The West Virginia Power, the low-Class A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, are seven games through a 140-game season.
The Power opens the home portion of its schedule tonight at 7:05 against Lexington at Appalachian Power Park.
If you notice a swagger, if the attitude that is permeating through the Pirates organization knocks you over like a high and inside fastball from Gerrit Cole, don’t be surprised.
The organization’s vision starts at the top, and the work the Pirates’ front office has put into transforming the once-moribund Major League franchise will inevitably be seen throughout the farm system.
Heck, Baseball America ranks the Pirates’ minor league system tops of all 32 clubs only a few months after Pittsburgh’s National League postseason run.
“I’ve been here since the beginning seven years ago,” said Jeff Johnson, the Power’s pitching coach. “The beginning of (assistant general manager) Kyle Stark and (general manager) Neal Huntington and (owner) Bob Nutting. I’ve been here since then so I’ve seen a tremendous change.
“We especially saw it last year, we saw it here with the group in West Virginia. It was a different group mentality-wise; it was a different group as far as them being team-oriented.
“Throughout the organization, you see it happening.”
The Pittsburgh Pirates rid the franchise of a 21-year hex and finished 94-68 for the club’s first playoff berth since 1992. The Power, which is in its sixth year as a Pirates affiliate, likewise made a postseason run and finished 82-58. The big league club was 26 games over .500, while baby Bucs in Charleston finished 24 games above even.
In the first four years of the Pirates-Power agreement, neither team finished with a winning record.
Winning begats winning.
“There’s no doubt about that,” said Michael Ryan, the Power’s second-year manager. “The great thing here is we’re doing the same exact thing that they’re doing in the big leagues. Everything from bunt plays to cut-off relays to signs, we’re doing it basically the same as they are doing it up there.
“The way we have meetings and the way we do everything is the same, so I think that prepares (the players) to get up there and have success. When these guys watch a game on TV, they see a lot of the same things they’re going through and they’re doing.”
Ryan and Johnson noticed a different feel at the Pirates’ spring training complex in Bradenton, Fla., in February and March. The entire organization comes together there, everyone from the multi-million dollar veterans to the first-year players, from bonus babies to free-agent signings.
“There’s four different fields down there,” Ryan said. “When each team would be on a field, it was like a mirror. We were doing the exact same thing, we were synced up together and that shows you what the organization is all about.
“It’s obviously working out great.”
Because of the organization’s approach and where it chooses to invest, there’s little reason to believe the West Virginia Power will soon stop having success. The most highly regarded prospects are spending significant stints in Charleston. In fact, of Baseball America’s top 30 Pirates prospects this season, the top 15 have played here or will suit up for the Power sometimes this season.
When healthy, the Power could have six of the Pirates’ top 13 prospects this season: outfielder Austin Meadows (No. 4), catcher Reese McGuire (No. 8), outfielder Harold Ramirez (No. 9), starting pitcher Luis Heredia (No. 10), third baseman Wyatt Mathisen (No. 12) and outfielder Barrett Barnes (No. 13).
Last week, ESPN.com baseball analyst Keith Law listed the West Virginia Power as one of the six best places to watch elite prospects this season. Once Meadows is healthy and joins the club, and Ramirez and Barnes return from the disabled list, two-thirds of the Power’s lineup will be filled with top-of-the-line prospects.
Power Park will be a popular destination for scouts this summer, for sure.
“What happened in Pittsburgh last year is happening everywhere else,” Johnson said. “The culture has changed.”
“It’s a great time to be here,” Ryan added.
Charleston baseball fans should sit back and enjoy.