CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Pittsburgh Pirates ended a 20-year streak of losing seasons and came within one game of playing for the National League pennant last season thanks in large part to the contributions from players the organization drafted or signed and developed in its minor league system.
Charleston has been home to the Pirates’ low-A South Atlantic League affiliate since 2009, and as the Major League team keeps improving with players from within the organization more and more of those players are landing in Pittsburgh after having played for the West Virginia Power along the way.
Catcher Reese McGuire was selected with the 14th overall pick in last year’s MLB draft by the Pirates. It was the highest a high school catcher had been drafted since 2008 and made McGuire just fourth high school catcher taken in the first 14 picks since 2000. With that comes expectations.
“It’s exciting,” McGuire, a Seattle native, said Tuesday at the Power’s media day at Appalachian Power Park. “I went up to Pittsburgh for two or three days during the summer and got to watch a few games. It’s an exciting time for the city and the fans. I’m stoked to be a part of it.”
McGuire is not the only highly regarded prospect on the West Virginia roster — a place where many of the Pirates’ top prospects have appeared during the last five seasons — to start the seasons. Pittsburgh’s other first round pick, outfielder Austin Meadows, is expected to join the Power in two to three weeks after recovering from a hamstring injury during spring training, but other players such as infielders JaCoby Jones (3nd round, 2013), Wyatt Mathisen (2nd round, 2012), pitcher Cody Dickson (4th round, 2013) and outfielder Barrett Barnes (supplemental 1st round, 2012) represent West Virginia’s present talent and perhaps Pittsburgh’s future on the field. Making sure those players do what is necessary to get the next level, the high-A Bradenton Muraurders in this case, falls to second-year Power manager Michael Ryan.
“You have to watch how they react to different things,” Ryan said of working with the highly touted prospects. “You don’t want them to get too tired but they’re going to be treated just like everyone else. They need to become everyday players and this is where they learn to go through that grind and play every day — which is exactly what they’re going to do. They’ve got to get used to playing every day when they get to Pittsburgh if they want to be every day guys playing for 162. One hunder and forty doesn’t seem like many games compared to 162 but it’s a good start.”
In the case of Barnes, a collegiate standout at Texas Tech, he returns to West Virginia after injuries put his development off track in each of the last two seasons.
“That was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever been through, to be honest,” he said. “My head was just full of negative things. I had back to back tough seasons with injuries but it was something I had to learn from. I bounced back this offseason and put in a lot of work. Every time I had a meeting with any coach or coordinator it was just ‘stay healthy’ -- that was the No. 1 thing. I’ve got to learn my body in this game. It’s a little different than college.”
For every Jameson Taillon -- top draft picks that develop into sure-fire future big leaguers -- there are just as many, if not more, Gregory Polanco’s -- players that come out of seemingly nowhere to shoot up the developmental ladder.
Last season pitcher Tyler Glasnow, a 5th round draft pick in 2011, took the minor league scene by storm and caught the attention of nearly every radar gun and scout that saw him turn into the Power’s staff ace and one of the hot prospects in all of baseball. It’s impossible to say if that story will repeat itself with any of this year’s group but that doesn’t stop the players from seeing what is possible and working toward the goal of taking the field at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
Starling Marte, who played for the Power during the 2009 season, broke out during the Pirates’ run to the playoffs a year ago. Tony Sanchez, another Power player from 2009, made his Major League debut last summer with the Pirates and contributed as the backup to catcher Russell Martin and as a bat off the bench for manager Clint Hurdle. Both players were on the Pirates’ Opening Day roster Monday.
“The Pirates the last few years have had a great process and changed their ways,” Jones, who starred for Louisiana State in college, said. “I know a lot of those guys and they’re good dudes. They were in the same spot that we are now and that gives us a lot of confidence knowing that maybe one day we can be up there with them. Just watching those guys and seeing what they do in spring training, we know we’ve got to do the same thing.”
The Power opens the 2014 season with a seven-game road trip starting Thursday at Lexington before the team’s first home game April 10 against Lexington.
Contact sportswriter Tom Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-34-4871. Follow him on Twitter @TomBraggSports.