West Virginia Black Bears look to take home a Championship in Inaugural season

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As you already know, The Pittsburgh Pirates Short Season A team, the West Virginia Black Bears, have advanced to the New York-Penn League Championship Series against the Staten Island Yankees. This best of three series will get started on Monday, September 14th at Monongalia County Ballpark in Morgantown, West Virginia. Then the series will shift to Staten Island for Game Two and Game Three(if necessary).

In order to bring the fans a better perspective of the Staten Island Yankees, I had a chance to do a Question and Answer session with Ricky Keeler (@rickinator555) of Yanks Go Yard, the Yankees site here on the Fansided network. Ricky covers the Staten Island Yankees for the site and gave us some insight to what to watch for with the Staten Island Yankees. Be sure to give @YanksGoYardFS a follow on Twitter and also Like their Facebook page. Here is my Q&A with Ricky:

Justin: Who are the key offensive players that we should keep an eye on when the SI Yankees come to bat?

Ricky: One of the hottest hitters in the Staten Island lineup of late has been right fielder Trey Amburgey. Since joining Staten Island on August 15, Amburgey is hitting .367 with five home runs and 19 RBI’s to go with a .381 on-base percentage. He is 6-for-18 in his last five games with a home run, three RBI’s, and three runs scored. At the top of the order, left fielder Zach Zehner and center fielder Jeff Hendrix are a good 1-2 punch that can get cause havoc on the base (29 combined stolen bases). An X-Factor in this lineup is Junior Valera. Valera has multi-hit games in three of his last six outings, has stolen nine bases this year and he can play all three outfield positions plus second base. Valera had the walk-off double in Game 1 of their series against Tri-City.

Justin: If the starting pitchers have been announced, what can you tell us about their performance this season? If they haven’t been, who would you expect to be named as the starters for each game?

Ricky: Robert Pimpsner of Pinstriped Prospects was the first to report the starters. Tonight, it will be Kolton Mahoney who takes the ball for Staten Island. Mahoney, who was the Yankees’ 16th round pick in this year’s draft out of BYU, has been one of the more consistent starters in this rotation all year. He has had back-to-back outings in which he has gone seven innings and he has a 0.90 ERA in his last three starts. Plus, Mahoney has not given up more than three runs in any start this season.

In Game 2, James Kaprielian is expected to start. New York took him with the 16th pick in this year’s draft out of UCLA. While he got a late start to his season, he was dominant against Tri-City last Wednesday. He went six innings, gave up one run on four hits and struck out four batters. The one thing that was impressive about that start was that he did not have a two-ball count on any hitter until the fifth inning. If this series goes to a Game 3, Domingo Acevedo, who was named the short-season pitcher of the year by Baseball America, would get the start and he has the ability to reach 100 miles per hour on his fastball. He has given up one earned run over his last 18 innings.

Justin: Who are the key pitchers out of the bullpen that we may see in the series?

Ricky:All season long, manager Pat Osborn has talked about how the bullpen has been one of the major strengths of his team. They were tied with the Black Bears for the most saves in the league this year (25). Two players to watch are Jonny Drozd and Michael Schaub. Drozd has a 1.24 ERA in 18 appearances this year and he has not given up a run in each of his last four outings. In Game 1 against Tri-City, he kept the Baby Bombers in the game by throwing three innings of one-hit ball. As for Schaub, he has six saves and a 1.37 ERA in 20 outings. He has not given up a run in nine of his last ten outings and he has eight strikeouts in his last four games.

Justin: Staten Island came to Morgantown during the regular season and suffered a three game sweep, was this just a down series for the Yankees? How have they improved since this series?

Ricky: To me, that was a down series for the Yankees as they have found their form of late as winners of their last six games. The main reason for improvements has been the addition of Amburgey to the lineup and more experience for Kevin Cornelius at third base. Cornelius was making his Penn-League debut in that West Virginia series and he has a .381 on-base percentage over his last 16 games. I expect this series to have three close games when you look at the fact that all three games in Morgantown back in July were decided by three runs or fewer.

Justin: Out of the current lineup/pitching staff who has the best chance to climb through the Yankees system and make it to the majors sooner rather than later?

Ricky: When you look at possible Major Leaguers down the road, it’s in the pitching staff. Kaprielian may have had a late start to the season, but his manager has talked about how he shows great maturity and he is getting his fastball up into the mid 90’s  in velocity to go with some nasty breaking pitches. Another pitcher would be Acevedo. If he can develop his offspeed pitches to go with his lightening quick fastball, he has the potential to rise up the Yankees’ farm system. On offense, Amburgey is a name I would continue to monitor since he has adjusted well to Penn-League pitching and has not slumped since being called up. He won hitter of the week twice down the stretch and is one of the reasons why Staten Island is here in the championship series.

Justin: The SI Yankees team has won the New York Penn League Championship six times. What would you consider to be the key factors for them to win a seventh? 

Ricky: The main factor is going to be the starting pitching. If Mahoney and Kaprielian can put up consistent outings, I like Staten Island’s chances to win this series. Plus, I think this series will come down to the battle of the outfields as West Virginia has two All-Star outfielders in their lineup, including power-hitting Logan Hill. As I said earlier, this series should be close the whole way and it will come down to who gets the big hits in the big spots.

I had the privilege of being a guest on Yanks Go Yard for a Question and Answer session with Ricky. Here is a link for you to check out what I had to say about the West Virginia Black Bears.

Please make sure to keep an eye out for our Black Bears/Yankees recaps as well as the Minor League Minute in the upcoming days as we keep you up to date on the Minor League Playoffs!

Next: Minor League Minute - September 14th

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