2011 Altoona Curve Preview: Starting Pitchers
Returning to Altoona
As I mentioned in last week’s review of the Indianapolis Indians’ rotation, the 2010 Altoona rotation is not a guarantee to start the 2011 season in AAA. A case could be made for Bryan Morris, Jeff Locke, and Justin Wilson to remain back in Altoona at the start of the season. That doesn’t guarantee that those players will return to AA.
Locke and Morris fared well in their time in Altoona, but could be held back due to a lack of innings. Locke pitched 57.2 innings, with a 3.59 ERA, an 8.7 K/9, and a 1.9 BB/9 ratio. Morris pitched 89 innings, with a 4.25 ERA, an 8.5 K/9, and a 3.1 BB/9 ratio.
Wilson, on the other hand, pitched 142.2 innings, and had a good 3.09 ERA, along with an 8.5 K/9 ratio. However, he struggled with his control, putting up a 4.5 BB/9 ratio, and really fell apart at the end of the season in that area.
All three pitchers should make Indianapolis this year at some point. They also have a good chance at reaching the majors, although I’d put Morris or Locke ahead of Wilson.
Prospects Who Should Start the Season in AA
The two starters who are most likely to arrive in Altoona on the Opening Day roster are Aaron Pribanic and Brian Leach. Pribanic is coming off a strong year in high-A, putting up a 3.33 ERA in 154 innings, with a 4.1 K/9 and a 1.9 BB/9 ratio. Leach also had a decent year in high-A, pitching 138 innings with a 3.85 ERA, a 6.4 K/9, and a 2.9 BB/9 ratio.
Both pitchers pitched in the Arizona Fall League this off-season. Pribanic had some of the better numbers in the league, while Leach struggled with his control. Pribanic throws more in the low 90s, but can touch 95-96 MPH. Leach sits more in the mid-90s, ranging from 94-96 MPH. They both profile more as back of the rotation starters or power relievers. Of the two, Pribanic has the best chance of exceeding that profile, due to his extreme ground ball ratio. However, in order to be more than a back of the rotation starter/power reliever, he will have to rely less on his defense, and start increasing his strikeout totals.
Nathan Adcock is a pitcher who could also start the season in Altoona, assuming he gets returned from the Royals in time. Adcock was selected by Kansas City in the Rule 5 draft. The odds of a Rule 5 draft pick sticking in the majors is already slim. The odds of a pitcher making the jump from high-A to the majors and sticking all year are even worse. I would bet that Adcock gets returned. When he does, he should move up to Altoona.
Prospects Who Could Arrive Later in the Season
The Altoona rotation could be crowded by the end of the season, with some potential piggyback situations, and a few people potentially getting left behind in Bradenton due to a lack of space. There are six pitchers who stand a good chance of arriving in the Altoona rotation at some point this year. Those pitchers are Tim Alderson, Kyle McPherson, Phillip Irwin, Nathan Baker, Quinton Miller, and Brett Lorin.
A lot has been said about Alderson’s work this off-season, highlighted by this article in ESPN by Kevin Rhoderick talking about the changes Alderson has made this off-season. Heading in to the 2009 season, scouts were split on whether Alderson would be a top of the rotation starter, or a back of the rotation starter. Heading in to the 2011 season, he’s completely off the radar. Alderson is young enough that he could revive his career. The “top of the rotation” projection seems to be out the window at this point, although he could still become a back of the rotation guy if the off-season reports are true.
Irwin and Baker each came out of college in 2009, had success in 2010 between West Virginia and Bradenton, and should move up to Altoona at some point this season. I could see Baker arriving first, since he had more innings in high-A (44.2) than Irwin (playoff appearance).
Kyle McPherson was added to the 40-man roster this off-season, which gives him three more years in the minors before he has to be added to the 25-man roster. McPherson had somewhat of a breakout year last year, putting up the best strikeout rate of any Pirates’ starter in the minors. He spent all season in West Virginia, before pitching four innings in Bradenton at the end of the year. If he can carry his 2010 success over to high-A this year, he might find himself in Altoona by mid-season.
Quinton Miller was drafted out of high school in 2008, and would have been draft eligible again this year had he not signed for $900,000 as a 20th round pick. I mentioned this with Robbie Grossman in the Altoona outfield preview: Miller probably wouldn’t have arrived in high-A until the 2012 season had he not been drafted, so returning to the level at the start of the 2011 season isn’t a setback. He will return, due to the amount of time he missed last year, and hopefully we will start to see why he was worthy of such a big bonus out of high school.
Finally, Brett Lorin looked promising when he came to the Pirates in 2009 as part of the Jack Wilson trade, sporting a 2.44 ERA in 88.2 innings in low-A. Despite that success, combined with success in West Virginia after the trade, Lorin returned to low-A to start the 2010 season. He missed a ton of time due to injuries, and struggled this time around, with a 5.18 ERA in 41.2 innings. He did look good when I saw him at the end of the season, and should move up to high-A this year. He could be on the bubble for a promotion, due to all of the options Altoona has this year, even if he does rebound in high-A.
Opening Day Projection
The estimated opening day starters:
SP1 - Bryan Morris
SP2 - Jeff Locke
SP3 - Justin Wilson
SP4 - Aaron Pribanic
SP5 - Brian Leach
Candidates to join the rotation in May/June: Nathan Adcock, Tim Alderson, Nathan Baker
Could be a late season arrival: Phillip Irwin, Kyle McPherson, Quinton Miller, Brett Lorin
Could pitch in AAA in 2011: Bryan Morris, Jeff Locke, Justin Wilson, Aaron Pribanic, Brian Leach, Nathan Adcock.