STARTING OFF HOT
The Power started their 2019 season with arguably the most stacked roster across the Mariners' farm system, boasting top talents in right-handed pitcher Logan Gilbert and outfielders Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez, who would end the season as the top three prospects in the Mariners organization. Reliever Nolan Hoffman rounded out the quartet of ranked players that began the year in The Capital City.
Bound with a tight-knit group of 11 guys making their full-season debut and a their bevy of prospects, West Virginia got off to a rip-roaring start in April, boasting a 17-7 record, their second-best start in team history. There were many reasons for the Power's early success, but one large factor was their fantastic rotation, which included Gilbert, right-handers Clay Chandler and Ryne Inman and lefty Steven Moyers, along with righty Damon Casetta-Stubbs, who joined the fray in mid-April. Through the season's first stanza, the entire pitching staff recorded a 2.59 ERA, the seventh-best ERA in the Minor Leagues, and third-best in all of Low-A baseball. Gilbert was a large part of that, as the Power won all five games that the Stetson product pitched in, while the righty went 1-0 with a 1.59 ERA in his first 22.2 innings as a professional. As a staff, West Virginia hurled five shutouts, tied for the most across MiLB, while Chandler led the way with a minuscule 0.31 ERA (second-best in MiLB) that blossomed from three quality starts and a 19-inning scoreless streak that earned him SAL Pitcher of the Week honors from April 22-28.
In addition to the stellar pitching, Kelenic recovered from a horrendous first seven games (2-for-25 with nine strikeouts) to become one of the most feared hitters in the South Atlantic League. The left-handed slugger put together an 18-game hitting streak (April 11-May 2), tied with Bobby Honeyman as the longest streak for the Power this season, and third-longest in the SAL, as well as a 26-game on-base streak (April 10-May 9). During his hitting streak, Kelenic roasted Sally League pitching to the tune of a .444 clip with six home runs, 11 doubles and 17 RBI. The prospect had to pick up the slack for Julio, who was placed on the injured list April 16 after he got hit by a pitch and suffered a hairline fracture in his wrist that put him out for two months. At the time of his injury, J-Rod held a .355 stroke with three RBI.
One of the most thrilling moments of the season came at the tail end of April, when the Power were in the midst of a possible perfect homestand against the Columbia Fireflies and Asheville Tourists. After sweeping Columbia, West Virginia won the first game against Asheville, but were trailing 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth on April 26 with Tourists' closer Alexander Martinez on the mound. However, magic was in the air that evening, as Dean Nevarez slammed a two-run walk-off homer 419 feet to give the Power their first walk-off homer of the season and a 4-3 win. Nevarez was the first Power batter to hit a walk-off home run since Ryan Peurifoy on May 1, 2018, as well as the first West Virginia slugger to tally a multi-homer game since Dylan Busby (May 9, 2018, at Hagerstown). Kelenic and Nevarez then became the first pair of Power batters in team history to record separate multi-homer games on consecutive days in team history when Kelenic left the yard twice on April 27.
The 5-1 over Asheville on April 27 capped off the Power's best home start in team history, as they won 11 of their first 12 games in Charleston. They also put together a 10-game home winning streak, the longest since a 13-gamer from July 17-August 15, 2017.
A CALENDAR TURN LEADS TO SOUR RESULTS
As great as the month of April was for West Virginia, the month of May was equally as awful, and it all started with the beginning of a tumultuous season series with the Greensboro Grasshoppers, who possessed 12 former Power players on their roster during the team's first series meeting in early May. Greensboro tortured West Virginia over their two four-game sets in May, winning all eight games and outscoring the Power by 29 runs. The Grasshopper bats thrived against West Virginia, hitting .323 and raising the Power's ERA against them to 6.75, while West Virginia managed just a paltry .212 clip versus Greensboro in the first half.
Besides the suffocating pair of series with the Grasshoppers in May, two major promotions in the month subdued the Power on both sides of the field. Gilbert was promoted on May 1 to High-A Modesto, and Kelenic joined him in California May 29. West Virginia was swept four times in May (Charleston once, Greensboro twice and Kannapolis once), and posted a 10-20 record overall. The Power's 20 losses were the most by any team in the SAL in May, while the team's 5.44 ERA was the highest on the circuit. West Virginia had not dropped 20 games in a single month since May 2012, while the staff had not slotted in a higher monthly ERA since April 2012.
