There's been a lot of negativity around among Pirates fans so far this season, and there's good reason for that. While these are the some of the better days we've seen since that one play in the NLCS, it's hard to be sure that Huntington and co. have the right plan to help the Pirates compete in a system that's stacked against them. It's not enough just to have the Pirates' high draft picks pan out; they need breakouts throughout our system. It's easy to point at the "projectable pitcher" strategy coupled with the "building pitchers from scratch" developmental plan, which are both currently languishing, and think there is no hope.
I like to look for positives, though, and they may be a little under-represented among Pirates fans. At the major-league level, James McDonald and Pedro Alvarez have taken big steps forward, and it looks like we actually have a legitimate rotation for the first time since ... Bob Walk (the player)? And while the farm system has been a mixed bag, the West Virginia hitters are simply good prospects right now.
I know this isn't breaking news, but West Virginia has one of the youngest teams in the league and several of the youngest position players on our team are excelling. These are the stat lines of some of the more exciting position players going into the season on the WV roster:
So of the significant prospects we were looking at going into the year, Bell had a rough start then got injured, Carvajal has been mediocre, and the rest have done well. Quite a bit has been said about Hanson, with the main caveats being his probable move to second and the strikeouts (which at 22 percent aren't really that bad given his age). Polanco has been solid across the board. Osuna is interesting because everyone was talking about his "raw power" in spring training, but so far this year he's been a good contact hitter with the most walks on the team but hasn't hit a homer. If we're convinced the homers will come, then the fact that he's doing everything else well should be a pretty good sign. Lastly, there's Garcia, who's doing his best El Toro impression. He got off to a horrible start, but over the past 10 games has hit four homers with a 1.145 OPS and is on the verge of a legitimate breakout.
To give some context, I looked up the statistics for the rest of the South Atlantic League, along with player ages. I found those with an OPS over .800 and those with four or more homers and binned them by age. Hanson and Polanco meet the OPS criterion (with Osuna just missing). Hanson, Polanco, and Garcia meet the homer criterion. This isn't meant to be conclusive about their status as prospects, but based on age and performance these four players compare pretty favorably to the rest of the SAL.
|Number w/ .800+ OPS||0||5||7||3||12||9||1||1|
|Number w/ 4+ HRs||1||3||5||2||6||6||1||1|
When I see these players, I see guys that still have plenty of upside. One has had a big breakout that has caught the attention of the prospect world, one might be in the midst of a breakout, and the other two are having very solid years. These players have a long way to go before we can start thinking of them as impact players at the major league level, but so far this season all four have gone from "toolsy" players who "look good" to players who have seen those tools show up on the playing field. That's a big step. On the other hand, Carvajal hasn't been a disaster (especially for a defensive SS) and he is still young, and Bell, well, it's just too early to be worried at all about Bell.