Pirates minor league preview: West Virginia

The Power will feature a roster filled with high-upside prospects.

For the third year in a row, West Virginia will probably field the most prospect-laden roster in the Pirates' farm system.  To some extent, this is simply a product of the Power being the lowest-level full-season team; prospects are still all potential and haven't started falling by the wayside yet.  Still, this year's edition shows how much things have changed from the days of He Who Shall Not Be Named, with promising prospects from the team's rejuvenated international program, first-round draft picks, and later round picks with good upside.

Catcher: Naturally, the big name player here is Reese McGuire.  The Pirates cleared the way for him by moving Wyatt Mathisen to third and jumping Jin-De Jhang up to high A.  McGuire features premium defensive skills and a good approach at the plate, the main question now being whether he can add some power.  His backup will be Francisco Diaz, with Kawika Emsley-Pai also available as needed.

Infield: The Power infield will have three starters who are changing positions.  Mathisen obviously is one, and he'll need to hit more at third than he would have behind the plate.  His move to third required the Pirates to move Erich Weiss, who got an above-slot bonus last year, to second.  Weiss had one very good month and one very bad one in his 2013 debut.  The Pirates drafted JaCoby Jones (pictured) as a center fielder, but he'll play short in 2014 (he actually played there some in college).  Jones is an outstanding athlete whose performance has never matched his tools, but he had a good debut last year before a knee injury ended his season.  Jones offers huge upside if he can live up to his ability.

The Power will have both Edwin Espinal and Danny Collins available to share first and, possibly, the DH role.  Espinal is a big guy with a good hit tool, but the Pirates have waited for him to develop some power.  Collins got off to a fast start in short season ball after the draft last year, but slumped as the season wore on.  Judging by what I saw in camp, Espinal may be ahead of Collins on the depth chart.  The roster also lists Chris Diaz, Michael Fransoso and Adam Landecker, all of whom figure to fill utility roles.  Fransoso and Landecker were college draftees last year, Diaz the year before.  One player who's not on this roster or Bradenton's is Eric Wood, who had a decent 2013 season as West Virginia's third baseman.  I didn't see him at all in camp, so he could be hurt.

Outfield: The outfield will be missing its biggest name at the start of the season, as Austin Meadows is recovering from a hamstring injury.  He's not expected to miss a lot of time.  Barrett Barnes will, a little surprisingly, return to the level.  His biggest challenge now is to stay healthy.  The Power will also have Harold Ramirez, who ranked as the top prospect in the New York-Penn League last year.  All three are center fielders and all have power potential as well as good offensive skills generally.  The only other outfielder initially will be speedster Candon Myles.  Taylor Lewis could also appear at some point.

Rotation: The Power rotation won't be lacking either in high-profile prospects or potential.  The marquee pitcher is Luis Heredia, who was barely recognizable in camp if you were there last year.  Beyond Heredia, the rotation will feature college pitchers from last year's draft.  Cody Dickson had a strong debut in 2013, so it's a little disappointing to see him in low A rather than high A, but he has a good ceiling due to well above average stuff for a lefty.  Buddy Borden pitched only briefly last year, but looked very good in camp.  Shane Carle is a sinkerballer who had a good debut last year.

The final rotation spot could be filled by Dovydas Neverauskas or Isaac Sanchez, both of whom were erratic as starters for Jamestown in 2013.  The Lithuanian Neverauskas, not surprisingly, is raw, but has frequently reached the mid-90s with his fastball.  Sanchez is small for a RHP, but his fastball generally sits at 92-93.  Jake Burnette, a 2011 prep draftee, could appear at some point if he recovers from shoulder surgery, which cut short his 2013 season.

Bullpen: The Power bullpen will be loaded with power arms.  The Pirates went heavily in the 2013 later rounds for college pitchers with power stuff, a category that includes Brett McKinney, Justin Topa, Henry Hirsch and Jerry Mulderig.  McKinney, Hirsch and Topa all pitched well for Jamestown (Hirsch was nearly unhittable), and all ran their fastballs up to 95-96.  Mulderig is largely new to pitching and throws a tick slower.  Lefty Will Kendall also pitched well for Jamestown.  Clario Perez will fill the role of smallish Latin RHP who throws up to 94 mph, but he needs to improve his command.  The most interesting reliever of all, though, is converted hitting prospect Yhonathan Barrios.  He attracted crowds at Pirate City by sitting in the upper-90s with his fastball and doing it over multiple innings.  He's mainly a thrower at this point, but it'll be interesting to see what kind of progress he can make.

Outlook

The Pirates have fielded some very high-upside rosters at West Virginia in recent years, but this may be the most impressive one yet.  Once Meadows is available, the outfield should be one of the best in the minors.  McGuire is widely viewed as one of the best catching prospects in the minors, and Jones, Mathisen and Espinal give the infield three legitimate breakout candidates.  The rotation has at least three high-upside prospects and the bullpen should bring plenty of heat.

Regulars

C: Reese McGuire
1B/DH: Edwin Espinal/Danny Collins
2B: Erich Weiss
3B: Wyatt Mathisen
SS: JaCoby Jones
OF: Harold Ramirez, Barrett Barnes, Candon Myles (later Austin Meadows)

Rotation: Luis Heredia, Cody Dickson, Buddy Borden, Shane Carle, Isaac Sanchez/Dovydas Neverauskas

Key Relievers: Yhonathan Barrios, Henry Hirsch, Justin Topa, Brett McKinney

Top Prospects: Meadows, McGuire, Ramirez, Heredia

Darkhorse: Jones, Espinal, Barrios

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