Despite the record woes, several players started to find their rhythm, none more so than Honeyman, who hit .280 in May after holding an absymal .156 average in April. Meanwhile, catcher Jake Anchia and first baseman Onil Pena's power strokes kicked in, as Pena cranked six homers while Anchia ripped five long balls and led the team with 14 RBI in May. However, Kelenic's late May bump really hit the offense hard, as the team would put together a .231 clip for the rest of the year, fourth-lowest in the SAL.
West Virginia did still keep its flare for the dramatic, notching two walk-off wins in one series against the Lexington Legends, where Nevarez worked a walk-off walk May 26 in 10 innings after he smacked a grand slam in the eighth and Kelenic tied it in the ninth with a solo bomb. Two days later, Pena had a walk-off sacrifice fly in game one of a twin bill.
The month of May also saw the emergence of two newcomers to the Power rotation, with RHPs Deivy Florido and Josias De Los Santos coming up from rookie ball in the first week. De Los Santos struggled mightily in his first three starts, but a move to the bullpen and then a piggy-backing role with Florido helped him settle in to the league, while Florido shined in his first start with West Virginia. The righty tossed 5.1 innings of one-run ball against the Augusta GreenJackets and struck out five before following that up with two more scoreless outings. Meanwhile, Dayeison Arias and Bryan Pall emerged as the Power's new late-inning tandem in place of Hoffman, whose season ended in early May due to Tommy John surgery.
ENDING THE FIRST HALF ON A HIGH NOTE
Battling back from a rough May stretch, West Virginia faced an uphill battle to make the playoffs in the first half. While they were basically out of contention, they did not play like it in June, as they swept their last seven games of the half, including three against the first-place and eventual first-half champion Delmarva Shorebirds. That run saw Anchia spark some late-inning fireworks, as his eighth-inning grand slam off Tim Naughton June 10 gave the Power a 5-4 lead and an eventual win, while Inman spun the first complete game of his career against Hagerstown in a doubleheader finale on June 15.
Julio also returned from the injured list on June 10 and hit his first home run with the Power against the Hagerstown Suns in their final first half series.
Four Power players were named to the South Atlantic League Midseason All-Star team in 2019, Anchia was tabbed as the starting catcher for the Northern Division and joined pitchers Arias, Chandler and Pall on the squad. Anchia hit .227 in the first half with nine homers and 25 RBI, while Arias ended the first half on a 20-inning streak of not allowing an earned run (15 appearances) and locked in a 1.33 ERA in 22 games. Meanwhile, Chandler went 7-3 with a 3.56 ERA in 14 games and Pall collected a 3.10 mark in 17 outings with three saves.
AN ALL-STAR WEEK TO REMEMBER
The 2019 South Atlantic League All-Star Game took place at Appalachian Power Park on June 18 in front of a sold-out crowd of 6,237 fans. The game rounded out a tremendous All-Star Experience in Charleston, beginning Monday with a kickball game at Shawnee Sports Complex with the Boys and Girls Club of South Charleston. Monday evening showcased a FanFest at Haddad Riverfront Park that included an autograph signing and a performance by the Davisson Brothers Band. The All-Star Game festivities kicked off on Tuesday, as the All-Star Luncheon was held at the newly-renovated Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center, with Andy McKay, the Mariners' Director of Player Development, slated as the Keynote Speaker. The ballpark gates opened at 5 p.m. for the Official Tailgate Party, while the Home Run Derby commenced at 6 p.m. Hickory's Curtis Terry took home the crown for the Northern Division with 30 combined bombs. The contest began at 7:35 p.m. and was scoreless through the first five innings. Charleston's Brandon Lockridge then led off the sixth with a pinch-hit two-run homer to give the Southern Division a 2-0 lead. However, the Northern Division surged back in the eighth, posting a five-run frame highlighted by Delmarva's Doran Turchin drilling a three-run double to put the Northern squad ahead for good. Pall tossed a 1-2-3 second inning, while Anchia went 0-for-1 and Arias recorded the final out on a fly ball to right. Chandler did not pitch in the Northern Division's 6-2 win.
