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A Friday night in Altoona

altoona curve

Blair County Ballpark - Tim Williams/BuccoFans.com

As I was driving to work on Friday morning, I began to suspect that Bryan Morris’ spot in the Altoona rotation was due up that night. When I arrived at my office, I fired up the computer and quickly checked whether I was correct. I was, and I discovered that he would be facing Twins’ pitching prospect Kyle Gibson. With a Friday night free of any obligations, I decided that pitching matchup was about as good as any I would find. So on my way home from work, I took a brief two-hour detour to Altoona.

Morris was my main focus for this game. For the most part, he displayed very good command of his fastball. Catcher Hector Gimenez was rarely forced to move his glove when expecting the heat. Morris sat 90-92* MPH with the fastball, occasionally touching 93*. He did struggle with inconsistent control of his secondary stuff. Early in the game, several breaking balls found their way to the backstop. However, when the off-speed stuff was in the zone, it was nearly unhittable. Of Morris’ six strikeouts, at least five came on a tight breaking ball that registered about 86* MPH on the stadium gun. After four innings, I moved down behind the plate to get a better look at the curve. Morris responded by throwing almost exclusively fastballs for the final two innings.

I was impressed by Morris. I am not a mechanics expert, but his delivery looked smooth and effortless, which was a knock against him entering the season. He commanded his fastball well with above average velocity and his curve was a plus pitch. He must improve the control of his breaking pitch moving forward. I also did not notice him using a changeup, which may be the team’s focus on the development of his fastball. All in all, it was easy to see why he has been having so much success.

The Curve offense broke out in a big way, scoring five times off Gibson and adding another five-spot once the New Britain bullpen got involved. Chase d’Arnaud went 4 for 5, but that line looks better than it was. D’Arnaud produced good at-bats for the most part, but he was not exactly driving the ball. All four of his hits were singles, and they were mostly of the seeing-eye ground ball variety. He stole second after one such single. He looked smooth in the field on the couple of balls that were hit his way, displaying good range. It was a solid day for d’Arnaud, but he did not really stand out on the field as a top prospect.

I was not expecting much from Gorkys Hernandez when I arrived at the park, but he also had a good game. Hernandez tripled in his first at-bat, lining the pitch about 300 feet down the right field line. He looked comfortable at the plate, and managed a couple of infield singles and a hit batsman. While attempting to score on a sacrifice fly in the fifth, the ball easily beat Gorkys to the plate. However, he slipped his hand in with a nifty slide. In the first, he laid out to snag a short line drive in left-center. It was a nice catch, but a quick first step was the impressive aspect of the play. Gorkys clearly has good athleticism. I understand why many still consider him a top prospect, despite his lousy offensive numbers the past couple years.

I tweeted the following early in the game:

I am a Josh Harrison fan. Don’t think he has the size to be a major leaguer down the road, but I am a fan nonetheless.

Harrison responded by hitting about three balls to the warning track in the game. Later, he displayed a strong arm while making an impressive play on a slow roller down the third base line. He has not hit for much power this year, but he showed on this night that he may have the ability to keep an outfield honest. I am not all that optimistic about his future, but I could definitely see him as a bench player in the future.

Matt Hague also looks like he could be a backup down the road. He can draw a walk and he hits for about average power. Being a first baseman, that probably isn’t enough for him to be a starter, but there is no reason he can’t be a good bat off the bench.

Finally, try not to get caught up in the success that Alex Presley is experiencing. He does not look very impressive at the plate, although he was much faster than I expected. He nearly beat out a routine ground ball to second base at one point. That good speed may be contributing to his unsustainable BABIP.

Chris Cates is small. Like, really small.

* The Altoona stadium gun is said to be about 2 MPH slow, so these numbers are probably selling the pitchers a little short.
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Matt Bandi

Matt has covered the Pirates at Wait ‘Til Next Year, Pittsburgh Lumber Co. and now Pirates Prospects. He served as Pirates team expert for Heater Magazine in 2009 and 2010 and has contributed to Graphical Player 2009, 2010 and 2011. Matt was also the editor of the 2011 and 2012 Pirates Prospects Annuals.

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