In some ways, West Virginia may have the most interesting roster in the Pirates’ system. The Power won’t have as many prospects as Bradenton, but will likely spend much of the season playing Positional Bingo. Among other things, the Pirates spent spring training trying out everybody but the groundskeepers at third base. The positional tryouts appear set to continue into the season with the Power.
The featured hitting prospects will be last year’s top draft pick and several college hitters taken later in that draft. The pitching staff will be a little short on headline material, especially with the team's top pitching prospect missing the beginning of the season. Of course, at this level it's often hard to say who's a prospect, but the flip side is that it's also hard to say who's not a prospect.
I’m going to start this preview off a little differently. Before going over the team position-by-position, I think it’d help to outline the possible positions for some of the prospects because it's hard to say for sure right now where they'll be playing, and it's likely that some of them will move around a lot.
Connor Joe: The Pirates drafted their supplemental first round pick as an outfielder, then announced they’d try him at catcher. Joe, however, couldn’t play in 2014, including fall instructionals, due to a back injury. In the spring, the team initially gave him time at third, then had him working out more at first. Joe was still not seeing game action at the end of spring training, though, as the Pirates were approaching his back issue very cautiously. It may be a while into the season before he appears.
Jordan Luplow: The team’s third round pick, an outfielder in college, was playing third base most of the time in camp. He’s expected to be the Power’s starter there, but he’ll miss the start of the season due to a shoulder injury that’s not expected to keep him out long.
Jerrick Suiter: A 26th round pick, Suiter was originally a pitcher, but also played outfield in college. After the draft last year he played outfield and first. This spring he was part of the Great Third Base Experiment, as well as playing first.
Chase Simpson: The 14th round draft pick, a third baseman by trade, had a better debut than Luplow in 2014 and he looks at least solid in the field, but it’s unclear what his role will be in 2015. He was seeing some time at first in camp.
Taylor Gushue: The fourth round pick figures to be the primary catcher, but he may spend some time at first.
Kevin Krause: The ninth round pick had the best debut at the plate of any of the team’s 2014 draftees, showing significant power. Apart from catching, Krause is slated to see some time in right field. He’ll miss an undetermined amount of time at the start of the season, though, due to a sore elbow.
Gushue and Krause obviously were slated to share the position, but Krause won’t be available initially. Organizational catcher Francisco Diaz is on the initial roster, so Gushue will probably get most of the playing time early in the season.
The principals here, once everybody is healthy, will most likely be Joe at first and Luplow at third. With them both missing the opening of the season, my best guess is that the starters will be Simpson at third and Suiter at first, which is how this team was lining up at the end of spring training.
The starters will be Cole Tucker at short and Pablo Reyes at second. Tucker won’t turn 19 until July 3 and will be one of the youngest players in low A. His bat is still more projection than present ability so don’t be surprised if he struggles at the plate early. Reyes was one of the more impressive hitters in camp, although he isn’t likely to have much power. His bat is ahead of his glove at this point.
Tyler Filliben, Erik Forgione and Trace Tam Sing will all be with the team as utility players. Filliben, a 12th round pick last year, showed a solid bat in the NYPL while playing mainly at short. Forgione was taken in the 25th round and is a good defensive player who isn’t likely to hit. Sing was signed as a non-drafted free agent last year and, after signing, got most of the playing time at short over Filliben and Forgione.
Like the infield corners, the outfield won’t really take shape until some of the injured players are activated. Initially, it will consist of Elvis Escobar, Tito Polo, Jeff Roy, Michael Suchy and possibly Suiter. Polo is arguably the most interesting of the group, as he’s coming off a strong season in the GCL and is skipping over the other short season leagues. Suchy, last year’s 5th round pick, has significant power potential, but it hasn’t shown up enough in games yet due to plate discipline issues. Escobar got a large signing bonus in 2011, but his bat hasn’t developed, partly due to contact problems. Roy is a speedster who tries to work walks, but he has no power and strikes out at a very high rate. Of the four, Suchy and Polo should get regular playing time, but the Pirates will probably give them all a chance to take hold of a job. Escobar and Polo have both played center, but Roy may be the only true centerfielder on the team.
