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Pirates' minor league previews: West Virginia

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In most years, the Pirates' low A affiliate is one of the most interesting affiliates in the system, if not the most.  That's because players making their debut in low A are still at the stage where they're all about potential rather than performance, so the team always seems to have an abundance of upside.

Despite being made up primarily of players who won the New York-Penn League title last year, this year's West Virginia Power will be arguably the least interesting of the Pirates' full season affiliates.  It's not that the team won't have any promising players, but several of the top prospects from that West Virginia Black Bears team will skip on to Bradenton this year.  Consequently, this year's Power may not have as much breakout potential as usual, especially on the pitching staff, but there are still quite a few players worth watching.

Catcher

The catchers for the Power initially will be Christian Kelley and John Bormann.  Kelley was drafted last year and had less experience than most college draftees.  He struggled at Morgantown, with just a .572 OPS.  Bormann is a glove-only catcher who was in a three-way catcher platoon last year with Bristol.  Daniel Arribas could also see some time behind the plate; the Pirates have moved him around between catcher, first and third.  At some point not too far into the season, Kevin Krause should join the Power.  He may have the most power potential of any of the team's lower level hitters, and certainly the most of any of their catchers.  He missed last season due to Tommy John surgery.

Corner Infield

West Virginia will have Carlos Munoz at first and Ke'Bryan Hayes at third.  Munoz had a huge season last year at Bristol, but it was his fourth pro season.  Munoz has always shown remarkable strike zone judgment, but scouts will always have doubts about him due to his physique and due to the possibility that he was dominating less experienced pitchers.  Hayes will be the best prospect with the Power.  He's shown highly advanced defensive and hitting skills for a high school draftee.  The biggest question about him is power.  Arribas will probably back up both positions, as will utility infielders Tyler Filliben and Logan Ratledge.

Middle Infield

The middle infield will have Mitchell Tolman at second and Alfredo Reyes at short.  Tolman was a third baseman when drafted, but Hayes' presence will force him to second.  He's part of the team's trend in the draft toward all-field, line-drive hitters.  Reyes signed after leaving the Yankees as a minor league free agent.  He didn't get a great deal of playing time with the Yankees, partly due to injuries, but he looked good on both sides of the ball in camp.  Cole Tucker eventually should take over at short, as he's been recovering very well from labrum surgery.  If things go well and Kevin Newman earns a mid-season promotion to AA, Tucker could be a candidate to move up to high A.  Even if he stays with the Power all year, he'll still turn just 20 late in the season.  Filliben and Ratledge will be the utility infielders.  Filliben is returning to the level, while Ratledge struggled at Bristol after being drafted last year.

Outfield

The outfielders will be Casey Hughston, Tito Polo, Ryan Nagle and Ty Moore.  Polo is returning to the level after struggling there in 2015.  He'll probably shift to right to make room for Hughston.  After beginning his career with a miserable 1-for-43 stretch, Hughston will be looking to deal with his problems in handling pitches on the outer half of the plate.  He's a big guy with significant power potential, but he also runs well enough to play center, at least for now.  Although he was drafted much later, Nagle may start in left over Moore, although one or the other will likely be the DH much of the time.  It's possible Krause may see some time in the outfield as well.

Rotation

The rotation will be right-handers J.T. Brubaker, Mitch Keller, Dario Agrazal, Bret Helton and Logan Sendelbach.  The guy to watch of this group is Keller, a prep draftee who's had only limited opportunities so far due to "mild forearm tightness."  He was throwing in the mid-90s in camp with a good breaking ball, and obviously impressed the Pirates enough that they're trying him in full season ball after very limited experience in the short season leagues.

The other top pitchers here are Brubaker and Agrazal.  Brubaker is similar to many of the college pitchers drafted by the Pirates.  He's tall and has good velocity, but doesn't miss a lot of bats.  He dominated the New York-Penn League after struggling in his first few starts.  It's a little surprising he's not moving up to Bradenton, as Brandon Waddell is doing.  Agrazal is a Panamian who's more of a finesse pitcher, although his fastball does get into the 90s at times.  He got good results, with very few walks, in the NYPL last year, but he had a very low K rate.

Helton and Sendelbach both got hit hard last year, Helton in the NYPL and Sendelbach at Bristol.  Sendelbach, however, finished the season very strongly.

It's slightly surprising that Luis Escobar won't be at West Virginia.  He drew some attention in Pirate circles when Keith Law listed him as the team's 10th best prospect.  He won't turn 20 until the end of May, though, and threw only 47 innings last year.

Bullpen

The relief corps will be righties Seth McGarry, Tate Scioneaux, Jake Burnette, Julio Eusebio and Tanner Anderson, and lefties Cesilio Pimentel and Daniel Zamora.  The most interesting pitchers here are the first two.  McGarry was an 8th round pick last year and can get his fastball up to 97.  He dominated right-handed hitters in his debut, but he has some injury history and also doesn't throw strikes consistently.  Scioneaux can throw in the mid-90s and dominated the NYPL last year, with outstanding walk and K rates.

Of the others, Burnette and Pimentel arguably have the most potential.  Burnette was a prep draftee back in 2011 who's been beset with injury problems.  He managed to pitch most of last season and fanned over ten batters per nine innings while dominating right-handed hitters, but he also had control problems.  Pimentel has decent velocity for a left-hander, combined with a quirky motion, but his command has been inconsistent.

Eusebio is coming off a good season with Morgantown in which he fanned over ten batters per nine innings.  He'll turn 24 at mid-season.  Anderson pitched well for Bristol last year.  Zamora doesn't throw hard, but struck out eleven per nine innings in the NYPL.

Lineup

C: Christian Kelley, eventually Kevin Krause
1B: Carlos Munoz
2B: Mitchell Tolman
3B: Ke'Bryan Hayes
SS: Alfredo Reyes, eventually Cole Tucker
OF: Tito Polo, Casey Hughston, Ryan Nagle, Ty Moore

Rotation

J.T. Brubaker, Mitch Keller, Dario Agrazal, Bret Helton, Logan Sendelbach

Key Relievers

Seth McGarry, Tate Scioneaux

Top Prospects: Tucker, Hayes

Breakout Candidates: Keller, Hughston, Krause

The Power won't have a legion of upside players and may not post a good W/L record, especially if the starters don't come through.  There are a handful of key prospects, though, especially Hayes, Tucker once he's ready, and Keller.  Tolman, Hughston, Brubaker and McGarry are potentially solid prospects as well.  It's possible that a couple players, especially Hayes and Keller, could struggle a little at first.  It'll also be interesting to see just how real Munoz may be.