Power hopes to continue run as team returns home
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When Pittsburgh Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington made the trip last weekend to Charleston to watch his low Class A affiliate, the West Virginia Power, play four games against the Lexington Legends, he saw both success and struggles. The Power won the first two games, then dropped the second two.
Yet Huntington's mission wasn't to judge the Power on its performance in a four-game span. It was to gain insight on a group of players for the long haul.
"Our lens with these guys is how are they going to perform at the Major League level and how do we get them to perform at the Major League level?" he said. "How do we get them to perform at whatever their highest level is going to be?"
Those are the two sides of minor league baseball that don't always mesh. The fans in the stands would like to watch their team win.
The parent team's front office wants to see the players move up its system's ladder and one day earn a Major League roster spot.
Power Manager Mike Ryan doesn't see a problem in satisfying both at the same time.
"I don't think you juggle it, honestly," he said. "I think the most important thing is to develop them to get them ready to play in the Major Leagues. If you do that correctly, if they get their work in and do the things they're supposed to be doing, the wins will come."
That philosophy has been working for West Virginia following a slow start, and the team hopes it continues as it returns to start a seven-game homestand tonight at 7:05 versus Lakewood. The Power (24-22) comes into the game on a roll, sweeping a three-game series at Kannapolis. West Virginia pummeled Intimidators pitchers over those three games, scoring 28 runs on 41 hits. On Wednesday, the Power scored eight runs on 17 hits for the sweep-clinching 8-6 win.
And that's happened as Ryan has made developing his players his top priority. As they become better hitters, series like the one against Kannapolis become more commonplace. Huntington said the young pitchers in the Pirates system need to be able to throw effective changeups. The path to that changeup might be littered with a few extra-base hits, but when the pitcher finally gets there, he has another pitch in his arsenal.
"We're not going to put guys in situations where we just try to win a game - you know, put a squeeze on with Josh Bell at third base and put him in danger just to try to get a win in the bottom of the ninth," Ryan said. "It's not going to happen.
"As far as developing them and me running a game, you don't juggle it," he said. "It'll take care of itself."
For the month of May, it has. West Virginia began the South Atlantic League season at 9-15. Since then, the Power has gone 15-7. It's second in the SAL in batting average and runs scored and moved to eighth in team ERA after spending much of April at the bottom of the league.
Huntington said the growth the Power players have shown until now is the most important aspect of the season, but he also enjoys the fact that growth also is showing in the SAL standings.
"We want to win every game we play, don't get me wrong," he said. "But there are things we have to do along the way to help them grow and help them develop and our lens is more future-oriented than just balls and strikes and hits and outs in tonight's game."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.