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2011 Altoona Curve Preview: The Outfield

Marte will start the 2011 season in Altoona.

Yesterday I previewed the 2011 Altoona Curve infield, looking at players who could open the season with the Pittsburgh Pirates’ AA affiliate, and looking at players who could make the jump from the lower levels later in the season.  Today we’ll look at the outfield, again looking at all of the possibile players who could play in Altoona this season.

Could Return to Altoona

In the preview of the Indianapolis outfield last week, I mentioned that Gorkys Hernandez and Andrew Lambo are both candidates to return to Altoona at the start of the season.  Despite that, I went on to predict that both would start the year in AAA.  Based on how each player played last year, I wouldn’t put them anywhere near 100% to jump to the next level, but I think their chances of going to AAA are better than their chances of returning to Altoona.  If they do return to Altoona, I don’t see them lasting long, assuming they get off to a good start.  I also only think one person maximum would return to Altoona, based on the next group.

Opening Day Prospects

There are two outfield prospects who will be starting the season in Altoona this year.  One is top prospect Starling Marte, and the other is 2010 surprise power hitter Quincy Latimore.

Marte hit for a strong average in high-A in 2010 before going down for a bulk of the season after being hit in the hand with a pitch.  The injury caused him to have his hamate bone removed, an injury which can sap hitters of their power for about a year.  Marte wasn’t much of a power hitter prior to the injury, although he is young enough that future power can’t be written off.  The jump from high-A to AA is the hardest to make, which combined with the injury, puts expectations very low for Marte hitting for much power this year.

One big issue with Marte is his lack of plate patience.  His strikeout rate isn’t horrible, but it’s not good either.  His walk rate is also very low.  His contact rate hasn’t struggled, based on his average in the lower levels, but that’s not always a guarantee to continue in the upper levels.  Marte’s value right now relies on defense, speed, and a high average.  His plate patience issues could drop that average as he sees more difficult pitches to hit in the upper levels.  That is the most important thing to watch this year, even more than the power.  Marte can be an excellent center fielder without the power if he just hits for average.  However, if his average drops, he’s going to need that power to come along to give him value.

Latimore is pretty much the opposite of Marte at the plate.  He hits for power, but doesn’t hit for average.  Like Marte, Latimore struggles with his plate patience and strikeout rates.  He hit 19 home runs last year in high-A, and had an impressive run this off-season in the Australian Baseball League.  He has some of the best power in the system, ranking second among corner outfielders in the Pirates Prospects rankings for raw power, barely behind Rogelios Noris.  Latimore needs to find a way to improve his plate patience and hit for average.  Otherwise he’ll be another John Bowker type who has power, but can’t hit for average or get on base, negating the value of that power.

As for their chances of moving up to AAA, both are candidates, although Marte has a better shot than Latimore.  Latimore has been a one level per year guy so far, which I mentioned last week could have more to do with his sub-.800 OPS performance each year.  If he puts up better numbers, I could see him moving up.

A few bench options could be Anthony Norman, Brad Chalk, and Austin McClune.  McClune is an interesting guy to watch, as he’s strong defensively, but hasn’t hit that well.  It’s unlikely, but if he can somehow pull an Alex Presley and find his hitting, he could really raise his stock.  Miles Durham could be on the bench as an outfielder by the end of the year.

Prospects For Later in the Season

This will be a big year for Robbie Grossman.  He was drafted and signed out of high school in 2008, which would have made this year his junior year at Texas, making him draft eligible this summer.  Under that time frame, it’s unlikely that Grossman would have reached high-A prior to the 2012 season.  Therefore, returning to high-A in 2011 isn’t really a set-back.  He showed improvement in the second half last year, and if he can continue that improvement in 2011, he could end up in Altoona by the end of the year.

There are a few guys who will be moving up to high-A from West Virginia, namely Rogelios Noris, Evan Chambers, and David Rubinstein.  I’ll get in to those guys in the Bradenton preview, but I will say that none of them really stand out as complete players.  They all have at least one major issue in their game which prevents them from being guarantees at splitting the 2011 season between high-A and AA.  That said, it wouldn’t be impossible.

Opening Day Projection

The estimated opening day starters:

LF - Austin McClune

CF - Starling Marte

RF - Quincy Latimore

Candidates for outfield playing time off the bench: Anthony Norman

Could be a late season arrival: Robbie Grossman

Could play in AAA in 2011: Starling Marte, Quincy Latimore

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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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