After losing 6 of 8 games last week (through May 8th), the Altoona Curve had more success this week going 4-1. Of particular note, the team has scored more runs, a sign that the offense is starting to turn it around, but they still only managed 4.2 runs per game on average (up from 2.4 the week before). The team also benefited from several strong pitching performances, including Jameson Taillon’s 2 hit-effort on Sunday.
Staying patient with Pimentel and Taillon
I had an opportunity to see the Curve’s top two starters this past week, and it was a tale of two different starts, as Pimentel struggled for the first time this season while Taillon had one of his better outings. My take away from both outings, however, is that both pitchers are where they should be pitching in AA right now.
Prior to Pimentel’s 4.1 IP, 6 H, 6 ER, 3 BB, 5 K outing, I was asked by several people if it was time to promote the 23-year old righty after great success to start the season. Thursday night’s outing demonstrated that Pimentel still has things to work on in AA, specifically his command.
I noted previously that Pimentel was due for some regression, as his strand rate and batting-average-on-balls-in-play both suggested how benefited from some good luck. In his remarkable run of only allowing 3 earned runs in 36.1 innings, Pimentel was able to scatter his walks and hits as well as benefit from batted balls ended up in outs at a high rate. Of course, this is not to say that Pimentel didn’t have a role in his success, as he clearly had to make good pitches to register such a high-level of success.
Nonetheless, Pimentel has struggled with control at points this season, marked by his 4.6 walks per nine innings, and command was the problem this week. It was no coincidence that with the command struggles also came some added velocity, touching 98 mph and sitting 95-97 mph with his four-seam fastball.
“We like him at 95-97. He just has to understand to pitch with whatever he has. If he’s got extra stuff, he’s got to learn how to pitch with that, and that’s just experience,” said pitching coach Stan Kyles.
Experience. For all his success, Pimentel still has command issues to work on, and I think it’s helpful that he’s going through the Eastern League and seeing teams several times before making the jump to AAA. Thursday was his second start against Richmond, so they had some idea of what to expect. Pimentel will be more impactful down the road by learning how to pitch to these line-ups several times since hitters will adjust to him.
It is true that Pimentel only has one option remaining, meaning he needs to make the big-league roster out of camp next season, which may lead some to urge for a speedy promotion. He has improved drastically this season compared to 2011 and 2012, and a few more starts in AA is good for his development. A June or even July promotion still puts him in a good position to compete for a roster spot next season.
Number two Pirates Prospect Jameson Taillon had a no decision on Sunday after pitching 6 innings and giving up 2 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, and 8 Ks. I’ve also been asked when I think Taillon should and will be promoted.
The standout features of Taillon’s last start were his use of his secondary pitches (two-seam fastball and change-up) at a much higher rate and some detectable trouble commanding these pitches, which he has not used as much as his four-seam fastball and big curveball. Taillon needed 100 pitches to get through six innings, throwing only 59 strikes in the outing.
As he told me himself, the key to Taillon reaching his potential as a number one starter in the big leagues is his ability to throw the change-up consistently and for strikes. In AA through his first few starts, Taillon was able to beat batters out by mostly using his plus four-seamer and curveball, not needing the change-up to be effective. Now that he’s seeing lineups for a second time, using his full repertoire is necessary for both his AA success and long-term development.
“[He’s] gaining experience. Every time he goes out he’s learning some different things about himself and about the game. So, just continued development of himself, of his mentality, his execution of his pitches. He’s right on track of where he needs to be,” said Kyles.
Experience. Like Pimentel, Taillon is still learning how to pitch to batters who have seen him previously at this level, as well as developing all four of his pitches so he can be a better overall pitcher. Although the stat lines may suggest that he’s ready for a new challenge, a few more starts in AA against teams who are making adjustments to his stuff will be good for Taillon’s long-term potential.
In summary, both standout pitchers are still learning how to pitch vs. ‘just throwing.’ This process involves making adjustments to lineups that have seen them before and working more with secondary pitches to have success. They both have the pure stuff to move up to AAA right now, but they can also benefit from a bit more experience in AA before being promoted.
A few bright spots on offense
This week Altoona was better at the plate than previous weeks. Getting a 4-for-10 from Pirates second baseman Neil Walker certainly helped, but some Curve regulars also had a good week.
Andrew Lambo continues to be the Curve’s offensive leader. After hitting four home runs in five games the week prior, Lambo did not homer this week. Nonetheless, he’s hitting .361/.400/.721 in his last ten games. He also had several hits against lefties this week, which is a positive sign for his development (although he’s still hitting only .232 against southpaws). In addition, Lambo is filling in at first base for Matt Curry, giving him more experience at a new position.
Mel Rojas, Jr. is only hitting .220 on the season, but he had some better at bats this week, making adjustments to keep his hands back. He’s also starting to show a little more patience at the plate, as 5 of his 11 walks have come in the past ten games. Rojas, Jr. looked overmatched earlier season, but I think he’s starting to figure out AA pitching even if his season line is still suspect.
Back-up catcher Charlie Cutler is also swinging the bat well. He delivered the game winner on Sunday on a deep drive to centerfield that was ruled an error (the ball was catchable, but driven hard to the deepest part of the park), and he doubled home a run on Saturday. With Matt Curry’s injury, there are available at bats, and Cutler has emerged as someone who is earning more plate appearances. Cutler is not a particularly strong defensive catcher, and at age 26 he profiles as organizational depth.
It’s an incredibly small sample size, but catcher Carlos Paulino has four hits in his past three games. Paulino is a defensive standout with a great arm and above average ability behind the plate. He has a long swing and has struggled mightily with the bat in 2013, but even modest success offensively might provide opportunities based on his defensive prowess.
This Friday, I will be talking about The Curve with Tim Williams on the Pirates Prospects Podcast (P3). In addition, I interviewed Jameson Taillon on Sunday, which will be the podcast’s featured interview this week.
I will be ‘going dark’ until June 1st, meaning I’ll be off twitter and have no internet access while I enjoy an outdoor adventure, so no Curve coverage from me until then. I look forward to returning to action in June and continuing to follow the Curve for the rest of the season!
You can follow me on twitter @John_Eshleman.