Second-round draft pick Josh Bell went 2-for-5 with a double and an RBI in the Power's home opener.
NO ONE at Appalachian Power Park cared on Thursday that the West Virginia Power entered its home opening day at 1-6."Really?" one fan said walking into the park. "They're 1-6?"On this day, we pretended the Power was unbeaten. Or just starting. It didn't matter. It was Opening Day here. Capital O. Capital D. All was OK.The bags were out. The mitt was popped. The bats cracked.
"We're excited," said Andy Milovich, executive vice-president of the club. "The eighth season [of the APP] is here. The park looks great. The community response, from a sponsorship and ticket sales standpoint, has been fantastic. And the weather, at least to this standpoint, is cooperating much better than it did all last year."You come to this space, though, for the scoop. So let's get to it.The ticket this season, at least early in the season, can be summed up thusly: Josh Bell, Josh Bell, Josh Bell, Josh Bell."Josh Bell is obviously the guy everyone wants to watch," Milovich said. "He's as exciting as you can get. He's a guy everyone projected as a top-15 pick before he told everyone he was going to college and not to draft him."Then the Pirates drafted him - and backed up the Brink's truck.Forget peanuts. Get yer Josh Bell while he's hot. Or, at least, in town.Partly because of him, the Pirate organization got its, well, bell rung by Bud Selig in the owners' meetings - for exceeding bonus "recommendations." The Buccos gave $8 million to No. 1 pick Gerrit Cole and $5 million to second-round pick Bell. Since Neal Huntington took over the Pirates, the team has spent $47.6 million in the draft, including a major league record $17 million last year. (Apparently he wishes to end the franchise's North American record of consecutive losing seasons. It is at 19.)Bell got off to a good start in his temporary home on Thursday with a single to right in his first at-bat and an RBI double in the ninth of the Power's 5-1 win.Others to watch? Here's a short list, aside from Bell:Shortstop Alen Hanson, who ripped a home run Thursday in his first official APP at-bat. Baseball America calls him the Pirates' "fastest base runner" prospect.Right-handed pitcher Nick Kingham, tagged by the publication as the major league club's No. 14 prospect. (He's off to a slow start.)
Lefty pitcher Zack Dodson, the Buccos' No. 23 prospect. (Another slow start.)Cleanup hitter Jose Osuna, a first baseman, the 30th-best prospect.
"I think we'll have a lot more offense and pop than we had last year," Milovich said. "Our early season reflects that. We have a very talented but very young pitching staff. You're probably going to see some things that are really lights-out, and then days when the pitchers really struggle to find the zone."Through the first seven games, Power pitchers walked more than New York dog owners.But, hey, the team was on the road. The season is young. It's just been odd the Pirates haven't kicked butt at the minor league level. With all those high draft picks?"The first couple of years we were with them, they were thin at the major and minor league levels when Neal Huntington took over," Milovich said. "They spent a lot of money to get draft picks signed. Hopefully, they signed the right guys.
"But everyone they signed got pushed at a faster speed than normal. They needed them in the big league and at the double- and triple-A levels. That left us really young and really thin from a prospect standpoint. I think now we have prospects, but they are 19 and 20 years old in a league that historically has a lot of 20- and 22-year-old guys."The Power is in the second year of a four-year contract with the Pirates. It's a great fit, with Pittsburgh four hours away. It's a great fit since Charleston's minor league heyday was with the organization. The revamped old Charlies logo couldn't be more cool.Off the field, Milovich said about 1,600 season tickets have been sold. A new SuddenLink Legends Club has been added. ("It will be an indoor banquet facility that overlooks the field," Milovich said. "It handles groups of 50 and private functions on game days or non-game days.") The Quaker Steak & Lube menu is now being served in the Power Alley Grill.For now, though, the buzz is all about No. 19. And if you want to check him out, you'd better Bell-y up - while he's here.Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.