As the Pittsburgh Pirates big league club begins its annual fall from mediocrity to the MLB cellar, many hardcore fans are forced to look for solace in the fates of the Pirates’ minor league affiliates.
Unfortunately for them Indianapolis and Altoona have all struggled out of the gates this year. Indianapolis is well below .500 with little hope of making the postseason, while a prospect-laden Altoona squad has been a disaster, posting a 33-58 record so far this year.
Despite having uber prospects like Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, Gorkys Hernandez and to a lesser extent, Brian Friday, Jim Negrych and Daniel Moskos, Altoona has been anything but competitive.
So, despite struggling squads at the major leagues, triple A and double A, the West Virginia Power have taken class A by storm in the second half of the season.
Leading the Power’s offense is catcher and fourth overall pick in the 2009 draft Tony Sanchez. While many were dubious of the Pirates’ faith in Sanchez, his numbers so far have certainly warranted the pick. On top of excellent defensive play behind the plate, Sanchez is hitting .441 with an OPS of 1.224.
While Sanchez is the only truly highly heralded prospect on the Power’s roster, there are several other promising young players having great seasons that could soon join him on that list.
Leading the way is young, toolsy centerfielder Robbie Grossman. Grossman, 19, was selected out of high school in the sixth round of the 2008 draft with an overslot bonus. To many scouts, Grossman is a Nate McLouth clone, with all the skills and ability to be a five tool player at the major league level.
The Pirates have a ton of outfield depth ahead of Grossman in the system so management can afford to move him slowly.
Flanking Grossman in West Virginia’s outfield are Starling Marte and Quincy Latimore. Marte is a very important player for the Pirates as he is currently the jewel of the Pirates’ Latin America scouting program.
Marte, 20, is having success in his first year of professional baseball in the United States, hitting .377 with 7 stolen bases. Marte is an important player on the roster, not only because of his potential as a ballplayer, but also because of what he represents. Marte represents a change in culture for Pirates’ management that had been noticeably absent from the Latin America scouting scene previously.
In fact, if the Pirates are to sign 16 year old phenom Miguel Sano, fans might have Starling Marte to thank. Latimore, 20, was the Pirates’ fourth round pick in the 2007 draft.
While lacking the dynamic upside of Grossman and Marte, Latimore is still highly regarded by management as a potential five tool player as well as having one of the greatest names in professional sports.
While the Pirates are flush with outfield prospects throughout the system, there is a definite dearth of big name first base prospects in the organization. With Adam LaRoche almost out the door, and Steven Pearce and Jamie Romak constantly proving that they are not major league hitters, the onus of the best first base prospect falls upon Calvin Anderson and Erik Huber, both enjoying excellent seasons with the Power.
Anderson, 22, was selected in the twelfth round of the 2008 draft, while Huber, 24, was selected in the twelth round of the 2007 draft. Anderson has played primarily at first base, while Huber has been the Power’s designated hitter and both have been very impressive with the bat.
Anderson is hitting .284, with 9 dingers and 52 RBIs. Huber, on the other hand, is batting an impressive .316. It is difficult to project how the two will fare at higher levels in the organization, but their early success certainly bodes well for their future with the Pirates.
As Huber is two years Anderson’s senior, it is likely that he will be promoted more aggressively and will therefore be in serious consideration for the Pirates first base job in 2010.
Shortstop Chase D’Arnaud, 22, has already been promoted to Lynchburg, but most of his at-bats came with West Virginia. D’Arnaud was selected in the fourth round of the 2008 draft joins a strong core of young Pirates’ shortstops. D’Arnaud has performed very well in his professional career thus far, but is stuck in the organization behind Brian Friday and Jordy Mercy.
D’Arnaud, in his time with the Power, hit .291 with a .394 OBP while swiping 17 bases. With Jack Wilson most likely gone by the end of the year, D’Arnaud won’t get the first look, but should be ready for the show by 2011.
Second Baseman Andenson Chourio, 22, has emerged as one of the Pirates premier speed prospects. Chourio has already stolen 20 bases in only 169 at-bats and with few second base prospects in the Pirates system, his play will be closely monitored by management.
West Virginia’s pitching has been a very pleasant surprise this year. With no big name prospects, the staff has survived with overachieving fringier young players. Rudy Owens, 21, has emerged as the ace of West Virginia’s staff and as one of the Pirates’ top pitching prospects.
Owens was drafted in the 28th round of the 2006 draft, but this season is truly hisbreakout. Owens is 10-1 with a ridiculous 1.77 ERA and 0.86 WHIP.
With a Pirates’ organization that lacks many top pitching prospects, Owens will be looked to maintain his level of play as he climbs the ladder. He has incredibly not allowed an earned run in 31 innings, yet it is somehow not the longest such streak on the Power.
Brian Leach, 23, who was drafted in the 25th round of the 2008 draft, has a scoreless innings streak of 33 innings. Recently converted from reliever to starter, Leach has taken the change in stride and has been excellent so far.
The Power’s staff was given an infusion of talent when the Pirates acquired Casey Erickson for Eric Hinske two weeks ago. A pure sinkerballer, Erickson, 23, is virtually incapable of giving up home runs.
Since being acquired, he has been virtually unhittable as well, Erickson is 2-0 with an ERA of 1.00.
The staff was also bolstered by the promotion of promising righthander Quintin Miller. Miller, 19, was selected in 20th round of 2008 and was one of the posterboys, along with Robbie Grossman, for the Pirates’ 2008 draft strategy of paying overslot money for high potential high school players.
Even Duke Welker, who has been very inconsistent this year, is full of potential. Welker, 23, was the Pirates’ second round pick in the 2007 draft. Despite struggles, Welker is still viewed as a promising young pitcher and management still believes that Welker can turn it around.
As depression from a another lost Pirates season sets in, take some solace in the fact that there are promising youngsters on the way. Get excited Pirates fans, maybe the winning atmosphere that has been created in West Virginia in the second half can travel through the backyard and begin to manifest in Pittsburgh as well.