The Pittsburgh Pirates made an aggressive move when they skipped Matt Curry over high-A, promoting him to Altoona. Initially, the move looked to be working, as Curry got off to a hot start at the AA level. However, he ended up slumping, with a .227/.286/.371 line in 97 at-bats in June. The struggles shouldn’t be a big surprise. Anyone making that jump should be expected to struggle initially. The question is, will the struggles last?
Curry has been heating up lately. He’s 10-for-21 in his last five games, with a double and a homer. However, there are two warning signs that exist.
The first warning sign is his strikeout rate. Curry has always been good at limiting the strikeouts. In West Virginia this year, he had an 18.7% strikeout rate. So far with Altoona that ratio is up to 27.9%. The second warning sign is that he’s swinging at a lot of early pitches. John Dreker saw Altoona last week, and noted that Curry was taking a lot of first pitch swings. He had success in the last few games while doing this, but it does raise concerns when you look at his June struggles, and his strikeout issues.
I’ve been cautious about putting too much emphasis on Curry’s low-A numbers. He was a college senior, playing at a level that was probably below his talent level. There are some things Curry can get away with in low-A that won’t fly in AA. One of those things is hacking away at the first pitch. In low-A, you’re more likely to find a fastball, or a bad breaking pitch. In AA, the pitchers might not lead off with a fastball, and the breaking pitches are generally better. Because of this, swinging at the first pitch could mean more strike one calls, or poor contact, at the AA level.
Again, I don’t think anyone really expected Curry to light the world on fire after skipping over high-A. In fact, I mentioned that if he did that, he should be considered one of the top prospects in the game (which would be deserved if he put up his low-A numbers in AA). His initial struggles aren’t enough to write him off, but they do bring us back to reality. The reality is that Curry was a college senior playing in a lower level, and the AA level is his first challenge. For that reason, anything he did in low-A becomes irrelevant. The only thing that matters now is how he handles the upper levels of the minors.