for example, was drafted as a sophomore. Diaz is only 20. Avila turned 21 at midseason. Rojas turned 21 at midseason as well, and we knew he was raw when he was drafted. So while these players' poor or middling seasons are, well, bad, they aren't death sentences.

Pitchers

This bunch didn't exactly overachieve this season, but there was so much pitching talent here. Jameson Taillon got through his age-19 season with a great strikeout rate and a healthy right arm. He still leaves his fastball up a lot, which wasn't a big deal against high school hitters but which sometimes left him vulnerable against minor leaguers. I wrote last September about how that might be a problem for him, and it turned out that it was, at least occasionally. 

You could make arguments for a number of pitchers, including Taillon, being the Power's best starter. Three lefties, Zack Dodson (in an injury-shortened season), Colton Cain and Zac Fuesser (who also pitched some out of the bullpen), all handled themselves well in their first years of full-season ball. None of them project as top-end pitchers, but the chances that the Pirates get at least one good pitcher out of them are decent.

Also, Brandon Cumpton was awful for his first few starts and then suddenly started pitching brilliantly, earning a midseason promotion to Bradenton. Tyler Waldron also split the year between West Virginia and Bradenton and did reasonably well, although he wasn't young for the South Atlantic League and allowed too many homers. Eliecer Navarro and Porfirio Lopez picked up handfuls of starts for the Power and pitched well, but both got hit harder at Bradenton. They're both small lefties, so their success in the low minors may not mean much. I wouldn't take them too seriously unless they pitch well at Class AA.

That's pretty much everybody who started for the Power in 2011, except Zack Von Rosenberg, who we've recently argued about plenty. The gist of what's happened, though, is that Von Rosenberg is struggling to command his fastball right now, so while he seemed to be pretty polished for a high school pitcher when he was drafted, he now looks like sort of a lottery ticket. If he adds velocity and can combine that with good secondary stuff, he has a chance to be dangerous. The problem is that being a tall and skinny 20-year-old doesn't guarantee that velocity is going to come. In any case, it's hard to view his season as anything but a disappointment, even after the six perfect innings he pitched in his last start.

On one hand, the Pirates deserve some credit for the Power's starting rotation - the Bucs had well over 100 starts to distribute, and not one was made by an organizational player, unless you consider Navarro to be one. I just wish at least one of these guys had taken a big leap forward. Taillon, Cain, Dodson, Fuesser and Cumpton all pretty much performed as expected, and Von Rosenberg was worse than expected.

In the bullpen (and yes, the Power had interesting relievers, too), Brooks Pounders did very well, although it's open for debate whether it's good for a second-round pick who doesn't have much projection to be pitching in the bullpen less than two years after being drafted. Casey Sadler and Jason Townsend also had strong first full pro seasons, although their velocity varied widely throughout the year.

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