Black Bears to be team in transition as draftees arrive

The West Virginia Black Bears team that takes the field for its season opener Monday night will have changed dramatically by the time the Black Bears return to Monongalia County Ballpark on June 28.

“We won’t have a single player from the draft on the opening-day roster,” said Larry Broadway, the parent Pittsburgh Pirates’ director of minor-league operations. “That’s a challenge.”

Major League Baseball’s draft was pushed back this year. A year ago, it ended on a Saturday, giving teams time to sign players and assign them to short-season teams, like the Black Bears.

This year’s draft concluded Wednesday, which means those players won’t be available when the New York-Penn League starts.

Pittsburgh also has two other short-season clubs: Bristol, Va., in the Appalachian League, and the Gulf Coast League (GCL) Pirates, in Bradenton, Fla.

The Black Bears’ roster will initially be made up of players from the Pirates’ extended spring training camp, in Bradenton, Fla. Those players arrived in Morgantown on Friday.

Broadway expects the roster to be in a state of constant flux as the draft picks sign and report.

“We’ll have guys start in Morgantown who are then going to have to trickle down to Bristol or trickle back to the GCL,” he said. “Fortunately, there’s three or four days in between the start of each of those seasons. It gives us a little bit of time, but not a ton of time to get guys signed and conditioned to play.

“Hopefully, most of them have been preparing to play, the pitchers have been throwing off mounds and hitters have been chasing some level of velocity and are ready to compete right away — or at least within a couple days after signing.”

Black Bears manager Brian Esposito is familiar with the early season roster shuffle in the NYPL. He managed at Jamestown, N.Y., in 2014, the year before the Jammers moved to Morgantown. To Esposito, the changing roster does not affect the way he and his coaching staff go about their business.

“Whoever lands on our door step, we bring them in, we get them better and help move them along,” he said. “I don’t really put too much thought into who we are going to get and when we’re going to get them.

“I’ll have approximately
30 guys here to start the season. When they get in, I’m going to invest my time in those guys and let everything else sort itself out as we go along.”

Broadway believes Esposito — who spent the first part of this season roving the Pirates’ system as the catching coordinator — is the right man to lead the Black Bears this summer.

“Tons of passion, tons of intensity,” he said of Esposito’s strengths. “Just a very smart baseball man.”

Esposito and his players should benefit from the environment in Morgantown, with the ballpark and the fan support. Broadway said the partnership between the Black Bears and the Pirates has been “really good. It’s really great being so close to the city of Pittsburgh and Pirate baseball territory, so there are a lot of fans down there. It’s a great city, a college town and a good transition point for our young guys. Just all in all a great setup we have.”

Todd Murray is a sports reporter for The Dominion Post. Write to him at