Mark Minicozzi, the West Virginia Power’s new manager as the club prepares for its inaugural season in the independent Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, recently arrived in Charleston after a four-day RV trip from Phoenix.
In tow was his wife, his 6-year-old son Maximus and their two dogs. It was, in Minicozzi’s words, a full house.
“It was an interesting experience,” said Minicozzi. “I’ve never done the RV thing before.”
Minicozzi has also never done the managing thing before, at least not at the professional level, but he’s ready to dive in feet-first as the team begins gathering this weekend in advance of opening night, May 28 against the South Maryland Blue Claws at Appalachian Power Park.
“I can’t wait to get everybody out there,” Minicozzi said. “When everybody’s here, we’ll have 10 to 15 guys who have played in the big leagues.”
That’s a far cry from previous editions of the Power, whose low-Class A MLB-affiliated rosters were populated by untested youngsters climbing the professional ladder. The 2021 Atlantic League team will be made up largely of veteran players looking for another route back up to the highest rung of pro ball.
The team — most of it, anyway — will be at APP for its first preseason workouts Tuesday. Several signed players, including former big-leaguers Jimmy Paredes, Rymer Liriano and Edwin Espinal — who Minicozzi said will eventually make up the heart of the Power’s batting order — are finalizing visa paperwork in their respective home countries and might not be available for opening day.
“We have six guys waiting on visas who won’t be here right away,” Minicozzi said.
The roster continues to be a work in progress, with new signings coming in on nearly a daily basis. One of the recent pickups includes a player with local ties, former Marshall pitcher Aaron Blair.
Blair, now 28, was chosen in the first round of the 2013 MLB draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks and pitched in parts of two seasons (2016-17) with the Atlanta Braves. He was dealt from Arizona to Atlanta as part of a 2015 trade that sent Dansby Swanson to the Braves.
“That was a big signing for us,” Minicozzi said of Blair. “The fact that he was a first-round pick tells you what kind of talent he is.”
Blair was released by Atlanta in 2018 and picked up by Arizona before the start of the 2020 season. When last year’s minor league season was erased by COVID-19, Blair was released by the Diamondbacks and has been looking for his new baseball home ever since. He found it with the Power.
“We’ve been talking to him for two months. We wanted to give him time to figure out which way he wanted to go,” Minicozzi said. “He had a couple workouts with major-league teams that didn’t pan out, and he decided he was ready to sign for the season with us. We’re super-excited to have him.
“We hope we can provide him with a few starting outings and hope he gets a call from the big leagues before long.”
Minicozzi said Blair is already slotted into the number two spot in the Power’s regular-season starting rotation, behind likely opening-day starter David Kubiak.
Kubiak, 31, hasn’t yet made it to the major leagues, but he’s quite familiar with the Atlantic League. He spent four seasons in the league (2016-19), compiling a 27-18 record, including a 7-1 mark with a 1.76 ERA with Somerset in 2019.
“He has been one of the most dominant pitchers in the Atlantic League over the last few years,” Minicozzi said of Kubiak. “With him and Blair, that’s two aces. We’re really fortunate to have those two guys at the top of the rotation.”
Other recent Power signings include Albert Callespo, a 38-year-old infielder from Venezuela with 10 years major-league experience with six different clubs — Angels, Royals, Diamondbacks, Athletics, Dodgers and Braves. His best season was with the Angels in 2011, when he batted .288 in 141 games, playing second base and third base.
Mike Broadway, who pitched in 25 games for the San Francisco Giants in 2015-16, is another recent signing, and Minicozzi said he’s in the running to be the Power’s closer out of the bullpen.
Some other recent Power signings of note:
n Hunter Cervenka, a 31-year-old left-handed pitcher who pitched in 68 games for the Braves and the Miami Marlins in 2016, all in relief.
n Misael Silverio, a 31-year-old left-handed pitcher from Cuba with 12 seasons of international pro competition under his belt.
n Scott Kelly, a 30-year-old utility infielder who is a six-year Atlantic League veteran with Somerset.
n Elmer Reyes, another 30-year-old utility infielder with 10 years experience in pro ball from the Atlantic League to Class AAA.
The Power has also had a couple of subtractions from its roster, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Two of the first four players signed by the Power, pitcher Rob Whelan and catcher Francisco Arcia, recently signed free-agent deals with MLB clubs — Whelan with the Minnesota Twins and Arcia with the Los Angeles Angels.
Minicozzi says that’s indicative of the kind of talent we’ll see this summer at Appalachian Power Park.
“The majority of the guys we’ve signed were in spring training or getting ready for spring training with big-league clubs. They’re veterans, they know what they need to do to get back there.”
It won’t be long until we get a taste of what the new-look West Virginia Power is all about.