The designation of "starter" at this level, especially early in the season, can be more of a formality than anything else. That’s particularly true of this year’s edition of the Power, which projected to have only one major pitching prospect, Stephen Tarpley. Unfortunately, Tarpley, the main piece in the Travis Snider trade, isn’t on the opening-day roster. He was scratched from his last two spring starts, so there’s obviously some issue. Hopefully, he’ll arrive soon, as he has very good stuff for a lefty and more than back-of-the-rotation upside.
Without Tarpley, my guess is that the starters initially will be Jake Burnette, Austin Coley, Alex McRae, John Sever and Dovydas Neverauskas. Possibly the most interesting of this group are Sever and Burnette. Sever, a lefty, put up playstation numbers last year at Bristol, including a K/9 of 13.9. He was facing less experienced hitters than the other draftees were facing in the NYPL, so it’ll be interesting to see what he does in his first taste of full season ball. Burnette was a 7th round pick back in 2011, but in four years he’s managed only a little over 50 innings pitched due to health problems. He appears to be healthy now and his velocity is in the 90-93 range.
Coley, drafted last year in the 8th round, pitched only briefly in the NYPL before going out with a shoulder strain. McRae, last year’s 10th round pick, had a very rough debut in the NYPL. The Lithuanian Neverauskas will be returning to West Virginia. The Pirates stuck with him all last year as a starter even though the results were very rough. He’s thrown in the mid-90s in the past, but his velocity hasn’t been that good more recently.
Like "starter," the designation of "reliever" is far from written in stone at this point for pitchers with the Power. The starters often will go 3-4 innings early in the year, followed by relievers who also go 3-4 innings. In the end, the Pirates will give more innings to the pitchers who show the most potential.
Arguably the most interesting of the relievers on the opening day roster are Montana DuRapau, Yeudy Garcia, Junior Lopez and Sam Street. DuRapau is a true dark horse, a 32nd round, 2014 draft pick who was very effective in the NYPL, including a 7:1 K:BB ratio. Garcia signed out of the Dominican at the relatively late age of 20. He’s making the unusual jump from the Dominican Summer League to full season ball. He has a fastball that reaches the mid-90s. Lopez, like Garcia, signed at an older age than usual; in fact, he’ll turn 24 in June. He started his career at Bristol, which is also unusual, and pitched fairly well despite a high ERA. He regularly hits 94 on the radar gun. All three of these pitchers should have a chance ultimately to win starting jobs.
Street, an Australian who throws sidearm, figures to be strictly a reliever. He doesn’t throw very hard, but he had a WHIP of 0.61 last year in the NYPL, albeit with a low K rate. He could serve as the Power’s closer.
The other relievers on the initial roster are Eric Dorsch, Nick Neumann and Miguel Rosario. Dorsch is a huge guy (6’8", 265) whose velocity is inconsistent, ranging from the upper-80s to 95. He struggled in his debut in the NYPL last year after being drafted in the 15th round. Neumann was a 28th round pick last year. He had a fair debut in the NYPL but may not profile as more than an organizational guy. Rosario fanned over a batter an inning pitching in relief last year in the NYPL.
No doubt a number of other pitchers will get turns in the West Virginia bullpen. Especially in the first half of the season, before the short-season leagues start play, the Pirates typically operate in low A with what amounts to about a 15- to 20-man pitching staff, as pitchers rotate in and out of extended spring training due to injuries and performance issues.
C: Taylor Gushue (later also Kevin Krause)
1B: Jerrick Suiter (later Connor Joe)
2B: Pablo Reyes
3B: Chase Simpson (later Jordan Luplow)
SS: Cole Tucker
OF: Tito Polo, Michael Suchy, Elvis Escobar Jeff Roy (later also Krause)
Rotation: Jake Burnette, Austin Coley, Alex McRae, John Sever, Dovydas Neverauskas (later Stephen Tarpley)
Key Relievers: Sam Street, Yeudy Garcia, Junior Lopez
Top Prospects: Cole Tucker, Stephen Tarpley
Sleeper: Kevin Krause, Yeudy Garcia