SECOND HALF SEES NEW FACES IN CHARLESTON
The Power stumbled out of the gates in the second half, dropping six of their 11 games in June to quickly fall four games out of first place in the Northern Division. However, the month of July saw wholesale changes made to West Virginia's roster, including the additions of 2019 draft picks infielder Mike Salvatore (9th) and reliever Reeves Martin (21st). Two weeks later, six more 2019 draft picks/free agent signees came to Charleston, with third baseman Austin Shenton (5th) leading the pack. RHPs Evan Johnson and Nate Fisher (both non-drafted free agents) joined the rotation, while Reid Morgan (13th), Logan Rinehart (16th) and Travis Kuhn (19th) merged with the relief corps.
With these new members, the Power's rotation underwent a sizable turnover, as Chandler and Moyers both were promoted to High-A Modesto, along with infielder Joseph Rosa on the heels of his SAL Player of the Week award and utility man David Sheaffer. Moyers had a career start at the beginning of July, spinning 8.1 innings and striking out a career-best 10 batters in his team-high 12th quality start of the season against Hickory. That start let Moyers surpass the century mark in innings pitched and strikeouts, become the first SAL hurler in 2019 to accomplish that feat. His 8.1-inning gem was the Power's second of the year (Chandler, June 4 at Hickory), tied for the second-longest start in team history. Meanwhile, Moyers leveled himself with Dario Agrazal for the most quality starts by a Power pitcher in team history. Finally, Moyers handled most of West Virginia's 1-0 win that night against Hickory, marking the Power's fifth 1-0 win of the season, the most in team history.
MORE HISTORY IN THE MAKING
Even though the overall results on the field were not falling into place, West Virginia pitchers continued to etch themselves into the history books in the later months. RHP Devin Sweet, in the midst of a tremendous second half in which he became a full-time starter for the Power, hurled the first nine-inning complete game in team history on July 28 at Rome. Sweet recorded 12 strikeouts in his performance, the second-most punchouts by a West Virginia starter in Power history (Tyler Glasnow, 13, 2013). The Greensboro native put himself on the prospect radar in the second half, compiling a 2.59 ERA in his first 12 pro starts, the third-lowest mark in the league from June 16 to the end of the season. Ultimately, Sweet finished with the second-most strikeouts on the team with 131 (Inman, 146).
Inman, meanwhile, put his own name in the Power record books basically two weeks later, twirling the first-ever nine-inning complete game shutout in team history against the Lakewood BlueClaws August 8. In that outing, Inman also struck out 12 batters, joining Sweet as the only two Power hurlers with multiple double-digit strikeout games in 2019. Inman also became the second pitcher to toss a complete-game shutout in the SAL this year (Colten Schmidt, Asheville). Inman was rewarded for his efforts with a South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Week honor, the Power's third and final weekly award of the season.
THE DOG DAYS OF SUMMER
With the roster in a constant state of flux, West Virginia posted below .500 records in the last two months of the season (July, 13-15 and August, 12-16). More of the Power's key cogs in their system earned promotions to Modesto, including Arias, Anchia, Julio and Sweet. In total, the Power had 101 transactions this season and sent 17 players to Modesto.
Julio put together a banner second half for West Virginia before his elevation, averaging .275 with nine homers and 41 RBI in 51 games. The star-studded outfielder capped his time with the Power with a career-high six-RBI night in his penultimate game in Delmarva, going 3-for-5 with his first career grand slam. He also hit safely in 14 of his final 17 games in the South Atlantic League.
Unfortunately, the injury bug also bit West Virginia down the stretch, as Sal Biasi, Kyle Hill, Inman, Pall and Shenton all spent significant time on the injured list in the second half, forcing additional turnover in the Power's clubhouse.
END OF SEASON SUPERLATIVES
The team seesawed through the final two weeks of the season, claiming four wins in a row, including a three-game sweep of Lakewood that saw the Power grab their sixth 1-0 win of the season, from August 22-25. They then dropped five straight to Lexington and Greensboro before snagging the final two games of the year to pull themselves within one game of .500 at 69-70. On the final day of the season, Mariners' No. 16 prospect RHP Juan Then wrapped up his season with a flourish, spinning five no-hit innings. The Power ultimately carried the no-hit bid through 7.1 innings and still managed to post a 2-0 shutout win over Greensboro, the team's 13th of the season, tied for the most in team history with the 2011 and 2016 Power squads.
