On Friday, June 19th, the Pirates’ new Short-Season team, the West Virginia Black Bears will have their inaugural game at Monongalia County Ballpark. The field is just outside Morgantown, in an area called Granville, and it’s nestled behind a sprawling array of strip malls and big box stores known as University Towne Center. One of the main ways in and out is to go between a Walmart and a soon-to-open WV Healthcare facility.
The park itself, as judged by a site visit last weekend, is a utilitarian facility befitting a minor league team. No frills, no quirks in the 3,500 seat ballpark. Just good ol’ fashioned family baseball overlooking the West Virginia University campus and mountains surrounding Morgantown.
The West Virginia Black Bears are not to be confused with the West Virginia Power, even though they will be. The Power, formerly and perhaps in the near future the Charleston Power, are the Pirates’ Low A team one rung up from the Black Bears. It’s typically where the current year’s recent college draftees are started out, along with younger internationals and high school players from the year before. At this low of level, most of the players will wash out before they even hit Double A, but there are almost usually always some prospects to watch.
The 2015 MLB Draft takes place next Monday to Wednesday (June 8 to 10) and the Pirates will re-stock their minors with whatever picks they eventually sign over the 40 rounds. The vast majority of the college-age players will be sent to the Black Bears, with some filling out the low-level Gulf Coast League Pirates and the roster of the Appalachian League Bristol Pirates. But there are some interesting holdover guys from the 2014 minor league season that should make the roster and to keep an eye on:
- Mitch Keller, RHP (age 19) — Keller was the Pirates’ 2nd round pick in 2014. As is their style with high school pitchers (aside from uber-talents like Taillon), the Pirates didn’t promote Keller to a full-season team in order to keep his innings down. The 6′-3″ pitcher from Iowa is highly regarded and mentioned just behind Taillon/Glasnow/Kingham as another great pitching prospect.
- Trey Supak, RHP (age 19) — Supak was the Pirates’ 2nd round competitive balance pick in 2014. Also highly regarded with Keller, but perhaps one grade level down from him. His 6′-5″/210 lb frame fits the Pirates’ profile to a tee.
- Gage Hinsz, RHP (age 19) — It wouldn’t surprise me if the Pirates’ 11th round pick is assigned to the Bristol Pirates instead. With Keller and Supak all but locks for the WV rotation, it’s hard to envision there being enough innings for Hinsz, too, especially since there will be some 2015 college draftees there to pitch. Tall and strong (6′-4″/210), Hinsz came out of a competition-sparse Montana high school.
- Sam Kennelly, 2B (age 19) — Kennelly signed with the Pirates as a 16-year old back in 2012 out of Australia, representing the Pirates’ commitment to trying to find talent at every corner of the globe. This might be an aggressive placement for Kennelly, as he only played 2014 in the Gulf Coast League, but it would show that the Pirates feel he may be a true prospect. I like him due to the fact that he drew nearly as many walks (16) as strikeouts (17).
- Hector Garcia, LHP (age 19) — Garcia is a lightly-regarded signee out of the Dominican Republic, but he had a decent line with the Bristol Pirates last year in 13 starts (48 IP, 40 H, 19 BB, 50 K).
With no traffic, it’s possible to get from downtown Pittsburgh to the ballpark in 1 hour and 15 minutes. The ability to see some potential future Pirates is well worth the quick jaunt down I-79.