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2009 in Review: West Virginia Power

To see how things started for the Power, you should begin here. In April, at least to the outsider, the Power's 2009 chances looked bleak; they were one rung up from the State College Spikes, who had posted a dismal 18-56 record the year before, and were set to inherit many of the Spikes' players. Why, then, wouldn't the Power have wanted to continue their affiliation with the Brewers, instead of switching to the Pirates before the 2009 season? 

One Power executive pointed to the potential long-term benefits of sticking with the Pirates:

"Then, down the road, knowing the history of (Pirates General Manager) Neal Huntington and (Pirates Director of Player Development) Kyle Stark and the player development people they have in place now, there would be a lot of good things to come on the horizon. When we signed with the Pirates, we were looking at it long term."

Sure enough, it was ugly at first: the Power finished the first half of the season with a 27-43 record. But the "horizon" wasn't as far away as it might have seemed; the Pirates sent the Power a ton of talent at around the midpoint of the season, and new acquisitions Tony Sanchez, Brett Lorin, Aaron Pribanic, Hunter Strickland, and Casey Erickson, along with holdovers Starling Marte and Quinton Miller, led the Power to a 40-27 second half record. Meanwhile, the Brewers' new Class A affiliate in Wisconsin finished 34-36 in the first half and a dismal 24-45 in the second. Well played, West Virginia.

Anyway, the Power were all kinds of fun. Among the hitters, 2008 fourth-rounder Chase D'Arnaud played well enough at the beginning of the season to earn a promotion to Lynchburg, and outfielders Robbie Grossman and Quincy Latimore showed enough throughout the season to bear watching. Grossman, in particular, is interesting--75 walks in 451 at bats is excellent for a 19-year-old in a full-season league, and his solid on-base percentage and 35 stolen bases were fine as well, but 164 strikeouts is way too much for a minor leaguer at any level. Hopefully the Pirates can encourage him to be a bit less patient going forward. Latimore has terrific power for his age and is supposed to be very athletic, but has strike zone issues of his own; he struck out five times as often as he walked this season.

Those three players were joined by Sanchez and Marte at midseason, and both those guys hit well enough to earn late-season promotions to Lynchburg. Sanchez's decimation of South Atlantic League pitching may not have completely killed worries that the Pirates overdrafted him, and in fact those whispers may never die, but it certainly didn't hurt.

The Power's pitching staff was led by Rudy Owens, who posted a 1.70 ERA in 19 starts, then followed that up with a good performance after being promoted to Lynchburg. Owens' flyball-inducing ways will be tested at the higher levels of the system, but for now, he's emerged as a good prospect.

At first, the Power didn't have any other particularly great starting pitching prospects--its opening day starter was Duke Welker, who finished the year at a remarkable 0-11--but they began to trickle in as the Bucs added interesting players in trades. Lorin, Pribanic and Strickland took spots with six weeks or so of baseball left, and Quinton Miller and Brian Leach received promotions from State College and from the Power bullpen, respectively. Of those pitchers, Miller and Lorin stand a decent chance of being major-league starters, while Pribanic and Strickland (who both have rather low strikeout rates) and Leach (who's a bit old for the level) all at least have a shot. By the end of the year the Power had so many starting pitching prospects that they sent more marginal prospects like Kyle McPherson and Maurice Bankston down to State College to get work. 

In addition to Erickson, the Power's best relievers included the fireballing Diego Moreno, who struck out 57 batters in 45 innings, and Ryan Kelly, who quietly posted a 7:1 K:BB ratio as a 21-year-old.