April Prospects Rundown: Altoona Curve

Altoona is a very interesting team to watch for the 2010 season.  It is host to some of the top prospects in the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system.  The starting rotation includes top pitching prospects like Rudy Owens and Tim Alderson.  The infield has three of the top middle infield prospects in the Pirates system in Chase d’Arnaud, Jordy Mercer, and Josh Harrison.  Even the bullpen has talent, with back of the bullpen prospects like Ronald Uviedo and Daniel Moskos.

Here is a quick breakdown of the first month of the season, with players who played up to expectations, some surprises, and some disappointments.
Good as Advertised
Jordy MercerMercer may be a bit of a surprise in that he not only made the jump from high-A to AA with no issues, but that he’s also hitting better in AA than he did at high-A.  Mercer hit for a .296/.367/.493 line in the month of April, with two home runs in 71 at-bats.  Even better, he’s only striking out 14% of the time, down from 18% last year, which wasn’t horrible, but it’s nice to see improvement.  He’s also walking at a higher ratio than his high-A season.

Matt HagueHague hasn’t seemed to have trouble at any of the levels he’s been at in his short minor league career.  So it should be no surprise that he started out his AA campaign by hitting for a .281/.356/.438 line in 64 April at-bats, with two home runs.  Hague is also doing excellent in the strikeout department (10.9%).  He’s shown flashes of power, but nothing yet to pencil him in as the future first baseman in Pittsburgh.

Rudy OwensAfter a breakout season in 2009, Owens has picked up where he left off at the AA level.  In his first four starts of the season, Owens put up a 3.57 ERA in 22.2 innings, with a 17:2 K/BB ratio, and only one home run allowed.  His K/9 ratio last year was 8.1 in low-A, and 8.5 in high-A, but is just 6.7 this year.  It would be nice to see those numbers improve as the season goes on.

Daniel MoskosMoskos is repeating the AA level, after having some success as a starter in 2009.  This year he’s the closer for Altoona, and is handling the role with ease.  Moskos has a 0.82 ERA in eight appearances, spanning 11 innings.  He has an 11:5 K/BB ratio, a .179 BAA, a 2.14 GO/AO ratio, and five saves.  It might be time to move him up to AAA, especially considering all the innings he put in at the AA level in 2009.

Ronald UviedoUviedo continues to impress from the back of the bullpen, now making the jump to AA.  In the month of April he made seven appearances, pitching 10.2 innings.  He put u a 1.69 ERA, a 13:5 K/BB ratio, and a .061 BAA, which is phenomenal.  Uviedo has only allowed a hit in two of his outings this year, and only has two hits allowed this season.  He probably needs more time in AA than Moskos, but he’s another candidate to be moved up to AAA later this season.

The Big Surprises
Alex PresleyPresley had success at the low-A level in 2007, with a .293 average and a .784 OPS.  He then struggled for two years in high-A, combining for a .257 average and a .693 OPS.  So it’s a big surprise that he started off the AA season with a .333/.377/.556 line in 63 at-bats in the month of April.  I don’t think that the power will last, but if Presley can put up his 2007 numbers at the AA level this year, he will put himself back on the board as a legitimate prospect.

Michael CrottaCrotta was a big surprise in the Altoona rotation, and was the first player to receive a permanent promotion to Indianapolis.  Crotta posted a 1.78 ERA in four starts with Altoona, in 25.1 innings of work.  He struck out 16 and walked three, with no home runs allowed.  He also held batters to a .156 BAA and a 2.75 GO/AO ratio.  This is after spending the entire 2009 season in the Altoona rotation, putting up a 4.76 ERA in 143.2 innings, with a 97:33 K/BB ratio, a .304 BAA, and a 1.98 GO/AO ratio.

Josh HarrisonI was very surprised at the start Harrison got off to at the AA level.  Harrison hit for a .348/.419/.424 line in the month of April in 66 at-bats.  It’s not that Harrison hasn’t hit for average before.  In 2009 he hit for a .337 average in low-A in 303 at-bats, before moving up to high-A.  I was just surprised because Harrison hit for a .275/.310/.374 line in 211 at-bats at the high-A level.  Harrison drew just seven walks in his 233 plate appearances last year in high-A.  He already has eight walks at the AA level this season.  Let’s hope he keeps this level of play up.

Kind of Disappointing
Chase d’ArnaudD’Arnaud hasn’t gotten off to the best start in his jump to the AA level, hitting for a .205/.284/.315 line in the month of April.  I’m not too worried about the slow start.  D’Arnaud’s average is low, but he’s recorded at least one hit in eight of his last ten games, with five of those 11 hits going for extra bases.  In that span he’s hitting for a .262 average, including a .276 average in his last week.  Let’s hope that’s a sign that he’s heating up.

Gorkys HernandezHernandez has been in a downward spiral since joining the Pirates.  He had a .316 average and a .748 OPS in 212 at-bats at the AA level before the Nate McLouth trade last year.  Then he posted a .262 average and a .652 OPS in 344 at-bats with Altoona in 2009.  This year he’s off to an even
worse start, with a .192/.284/.205 line in 78 at-bats in the month of April.

Tim AldersonAlderson has also struggled since joining the Pirates organization.  He had a 3.47 ERA and a 46:14 K/BB ratio in 72.2 innings in AA with the Giants before the Freddy Sanchez trade in 2009. After arriving with the Pirates he put up a 4.66 ERA and an 18:13 K/BB ratio in 38.2 innings.  This year he has started off with a 5.49 ERA in 19.2 innings, with a 7:6 K/BB ratio.  Alderson is one of the youngest players at the AA level, so he’s got plenty of time to work things out.

Justin WilsonWilson is off to a slow start with Altoona, which was the same story last year in Lynchburg.  Wilson had a 6.57 ERA in 12.1 innings over three starts in the month of April, with an 11:10 K/BB ratio.  Wilson had the same early season problems in his debut at high-A, before turning things around in the second half with some excellent performances.  Looking close at his numbers, Wilson has two decent outings, and two bad outings, both of the latter coming against Erie.

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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