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W.Va. Power hosting Savannah to open season Thursday

Players introduced to media and season-ticket holders tonight

Adopt-a-Player program back for 2015 

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — No foolin’, professional baseball back. Here, in the state’s capital, it begins Thursday when the West Virginia Power open a seven-game home stand, hosting the Savannah Sand Gnats for four games piggybacked by the Hagerstown Suns for a three-game set. Those are the teams, but what about the players?

POWER TEAM PROMOTIONS: “The first 1,000 fans through the gates when they open at  6 p.m. will receive a power seat cushion presented by Suddenlink and Charleston’s ESPN Radio 104.5 FM and 1490.  The first 2,500 fans will receive a schedule magnet presented by West Virginia Radio Corporation and Suddenlink. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.  Enjoy $1 12 oz. drafts and $2 16 oz. cans during the game as we kick off our first Thirsty Thursday of 2015, presented by 96.1 The Wolf. Opening Night will conclude with a post-game fireworks display.”WV Power Logo

In the twilight of spring training, rosters are essentially set. The Power’s roster will not likely be released until … the baby Bucs roll into town after basking in the baseball sun in Bradenton, Fla., for the past six or seven weeks.

A person who has a good read on the Power’s potential roster is Tim Williams, owner and editor-in-chief of Pirates Prospects. He moved to Bradenton two years ago, where he can provide coverage of spring training, the high-A Bradenton Marauders, rehabilitating players, extended spring training, instructs and mini-camps.

He has watched plenty of the players who will be roaming Appalachian Power Park for the next five months.

“Bench guys, bullpen guys, those are going to be a little more difficult,” Williams said. “For the most part you know the lineups, the starting pitchers and a lot of the guys who are going to be long relievers.”

If you’re an Appalachian Power Park regular, you might be a bit spoiled by what has come through Charleston in the past few years. Hurlers Brandon Cumpton and Jameson Taillon were part of the 2011 team, and Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson were considered breakout farmhands in 2012. All Polanco did was hit 16 home runs and steal 40 bases three years ago, and now he’s a Pirates regular who hit seven homers and swiped 15 bases in 89 games as a rookie last season.

Pitcher-turned-slugger Stetson Allie enjoyed a breakout in 2013 here, clubbing 17 homers in 66 games before a well-deserved promotion. That team also featured Tyler Glasnow, Baseball America’s top Pirates prospect this year. Glasnow struck out 164 batters in 111 innings before moving to Bradenton last season. Last year, Jacoby Jones surprised with 23 homers and 17 stolen bases for the Power, but he has moved on, too.

So who will it be? Will this year’s Power team feature the same level of star power?

“It’s almost unfair for the expectations,” Williams said.

One player seemingly destined for the Power’s clubhouse next week is shortstop Cole Tucker, the Pirates’ 2014 first-round pick (No. 24 overall). Tucker is a 6-foot-3, 185-pound switch hitter who signed for $1.8 million after last year’s draft.

“He’s the big one,” Williams said. “He’ll be getting that aggressive push up to West Virginia. He’s only 18 years old, so he’ll be one of the youngest guys at the level.”

Tucker hit .267 with two home runs, 13 RBI and 13 steals in 48 games with the Pirates’ Gulf Coast League team in 2014. He debuted at that level at 17 years old.

The Pirates’ second and fifth picks last year are also expected in Charleston sometime this season. Both players will be making a transition at a position. Connor Joe, taken with the 39th overall pick in the 2014 draft, and Jordan Luplow, selected No. 100 overall, are moving from outfield to a corner infield spot.

“They drafted two outfielders out of college … both of them are moving to third base this year in West Virginia,” Williams said. “Luplow will get the bulk of time at third base at the start of the year. Connor Joe will split between first base and third base.”

Tito Polo doesn’t just have the name, he has the game. The 5-10, 150-pound outfielder is one to watch, according to Williams.

“He’s a very toolsy guy,” Williams said. “He’s shorter than guys in the past like (Starling) Marte and (Gregory) Polanco, but he can hit to all fields, he’s a very speedy guy and he has a strong arm.”

One pitcher to monitor is Stephen Tarpley, a 6-1, 180-pound lefty. Tarpley was acquired from the Baltimore Orioles in January as part of the Travis Snider trade. Tarpley is 22 and has never pitched above short-season league, but Williams said the 2013 third-round draft pick could rack up strikeout totals in the South Atlantic League.

“He can hit 95 miles per hour, sits in the low 90s,” Williams said. “Good stuff, good numbers.”

Another starter or two could emerge, and there are potential high-strikeout arms in long reliever roles, but the concentration this season will certainly be the bats.

“A lot of the trend is the Pirates are drafting bats,” Williams said. “The pitching doesn’t look as good this year, but it looks like they have a lot of options. There’s no real standout.”

Six of the Pirates’ first nine draft picks in 2014 were position players. Five of the first seven in 2013 were bats, too.

That means if Charleston is likely to see a prospect make a big leap this season, look in the field and not on the mound.

“For a while there it was every single year you guys had the breakout player,” Williams said. “Polanco and Hansen, then Glasnow, Jacoby Jones last year. They way the Pirates draft, they draft for upside and they draft guys who are either going to hit big or you’re going to miss big. They’re not going to get guys who will put up decent numbers in A-ball and be OK until they fade out in AA or AAA.”

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