Part Four of our look at the Pirates’ minor league rotations covers the West Virginia Power. The low A rotation sometimes remains a work in progress for much of the year, because the team is sorting through young pitchers who haven’t been tested extensively as pros. The coaches can’t always have a clear idea of what they can do and whether they’ll stand up to a starter’s workload. Apart from the pitchers who clearly are good prospects, there may be a lot of sorting to do. Sometimes a pitcher will appear in the rotation almost out of the blue, probably because the Pirates think he has some upside and just want to see what they’ve got.
Barring returns from Luis Heredia or Clay Holmes – the latter of whom won’t be ready to start the season anyway – the Power’s rotation will probably be made up largely of college pitchers from the 2014 draft. The higher upside prep pitchers from that draft – Mitch Keller, Trey Supak and Gage Hinsz – most likely will head to . . . well, West Virginia, except it will be the West Virginia Black Bears in the short season New York-Penn League. There could, however, be two very interesting lefties in the Power rotation.
The top prospect in the West Virginia rotation should be newly acquired lefty Stephen Tarpley. In spite of the uninformed opinions being circulated in certain quarters, Tarpley helps fill needs the team has, both for lower level pitching prospects and for lefties. Tarpley has very good velocity for a lefty and a potentially good curve, which along with his athleticism gives him a decent ceiling. He came on strong the last couple months of 2014 and appears to have an up arrow right now.
The other lefty who could be in the rotation is a potential breakout candidate, Hector Garcia (pictured). In 2014, he made the jump from the Dominican Summer League to Bristol, rather than the Gulf Coast League, an unusual assignment for an 18-year-old. Garcia fanned over a batter an inning with Bristol and finished strongly, holding opponents to a 186/278/214 line in August. He’s only 6’0" and slightly built, but has gotten his fastball up to 92. It’s possible, though, that the Pirates will hold Garcia back in extended spring training to keep his innings down. He only threw 48 in 2014.
Of the 2014 college draftees who could be in the low A rotation, the one who had the best debut was Montana DuRapau. A small, right-handed soft thrower, DuRapau walked just 1.2 per nine innings while striking out 8.4 in his debut at Jamestown. Apart from Tyler Eppler, he may be the most likely of the college pitchers from the 2014 draft to skip low A and go to Bradenton, but if he doesn't he'll be with the Power.
The other 2014 college draftees who figure to get chances to start in low A are Frank Duncan, Alex McRae and Austin Coley. Duncan (13th round) pitched very well after his first few games at Jamestown, while McRae (10th) struggled. Coley pitched only briefly before going out with a shoulder strain. The Pirates could send him back to short season ball given the limited time he had there, but he was a high enough draft pick as an eighth rounder that they’ll probably want to see him in full season ball if he’s healthy.
The Pirates still have a couple prep pitchers from their 2011 draft – another prep-pitching-heavy year for them – who’ve been on the field only seldom as pros. Jake Burnette has had a couple abortive shots at low A and has managed only 55 innings the last three years. Colten Brewer managed only 13.2 IP in 2013, came to camp in 2014 hitting 95 mph, but then spent the entire season on the restricted list for unknown reasons. Either could pop up with West Virginia, most likely as starters if they’re healthy enough.
A lefty from the 2014 Bristol rotation, Mexican Omar Basulto, had a solid season and could skip over the NYPL. He’ll be 22 in August, so the Pirates may want to see him in full season ball.
Sometimes, a pitcher will step forward in fall instructionals or spring training, or rebound from a bad showing the year before. Some possibilities might include Marek Minarik, a 6’7" Czech righty who was a surprise inclusion in the Jamestown rotation to open 2014. He struggled and was sent down to Bristol. Billy Roth, a 2013 prep draftee, struggled in the Bristol rotation in 2014. Cesilio Pimentel, a Dominican lefty, was well regarded when the Pirates signed him and pitched well in relief for Bristol. If the Pirates got really lucky, Adrian Grullon, a 6’7" Dominican righty, might suddenly get healthy. Grullon is capable of throwing in the mid-90s, but he’s managed to pitch just 58 innings in four years as a pro.