Minor League look: Class A West Virginia
Power won 10 straight to contend for second half title
Here is Part 4 in a seven-part series that will take an in-depth look at how each of the Pirates' Minor League affiliates fared during the 2009 season. Previously, we examined Triple-A Indianapolis, Double-A Altoona and high Class A Lynchburg. Up fourth is the low Class A West Virginia Power:
Record: 67-70 in South Atlantic League North division; first half: 27-43 (eighth place); second half: 40-27 (second place)
What went right?
-- Left-hander Rudy Owens came out of nowhere to have a sensational season in the Power's rotation. He went 10-1 with a 1.70 ERA in 19 starts with West Virginia before being promoted to high Class A. This breakout year came after Owens blended into the farm system with a 3-6 record and 4.97 ERA in short-season State College (Pa.) last year.
-- After the Pirates made him the No. 4 overall pick in the 2009 Draft, catcher Tony Sanchez had little trouble making the transition from collegiate to professional ball. Because he signed so quickly, Sanchez was able to play 41 games for the Power and hit .316 with seven homers and 46 RBIs. His defense behind the plate was also lauded.
-- West Virginia went on a 10-game winning streak in mid-August to make a run at winning the division's second half title. The team ended up finishing four games back, but was not out of the race until the season's final week.
-- The Power scored more runs (673) than any other team in the league and finished second in the SAL with a team .262 batting average.
What went wrong?
-- Right-hander Duke Welker, the Pirates' second-round Draft pick in 2007, has yet to show that he was worthy of that selection spot. After going 4-3 with a 5.51 ERA in low Class A last year, Welker went 0-11 with a 5.79 ERA this season. He started off the year as a starter before being moved to the bullpen. Of his 31 appearances, 15 were starts. Welker's ERA out of the 'pen was actually higher than as a starter, and he struck out just two more hitters than he walked all season.
-- Catcher Andrew Walker, a fifth-rounder in '07, struggled as the Power's starting catcher to begin the season and eventually finished the year in the Gulf Coast League. He was largely inconsistent at the plate and finished with a .211 average in 35 games for West Virginia. It was obvious that his playing time was going to be limited once Sanchez arrived midseason.
-- The Power finished last in the SAL with a 4.18 team ERA. It would have been much higher, too, had it not been for Owens' spectacular season.
On the rise:
-- Outfielders Starling Marte moved up on the Pirates' prospect list with a breakout season. Marte, in his first season playing Minor League baseball in the States, hit .312 and stole 24 bases as a 20-year-old. He was signed by Latin American scouting director Rene Gayo in January 2007.
-- Playing in his first full professional season, Robbie Grossman also fared well with the Power. The 19-year-old outfielder and sixth-round Draft pick in 2008 hit .266 and swiped 35 bases. Though he only hit five homers, the Pirates expect the power to come as he matures.
Batting average: Erik Huber, .318
Doubles: Quincy Latimore, 24
Triples: Latimore, 10
Home runs: Calvin Anderson, 12
RBIs: Latimore, 70
Stolen bases: Grossman, 35
Wins: Owens, 10
ERA (starter, minimum 75 IP): Owens, 1.70
ERA (reliever, minimum 30 IP): Casey Erickson, 1.75
Saves: Eduardo Pena, 8
Strikeouts: Gabriel Alvarado, 96
End of season awards: Rudy Owens, Pirates' Minor League Pitcher of the Year and South Atlantic League's Most Outstanding Pitcher
Outlook: While it's hard to pin down who will be on the Power's Opening Day roster, the list will likely include a number of the college players the Pirates drafted in the early rounds of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. Those fitting into this category include: Victor Black (first supplemental round), Evan Chambers (third round), Nathan Baker (fifth round), Brock Holt (ninth round) and Jeffrey Inman (12th round).
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.