It was a rough week for the Altoona Curve, winning only one of their last seven games. The team continues to struggle offensively, a problem compounded by first baseman Matt Curry going on the disabled list with a right hand injury. On the bright side, Andrew Lambo continues to hit for power and Casey Sadler turned in his best start of the season. In addition, Jameson Taillon left his Tuesday start early after taking a hard grounder off his leg.
Altoona offensive woes continue, but Lambo a bright spot
Statistically, the Curve have the worst offense in the Eastern League. They are cellar dwellers in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. This week, the team registered five hits or less in five of their seven games, scoring on average 2.43 runs per game. As a result, in spite of several good pitching performances, the team is losing much more than they are winning. Nine of the team’s 15 position players are hitting under .235.
One of the few bright spots this week was Andrew Lambo’s continued development as a middle-of-the-lineup bat. Lambo hit three home runs this week, and Tim Williams and I agree that Lambo belongs in Indianapolis at this point. He has started playing first base in some games, which might open up more opportunities for him to advance.
Coming into 2013, a major question for Lambo was whether he could hit for enough power to play a corner outfield position. He’s answered that question in the affirmative with seven homers in the first month of the season, and he is in the Eastern League top ten with a .521 slugging percentage. Previously it looked like Lambo crowded the plate, making him susceptible to good fastballs on the inner half. I did notice recently that he appears to have backed off a bit, and he was able to still pull an outer-half home run against Matt Karns on Tuesday.
One concern with Lambo is his struggle to hit left-handed pitching, with only a .182 batting average against southpaws this season (albeit in a small sample size). He did hit a homer off Erie Seawolves lefty Matt Crouse this week, and his continued progress against southpaws is something to watch.
Outfielder Alex Dickerson is starting to come around at the plate, in spite of his jarring .193/.241/.358 slash line. He homered once this week, and I think a lot of his early-season struggles are a result of the difficult jump up to AA where pitchers have not only better stuff but also improved command of their off-speed pitches. When I’ve watched him live and on video, Dickerson has struggled with pitch recognition, evident in his 32:7 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but he’s looked better at the plate in the last two weeks. I expect him to adjust and improve his numbers over the summer. Tim Williams and I discussed Dickerson briefly on last week’s podcast.
A tale of two starts for Sadler
2010 25th round draft pick Casey Sadler was “Jekyll and Hyde” this week, turning in his best and worst starts of the season. He gave up five earned runs in seven innings vs. Akron on May 1st, but turned it around on Monday going 8 strong innings, surrendering only two hits and one unearned run (zero earned). Thanks to Milb.tv, I had a change to check out parts of both starts to see the difference between “the good” Casey Sadler and “the bad” version.
The key to Sadler’s game is locating his pitches, particularly his low 90s sinking fastball, down in the zone to induce groundball outs. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff, evident in his low strikeout totals (4.70 K/9), but when he is on, hitters struggle to square him up slapping grounder after grounder, often weakly.
That was the case in his strong outing on Monday. His sinker had the most life I’ve seen it have in the three times I’ve watched Sadler this season, and the Harrisburg Senators’ line-up didn’t make a lot of solid contact. Sadler got away with a sinker over the heart of the plate to top prospect Anthony Rendon in the first, and pretty much cruised after that. His slider was good, with hitters chasing it out of the zone on numerous occasions.
In his start last Wednesday, Sadler didn’t have the same command he showed this week. Instead, he was leaving the ball up, and the Akron hitters were able to square it up and knock Sadler around. He fell behind more hitters too, another sign that his command and control were not ‘on.’
Since he’s not a strikeout pitcher, Sadler needs to have plus command to reach his ceiling as a back-end starter. Hitters will always make more contact against him than harder throwers with higher upside, so commanding his pitches down in the zone is crucial. When his slider is on as it was Monday, Sadler looks every bit of a legit prospect.
Taillon leaves game after taking a liner in the leg
Top prospect Jameson Taillon was pitching pretty well this Tuesday before leaving in the fourth inning after a hard grounder hit him in the left leg. The injury does not look serious. He was removed as a precaution and had a left shin contusion.
Taillon’s best pitch is his curveball, and he threw several good ones in the shortened outing, including a strikeout looking of shortstop Jose Lozada in the first inning. He did hang a few of them over the heart of the plate, including a double to Anthony Rendon. To Taillon’s credit, both runs he gave up in the first were unearned after an error by first baseman Andrew Lambo, and two of the hits he gave up were very makeable plays for the defense.
I also thought that Taillon’s two-seam fastball looked good with some of the best armside run I’ve seen from him so far this season. The pitch can be very effective given its movement and slightly slower speed relative to the mid-90s four-seam fastball.
In the fourth inning, Taillon walked catcher Sandy Leon and then gave up a hard grounder to second baseman Rich Hague. The ball one-hopped and looked to hit the tall righty just below the knee, allowing Hague to reach first. Taillon looked to be walking fine and left the field on his own power. Given Taillon’s extreme value to the organization, I was not surprised to see him leave the game, but I do not anticipate that the injury is serious.
Nate Baker came on in relief and struggled, with both inherited runners scoring and being tabbed to Taillon’s line.
I’ll be talking with Tim Williams again this Friday on the Pirates Prospects podcast (P3), and heading to Altoona to catch Neil Walker rehab and Stolmy Pimentel pitch on Thursday. I’ll also be at Taillon’s anticipated Sunday start.
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