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Pirates’ minor league recap: West Virginia Black Bears

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The New York-Penn League is all about the draft, specifically college draftees. So you can probably guess that I don’t have the best impression, at this admittedly early point, of the 2018 Black Bears entry. I didn’t like the Pirates’ 2018 draft much immediately afterward. Maybe that was just irritation at the crappy internet connections in Peru as I was trying to find information on their draftees, but them actually playing the season didn’t help things. The Pirates went college-heavy in the draft and, apart from relievers, most of the draftees at West Virginia struggled or performed indifferently. There were several players who finished the season well, but the most important guy did just the opposite.

THE GOOD

Aaron Shortridge, RHP: The team’s fourth round pick, Shortridge’s debut was good but abbreviated. He put up very good numbers (2.67 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 11.3 K/9), but managed only 30 innings over eight starts. He was shut down with general soreness rather than any specific injury, so hopefully it was just a long season. Shortridge doesn’t have dominating stuff but seems to have good command, and so might move quickly.

Logan Stoelke, RHP: A ninth round pick, Stoelke is a reliever who gets up to 95 mph and relies a lot on a change. He put up very good numbers as the Black Bears’ closer — 0.79 WHIP and 13.7 K/9 — then struck out four of the eight batters he faced in a cameo with the West Virginia Power. If he keeps pitching well, Stoelke should reach Altoona next year.

Conner Loeprich, RHP: Loeprich, a 20th round pick, shared the closer duties with Stoelke and pitched well apart from walking a batter every other inning. He had a 1.12 WHIP and 9.7 K/9. I don’t know much beyond that so far.

Cam Alldred, LHP: Alldred was a 24th round pick out of the University of Cincinnati. He’s a finesse lefty who throws only in the upper-80s, but he had a good debut, with a 0.90 WHIP and 9.8 K/9. As always with pitchers like this, he’ll have to show that his stuff holds up well enough at upper levels.

Nick Economos, RHP: Economos is a 6’6” righty who was drafted out of a junior college back in 2015. That means he’s already eligible for the Rule 5 draft even though he hasn’t made it to full season ball. The Pirates have always seen him as projectable, but his stuff hasn’t really come around. He relies mainly on off-speed stuff. He had a very good year, starting and relieving, for the Black Bears, with a 2.52 ERA and 9.7 K/9. I’m not sure how much farther he’ll be able to go, though.

THE BAD

Connor Kaiser, SS: A third-round pick, Kaiser was thought to have some power potential. He struggled badly in the NYPL, with a 212/303/260 line and strikeouts in nearly a third of his at-bats. He got a late-season promotion to the Power when Oneil Cruz got hurt and batted 302/338/381, but the improvement was entirely due to a .375 BABIP. He struck out in a quarter of his at-bats and didn’t walk much. He did play well defensively.

Grant Koch, C: Koch was the Pirates’ fourth round pick. His best asset is supposed to be power, but he struggled as badly in the NYPL as Kaiser, batting 188/304/263. When I saw him, he did not look good behind the plate, stabbing at pitches instead of trying to get in front of them. He threw out 28% of base stealers.

Zach Spears, LHP: Spears was the Pirates’ ninth round pick. He’s a big guy, but he has only average-ish velocity and also has poor command. He struggled badly with the Black Bears, with a 6.07 ERA and poor peripherals. Right-handed hitters battered him for a .929 OPS.

THE IN-BETWEEN

Travis Swaggerty, OF: The Pirates’ first round pick, Swaggerty’s (pictured) slash line in the NYPL was good for the pitching-dominated league, at 288/365/453. The big concern was the 25% strikeout rate. The swing and miss tendency was also a concern before the draft and it got bigger when he was overwhelmed in a 19-game stint with the Power at the end of the season. He had a .451 OPS there, again with a 25% K rate. He did show legitimate center field skills, including a good arm, and he stole nine bases in a dozen tries with the Black Bears. If he’s what the Pirates thought they were getting, he should be able to go to Bradenton next year and do well.

Michael Flynn, RHP: Flynn didn’t perform well in college, but he was thought to have good upside due to four average or better pitches and good control. The Pirates drafted him in the sixth round and he never got going, getting scratched from a couple of starts and then shut down in July. I don’t know what the issue was. He threw only 16.2 IP and had a 5.94 ERA, but his peripherals were actually good and his xFIP in that tiny sample size was 3.21.

Brett Kinneman, OF: Kinneman was a 7th round pick and, as a corner outfielder, will have to hit. He had good power in college, but didn’t show much in the NYPL until about the 34 mark in the season. He had a .666 OPS before that and .966 after. His final line of 253/344/413 was better than it looks in a pitching-dominated league where the norm was 240/318/346. Hopefully, he just needed a little time to figure it out.

Mike Gretler, 3B: The Pirates drafted Gretler in the tenth round as a college senior after drafting him and not signing him as a junior. He had a solid year at the plate, batting 270/372/396. He’s a good defensive third baseman, but he caught a couple of games, so you wonder whether they might try moving him. His bat would play better behind the plate.

John Pomeroy, RHP: Pomeroy is an interesting project. He’s a very big guy with upper-90s velocity, but control problems so severe that he hardly pitched at all in college. The Pirates drafted him back in 2016 and he missed all of 2017 due to Tommy John surgery. He made 15 appearances for the Black Bears and walked a batter an inning, but that was actually an improvement. The Pirates moved him up to the Power for eight games at the end of the year and he improved a little more, striking out 36% of the batters he faced there. So he accomplished enough at least to be worth watching.

Osvaldo Bido, RHP: The Pirates signed Bido as a 21-year-old out of the Dominican. Scouts like his stuff a lot — he throws 93-96 with a good cutter — and think he has some projection. He went straight from the DSL to the NYPL in his second year and pitched in the rotation, which shows the Pirates are pretty high on him. He had a 4.18 ERA and 1.24 WHIP, and got a lot better after the first few weeks.

Daniel Amaral, OF: A 14th-round pick, Amaral profiles as a fourth outfielder with good speed and a little pop. Like Kinneman, he got hot late in the year and finished with a respectable line relative to the league, in his case 244/329/382. That included more power than expected. He led the league in steals and also showed a good arm.

Zack Kone, SS: The Pirates drafted Kone in the 13th round. He was their last draft signing, so his season started late. With Kaiser on the team, he played both short and second. Kone had a very rough time at the plate until his last nine games, when he went 17-for-40 to finish at 250/332/341, so we can hope he figured it out.

Nick Mears, RHP: I threw Mears in here because he may be a darkhorse worth watching. He didn’t play for any college in 2018 and went undrafted, but he was impressive in summer ball in both 2017 and 2018. The Pirates signed him out of his summer league near the end of the NYPL season and he struck out eight of the 15 batters he faced for the Black Bears. He’s a tall, lean guy who throws 93-96 with potentially good secondary pitches and some projection left.