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Power hitters thriving for ex-Pirate Merced

AP file
Pirates batter Orlando Merced watches his first-inning sacrifice fly off Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz in Game 7 of the NLCS on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 1992, in Atlanta. The sacrifice scored Alex Cole for the Pirates' first run.

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By Ryan Pritt
Saturday, April 20, 2013, 11:24 p.m.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Former Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman/outfielder Orlando Merced is helping Class A-affiliate West Virginia put the power back in Appalachian Power Park.

The team is 7-9 through Friday's games, but its hitting statistics are more impressive than its win-loss record.

The Power lead the South Atlantic League in team batting average (.289), RBIs (93), runs (98), on-base percentage (.369), slugging percentage (.454), and OPS (.824). The team also ranks second in the league in home runs (16) and doubles (36).

Much of the credit has to go to Merced, who was hired as the team's hitting coach before the season.

“My job is easy,” Merced said. “I'm working with kids that are very talented. They look at me as someone that has experience — a ‘been there, done that' type of thing. But I don't take any credit because these guys are talented.”

To his point, four of West Virginia's everyday position players are hitting better than .300.

“There's no doubt, what we're seeing now and what is happening now is what we expected of these kids,” Merced said. “If you look at the players here, these are major league-caliber players. It's a lot of games left, obviously, but we try to take it one day at a time and work the best way we can and continue to try and turn max effort into excellence and become champions.”

Power Allie

Stetson Allie, the prized pitching prospect turned everyday hitter, has more than thrived after struggling a bit in the Gulf Coast League last season.

The first baseman/designated hitter has hit six home runs, tied for tops in the league, and driven in a league-high 18 runs after hitting just three homers with 19 RBI in 42 games last season.

Merced compared Allie to Mark McGwire in terms of raw power.

“He's a very hard worker and he's very hard-headed in what he's doing,” Merced said. “This kid is legit. He's got power and a very good sense of the strike zone at this young age.

“We're looking at a guy that if he continues to work as he has been, he should be in the big leagues pretty soon.”

From Orlando to Orlando

While Orlando Merced has the Power offense humming, pitcher Orlando Castro has put together a trio of solid starts on the mound to lead West Virginia's pitching staff.

Castro has amassed a 1-1 record and a 1.17 ERA while striking out 15 without yielding a home run or a walk. His WHIP of 0.72 is fourth-best in the league.

He was scheduled to make his fourth start Sunday afternoon.

Ryan Pritt is a freelance writer.

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