Despite fielding the 14-team South Atlantic League's fifth-youngest hitters and easily its youngest pitching staff, West Virginia finished with the league's second-best record before being bounced in the first round of the playoffs. The Power rode a fast start from its hitters in the early season, but relied increasingly on a solid rotation and strong bullpen as the team's young pitchers got acclimated to full season ball. The Power finished third in runs per game and had the sixth best ERA, along with the third best K/9 mark. In the process, the team featured the biggest pitching breakout of the minor league season, and one of the biggest, and possibly a fleeting, hitting breakout.
Going into the season, arguably the top breakout prospects among the Power hitters were outfielder Josh Bell and second baseman Dilson Herrera. Both had seasons that were more solid than outstanding. Bell went through some changes in his approach, striking out a lot in the first two months, then cutting back dramatically on the whiffs but also going a month and a half at one point without a HR. He finished at 279/353/453 with only 13 HRs but 37 doubles. Herrera hit 265/330/421, which is encouraging for a 19-year-old in low A, enough so that he helped the Pirates acquire Marlon Byrd.
The Power had four other prominent hitting prospects and their seasons were highly variable. One of the biggest sensations in the minors during the season's first half was first baseman Stetson Allie, who celebrated his first full year as a hitter by wrecking SAL pitching. Allie hit 324/414/607 with 17 HRs and 61 RBIs in just 66 games before moving up to Bradenton, where things didn't go so well. Two other prospects, center fielder Barrett Barnes and catcher Wyatt Mathisen, ran into injury problems. Barnes missed time with back and hamstring issues, finally going out for the year just as he was getting hot. He finished with a .737 OPS in just 46 games. Mathisen, who was making a difficult jump from rookie ball despite limited experience behind the plate, struggled badly through 32 games before having labrum surgery. Shortstop Max Moroff showed good patience, drawing 65 walks, but he batted only .233.
Among the other hitters, outfielder Raul Fortunato and third baseman Eric Wood got off to hot starts, but hit very little after roughly the first month. Wood was hampered by injuries on and off, which may have affected his hitting. With Barnes hurt, Jonathan Schwind played a lot in the outfield but didn't hit at all. Neither did Jordan Steranka, a Penn State product who replaced Allie in the lineup. Francisco Diaz and Kawika Emsley-Pai, both organizational players, shared the catching duties after Mathisen went out and primarily contributed on offense by drawing walks. Utility infielder D.J. Crumlich also drew a bunch of walks before being promoted to Bradenton. Of all the organizational and utility players, though, the best story was Walker Gourley, who struggled through four seasons as a pro before batting 304/350/396 in 2013, with 36 steals in 46 tries.
If you're a Pirates fan and you haven't been on Mars since March, you know that Tyler Glasnow had a breakout season that arguably dwarfed the breakouts Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson had in 2012. Glasnow went 9-3, 2.18, allowing 54 hits and striking out 164 in 111.1 innings. He'd have led the minors in opponents' average and strikeouts per nine innings by wide margins if he hadn't fallen two-thirds of an inning short of qualifying.
The two other prominent pitching prospects with the Power had mixed success. Luis Heredia was held back longer than expected in extended spring training because he showed up out of shape. In 13 starts and one relief appearance, he went 7-3, 3.05 and increased his strikeout rate to 7.6 per nine innings, seemingly a good showing for an 18-year-old in full season ball. He struggled with his control, though, walking 5.1 per nine innings, and scouts weren't overwhelmed by his stuff. Clay Holmes got off to a miserable start, posting a 5.60 ERA in the first two months, and walking more than he struck out. He pitched much better the rest of the way, though, finishing with a 4.08 ERA overall and striking out more than twice as many as he walked over the last two months.
Two left-handed starters made noise in the first half before moving up. Soft-tosser Orlando Castro went 7-4, 1.93 with a 0.95 WHIP. Joely Rodriguez, who's more of a power pitcher, went 5-5, 2.72. Two of the Pirates' stable of projectable right-handers also had successful seasons. Jason Creasy opened in the bullpen but moved to the rotation, going 6-4-3, 2.74, striking out eight and walking just two per nine innings. Ryan Hafner pitched in long relief all year, fanning 10.6 per nine and holding opponents to a .625 OPS. John Kuchno, drafted last year out of Ohio State, had a season somewhat similar to Holmes', with a 5.02 ERA the first three months and 2.84 the last two.
Apart from Hafner, the West Virginia bullpen mostly pitched very well. Jhondaniel Medina, acquired for Yamaico Navarro, went 2-2-13, 1.78, and struck out 14 per nine innings, although he did walk more than five per nine. Kyle Haynes struck out over a batter an inning and posted a 2.38 ERA, finishing the season in the rotation. Finesse lefty Thomas Harlan posted a 2.27 ERA and 0.97 WHIP, and struck out over a batter an inning. Bryton Trepagnier led the team in relief appearances and struck out 8.5 per nine innings, but had control problems and posted a 4.95 ERA.
Biggest Surprises: Allie, Castro.
Biggest Disappointments: Mathisen, Heredia.
Top Five Prospects (Min. 50 IP, 25 games pitched or 150 PA; must still be in organization)
- Tyler Glasnow, RHP
- Josh Bell, OF
- Luis Heredia, RHP
- Barrett Barnes, OF
- Joely Rodriguez, LHP