Honeyman was tabbed as the team's only SAL Annual All-Star at third base, securing his second consecutive Year-End honor and becoming the third Power player ever to receive the league's postseason honor at third base (Mat Gamel, 2006 and Taylor Green, 2007). Since July 3, Honeyman was the best hitter in the South Atlantic League, averaging .341 (also the third-best mark in all of Class A and A+ baseball) with two homers, 25 RBI, 28 runs and just 24 strikeouts in 182 at-bats. In that stretch, Honeyman worked in an 18-game hitting streak, the longest of his career, and also hit safely in 38 of his final 47 games. The infielder led the Power with 33 multi-hit games as well.
Fellow infielder Matt Sanders also concluded his season with an effective final month, posting a .315 average, the fourth-highest clip in the SAL since July 28, with four homers and 13 RBI in his last 32 games.
The Power pitching staff broke a lot of barriers in 2019, including the 1200-strikeout plateau, as the arms combined to fan 1270 opposing hitters this season, by far the most by a West Virginia club in team history. Meanwhile, the Power's offense was home run-heavy this year, as the team's 103 homers were third-most in team history (128 in 2007 and 105 in 2010).
Overall, the team's 69 wins are tied for eighth-most by a Power squad, while their .496 winning percentage is sixth-worst and their 21.5-game back finish is second-worst all-time (2012, -22.5 GB).
AFRICAN AMERICAN HERITAGE NIGHT NAMED PROMO OF THE MONTH FINALIST:
The 2019 season was highlighted by a diversified promotional slate, returning old favorites such as Redneck Night and all of the weekly promotions from 2018, along with inserting new ideas to welcome new communities and organizations to the ballpark. For the 15th season at Appalachian Power Park, the focus was on looking back and honoring those who made baseball in Charleston possible, while also looking forward to the future and getting everyone excited about the continued existence of the Power in The Capital City.
Several giveaways were strewn out throughout the season, including a 15 Years of the Power canvas that recognized 15 of the top Power players in team history, as voted on by the fans. Patrons also had the chance to get a Cole Tucker and Austin Meadows bobblehead, a Jarred Kelenic prospect T-shirt, a back-to-school backpack, an All-Star Game-branded tumbler and more.
The promotional schedule received a huge boost in 2019, starting on Opening Weekend with Welcome to Seattle Night, an evening dedicated to educating fans about the city the Power's new Major League affiliate, the Seattle Mariners, calls home. The team's Redneck Night, a fan favorite from a few years back, made its way back to the park in conjunction with the Meadows bobblehead, as the former Power outfielder was crafted donning a camouflage jersey.
The primary focus for the Power's theme nights in 2019 was to bring new communities out to the ballpark and recognize them as a part of the fabric of Charleston. That occurred in droves, as the team hosted their first Pride Night on June 6, African American Heritage Night on August 5 and Deaf and Hard of Hearing Awareness Night on August 30, among others. African American Heritage Night was such a large success that it was named a finalist for Minor League Baseball's August/September Promotion of the Month. The evening brought 3,368 fans to the ballpark, the Power's biggest Monday night crowd since July 2013.
The Power players and staff were All-Stars in giving back to the community in 2019, contributing more than 300 combined hours as a team, while Power catchers Anchia and Manny Pazos led the way individually with 12.5 hours each and numerous players added at least 10 or more hours throughout the year. The team went to visit the Nitro Challenger Little League, hosted a Youth Baseball Camp, spoke at schools and local YMCAs, took care of animals at the Humane Association and visited patients at local hospitals.
The Power also honored 43 different organizations as their Community Organization of the Game this season, blowing past the 2018 bar (10). The team also expanded their partnerships with the United Way of Central West Virginia, the Charleston Area Medical Center and the Humane Association.
Finally, the Power was able to raise $14,944 through eight live auctions on the LiveSource app throughout the season. All of the proceeds went to Power Baseball Charities and various other local organizations throughout the Kanawha Valley.
Though the Power did not make the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, the 2019 season was certainly a winning one on many counts. From the sold-out South Atlantic League All-Star Game to national recognition for several of this year's promotions and the start of a wonderful partnership with the Seattle Mariners, the 2019 campaign set a promising precedent for a new era of the West Virginia Power. The 2020 season will be even better, and we cannot wait to experience it alongside you, our loyal and faithful fans.
See you April 9 at Appalachian Power Park for the 2020 season opener!
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.