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Pirates minor league preview: West Virginia Black Bears

With the draft over, the Pirates' short-season affiliates are getting underway.  Their new New York-Penn League affiliate, the West Virginia Black Bears, or Morgantown, played its inaugural game on June 19.  Bristol, in the Appalachian League, opens on June 23 and the GCL Pirates on June 22.

Morgantown will provide an early look at the success, or lack thereof, of the Pirates' 2015 draft, which was heavy on college position players.  The Bears will have potential prospects at nearly every position, including three of the team's top four picks.  In most years, the team will give opportunities to a number of players and see who can lay claim to more playing time.  This year, though, Morgantown should have a fairly stable lineup.  The offense should be solid, although it probably won't have a great deal of power as the Pirates went heavily for line drive hitters.  The pitching staff, by contrast, will be relatively nondescript and could run into bullpen problems.

Short-season rosters are often quite fluid, so a team's personnel can change quite a bit over the course of the season.  That should be less true this year than in most others, though, because the Pirates have already signed almost all of the draft picks they're likely to sign.  Previously, many draftees didn't join the team until several weeks into the season because that's when they signed.

The numbers in parentheses are the draft rounds of players selected this year.

Catcher

The primary catcher should be Christian Kelley (11).  Although drafted out of college, Kelley doesn't have a huge amount of experience.  He had a solid offensive season in his junior year.  Deybi Garcia, who caught the Bears' opener, is a good defensive catcher but can't hit at all.  Organizational catcher Chris Harvey could see a little playing time.  Daniel Arribas, who had a good year at Bristol in 2015, is on the roster, but it's unclear where he'll play.  He's spent time at first and third, so he could be more of a utility player for Morgantown.

Infield

Second, third and short should be set, unless the Pirates promote somebody, as they did, for example, with Jordy Mercer and Matt Hague.  In the opener, Kevin Newman (1) played short, Kevin Kramer (2) second, and Mitchell Tolman (7) third.  This group should see most of the time at those positions, which may be why the Pirates assigned Logan Ratledge (13) to Bristol.  It's possible Newman and Kramer will switch back and forth, but I'm guessing that won't happen.  All three should provide solid or better on-base skills and line drive bats.  David Andriese, who struggled badly at Bristol last year, played first in the opener.  Albert Baur (28), who put up big numbers at small-conference Newberry College, should see significant playing time, as might Arribas.  Ulises Montilla, who missed nearly all of 2014 with a leg injury, and defense-only Erik Forgione are the backups.

Outfield

The Morgantown outfield will be made up of 2015 draftees as well.  Ty Moore (12), Casey Hughston (3) and Logan Hill (25) all profile as corner outfielders, but Moore played center in the opener.  Hughston and Hill have the best chance to provide the Bears with power, although both also bring a lot of swing-and-miss risk.  Moore was more of a line drive hitter in college and rarely struck out.  The Bears will also have Alexis Bastardo and Maximo Rivera.  Despite being 21, Bastardo hasn't played very much, as he signed a little later than most Latin American prospects and then missed most of last season with visa and injury issues.  He's put up good numbers when he's played, though, and the Pirates are promoting him somewhat aggressively.  Rivera looks like an organizational player at this point.

Pitching

The only pitchers we know for sure just yet who'll be in the rotation are lefty Hector Garcia, who was scheduled to start Morgantown's rained-out second game, and Dario Agrazal.  Garcia is also the most interesting pitcher on the staff, as he's coming off a strong season at Bristol.  He's still only 19 and on the small side, but has gotten his fastball up to 92.  Agrazal had a decent season last year, also with Bristol.  If and when lefty Brandon Waddell (5) signs -- he's currently playing in the college world series -- it's possible that the rotation will be rounded out by Waddell, J.T. Brubaker (6) and Bret Helton (9).  Those were the top three college starters drafted by the Pirates.  It's also possible the Pirates could keep giving starting opportunities to Dovydas Neverauskas, who was demoted from the WV Power.  They could do the same with Marek Minarik, who struggled as a starter in the NYPL in 2014.

Other 2015 draftees who've been assigned to Morgantown are Nick Hibbing (16), lefty Sean Keselica (33) and Stephan Meyer (18).  Hibbing was a reliever in college, although the Pirates won't necessarily let that determine his role as a pro.  Keselica and Meyer could either start or relieve.

Several pitchers from last year's Bristol team figure to be in the bullpen.  Lefty Cesilio Pimentel put up very good numbers in relief there, as did Luis Paula.  Julio Eusebio, Eric Karch and Eric Dorsch, by contrast, are returning from last year's NYPL team, which was at Jamestown.  Eusebio put up the best numbers of the three last year.  Karch was due to open with the WV Power this year until elbow soreness delayed his season.  Dorsch pitched for the Power earlier this season after posting borderline numbers at Jamestown last season, but was demoted after allowing over a run an inning in seven outings.

Two remaining pitchers who'll pitch in relief for Morgantown are Jerry Mulderig and Edgar Santana.  (Yes, that's a lot of pitchers but they'll probably rotate through the active roster.)  Mulderig struggled last year at both Jamestown and West Virginia, so he's taking a step backward.  Santana is making the jump from the Dominican Summer League, where he debuted last year after signing when he was nearly 22.  He's reached the mid-90s with his fastball.

Regulars

C: Kelley

1B/DH: Andriese/Baur/Arribas

2B: Kramer

3B: Tolman

SS: Newman

OF: Hughston, Moore, Hill

Rotation: H.Garcia, Agrazal, Waddell (eventually), Brubaker, Helton, Minarik/Neverauskas

Key Relievers: Hibbing, Meyer, Keselica

Top Prospects: Kevin Newman, Kevin Kramer, Casey Hughston, Hector Garcia