West Virginia's season was highlighted by breakouts from Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco.
The West Virginia Power presented a classic minor league conundrum in 2012. Despite being, in the words of minor league experts like Baseball America and Keith Law, “loaded” with prospects, they struggled on the field, going 23-47 in the first half before improving to 38-32 in the second half. This is what happens, though, when you have the league’s youngest hitters and third-youngest pitchers.
The word for the Power’s season was “breakout.” Alen Hanson was one of the biggest sensations in the minors during the first half, posting huge numbers, including good power, early before inevitably cooling a bit to a .909 OPS on the season. Hanson also has great speed and could be a top-10 prospect if he manages to stay at shortstop and smooth out some of the rough edges in his game, such as a somewhat high strikeout rate and mediocre base stealing skills.
Gregory Polanco grew into his breakout season more gradually. His OPS went from .822 in the first half to 1.030 in the second half, as he beat out Hanson on the season by one point. Polanco showed the mythical five-tool potential, with a plus arm, legitimate center field speed, and power that some scouts think he’s just starting to realize. He also is less rough around the edges than Hanson, as he had a relatively low K rate (one every seven ABs) and was a more efficient base stealer.
Ironically, the pre-season breakout favorite, 2011 second-round draft pick Josh Bell, didn’t materialize. Bell injured his knee early in the season on a slide into second. When he continued suffering from fluid buildup after surgery, he was unable to return at all. At last report, he was facing the possibility of further surgery.
West Virginia had other hitters show some promise without quite breaking out. The depth is largely a product of the Pirates’ rapidly improving Latin American scouting. Willy Garcia led the team with 18 HRs, while Jose Osuna hit 16 and added 36 doubles. Garcia remains a wild swinger who seldom takes pitches and goes into lengthy slumps, leading to an OPS of only .689. Osuna hit 280/324/454 overall, but is limited to first and may lack projection. Both played the season at age 19. Apart from the Latin prospects, second baseman Dan Gamache hit .285 with 40 doubles. For a college draftee, he’s still young; he won’t turn 22 until almost Thanksgiving. Whether he turns into a prospect may depend in part on his defense.
The West Virginia pitching staff didn’t enjoy the same success as some of the hitters. The rotation was supposed to be comprised of a combination of 2009 and 2010 high school pitching draftees, but things didn’t go according to plan. The two most promising pitchers figured to be Nick Kingham and Ryan Hafner, both selected in 2010. Kingham struggled early with his fastball location and got hit hard repeatedly, but improved steadily over the season. He finished with a weak ERA (4.39), but his other numbers were mostly good. Hafner’s season was a disaster due to an inability to throw strikes. He got sent down to State College after going 0-9, 8.31, and pitched badly at the lower level, too.
From the 2009 draft, Zack von Rosenberg, Zack Dodson, Zac Fuesser (drafted out of junior college) and Trent Stevenson all returned for a second season in low A. Stevenson quickly retired when he continued to struggle. Dodson and Fuesser both regressed from the previous year, posting ERAs of 4.86 and 4.09. Even worse, Dodson got hit with a 50-game suspension when he failed a second test for a drug of abuse. He’ll miss part of 2013. Von Rosenberg improved only a little from the previous year, posting mediocre numbers.
One late addition to the Power rotation went very well. Robby Rowland, acquired from Arizona for Brett Lorin, was the team’s best pitcher after he joined the Power in May. He went 9-5, 3.30. He was pretty hittable and had a very low strikeout rate, but the improvement over his last season with Arizona was dramatic.
The West Virginia bullpen was a major disaster during the first half of the season. The Pirates went mainly with pitchers who had good arms but were longshots to perform, and nearly all were terrible. The team’s most reliable relievers were Rinku Singh and the two Kilcrease non-relations, Robbie and Nathan. The Kilcreases are both organizational pitchers. Singh had a solid season but doesn’t have great stuff and will likely also settle in as an organizational pitcher in class A. Of course, considering his background, that’s a remarkable achievement.