Pirates Prospects » Prospect Reports http://www.piratesprospects.com Your best source for news on the Pittsburgh Pirates and their minor league system. Thu, 17 Apr 2014 13:00:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Development is coming quickly for Gregory Polanco http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/development-is-coming-quickly-for-gregory-polanco.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/development-is-coming-quickly-for-gregory-polanco.html#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 14:00:27 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=76526 Development in the minors

There is no doubt that Gregory Polanco is living up to the hype early in the 2014 season at Triple-A.

While most of the decision to start Polanco in Triple-A was undoubtedly about the Super Two situation and the future cost, there is some value in not throwing him to the wolves right away. He is gaining an enormous amount of confidence feeding on under-matched Triple-A pitching.

Most importantly, Polanco did not look at the demotion out of Spring Training as a detriment. He viewed it as an opportunity to go to Triple-A and refine his game before his eagerly awaited Major League debut. The main goal right now is to tune out all of the noise around him and focus on the job at hand – helping the Pittsburgh Pirates when his time comes.

“The main thing right now is knowing more about the game and how to play the game,” Polanco said. “I am learning about how they are pitching to me. I am learning how to play the game every day.”

Though the season can be a grind, Polanco views the growth that he is making in the minors as more mental than physical. As he progressed through the system last season, he saw that the adjustment goes much more rapidly in the higher levels. The pitchers get scouting information much quicker and those adjustments must be made from at-bat to at-bat, rather than weekly.

“The pitchers are smart,” he said. “They know how to pitch you. They know what you can hit and what you cannot hit. Right now, it is more of a mental thing. I know that I have talent and I can hit, but I am getting smarter every day.”

While Polanco only saw three games at Triple-A last season, he learned quite a bit after the jump from Altoona. The main lesson that he learned is the variety of pitches and the frequency that he sees them. He was also able to take this small sample size of experience into his off-season training.

“This year, I came in with ideas about how they would pitch me,” Polanco said. “It is hard in Triple-A. They throw a lot of breaking balls and a lot of off-speed.”

For hitting coach Mike Pagliarulo, the development aspect of Polanco being in Indianapolis is a value that is leading to the continuing development with the Pirates. He also credits Polanco for coming in with the right attitude when he arrived.

“He’s a good, classy kid,” Pagliarulo said. “He is mature for his age. We still need to get him ready, and that is not a process that should ever be rushed. We want to make sure, that when it is his opportunity, we want him well-rounded with his play in the outfield, base running, and at the plate because those are the resources that we need to play with in Pittsburgh. That is how we are going to win in Pittsburgh. We can’t be one-dimensional. When it is his turn to go up there, he’s going to be able to fit right in and it’s going to be valuable resources for Clint Hurdle.”

This is a plan that has been successful for the Pirates as they have made sure that players are fully developed before giving them their first opportunity at the show. This development plan of Neal Huntington and Clint Hurdle has the full support of the ownership. The main task at hand at Indianapolis is protecting the large investment that the team has in Polanco.

Even with the success that Polanco has had early in the season, and the amount of pressure from the Pirates fan base, following a so-so start, I don’t see any way that they make any type of move with Polanco until June. The rewards of waiting greatly outweigh the short-term. However, Polanco will be in right field in Pittsburgh immediately when that clock expires.

No rest

Baseball is a year-round tradition for Polanco, who said that he only had couple weeks of rest during the off-season.

This off-season, Polanco earned honors as MVP of the Dominican Winter League, where he compiled numbers of .331/.428/.494. He credits the off-season experience as jump starting his hot start to the season.

“I came to Spring Training ready to play,” Polanco said. “My timing and hitting was good. I think that [the Winter League] was the biggest thing for me.”

Though the competition in the league may not be as intense as he would see during the season, it still served as a benefit to Polanco. It allowed him to get some much-needed plate appearances and keep him in the zone for Spring Training, when he got the opportunity to face some big leaguers. With this, Polanco posted an .804 OPS with three extra base hits in the spring.

Stats don’t lie

The term five-tool player gets thrown around pretty loosely these days. However, Polanco fits the mold perfectly.

In the last two seasons, of Polanco’s hits, 32-percent of them have been extra-base hits. This includes 26 and 30 doubles in 2012 and 2013, respectively. He also smacked 28 home runs in those campaigns combined. To go along with those power numbers, Polanco has added in the speed aspect that shows off the five-tool designation that many give him. He stole 40 and 38 bases in the last two years, while collecting eight triples over that span.

The opportunities to run have been down in Indianapolis this season, as he is entrenched into the third hole in the lineup, but they are tools that Polanco still possesses to be utilized when needed.

Polanco also rounds out the five tools with excellent range and a strong arm, with 21 outfield assists in the past two seasons.

Success against lefties

Glancing through the stats, Polanco has had plenty of opportunities to see left-handed pitching this year. He has 24 at bats against righties against 19 facing southpaws coming into Tuesday.

Though he has a small sample size this early in the season, Polanco has crushed each equally. In fact, his .556 average with a homer against lefties is just higher than his .417 with a home run against right-handed pitching.

In addition, it is not completely lesser names that Polanco is facing as left-handed arms. On Saturday, he faced Robbie Ray, Baseball America’s No. 4 prospect for the Tigers and had two hits against him.

As for his approach against southpaws, Polanco looks middle-away in every plate appearance. He said that he will let the ball get a little bit deeper against left-handers, to “not get in front of it.” With this approach, he looks to go the opposite way more often against them.

Responding to adversity

However there are some things that Pagliarulo looks to build on for the development of Polanco. The main thing that he is looking for from Polanco is how he responds to failure.

“I want to see him in some situations, where he is faced with some difficult challenges,” Pagliarulo said. “Whether it is a tough left-hander or a pressure situation, the more situations that he sees like that, the more he can deal with them, evaluate and we can help him get through those things. When you get them, you want to be able to handle them right. In baseball, you learn when you fail, so they are not really failures, but part of the development process. How he handles that and gets up is how he is going to grow.

Polanco actually received one of these opportunities in the bottom of the ninth with two outs in Sunday’s game, when he struck out looking against Columbus’ Nick Hagadone with the bases loaded. I guess that we will wait to see how he rebounds, but based on the small sample size track record this season, I would be willing to bet that he will be successful.

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Jarek Cunningham Hits 19th Homer in Altoona’s Final Game http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/09/jarek-cunningham-hits-19th-homer-in-altoonas-final-game.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/09/jarek-cunningham-hits-19th-homer-in-altoonas-final-game.html#comments Mon, 02 Sep 2013 22:26:02 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=65577 The Altoona Curve lost a tough game in eleven innings to end the season on a sour note. The Curve had a 2-0 lead until the seventh inning. Alen Hanson helped the Akron Aeros get the lead with a fielding error.

Akron’s Matt Lawson broke the tie in the eleventh with an RBI single to right field, which was followed by a Chris Wallace sacrifice fly.

The Curve got on board in the third inning thanks to a two-out rally with no one base. Three consecutive singles brought in a run, culminated by Mel Rojas Jr.’s RBI single to left field.

Jarek Cunningham hit his 19th homer of the year. Photo Credit: David Hague

Jarek Cunningham hit his 19th homer of the year. Photo Credit: David Hague

In the fifth, Jarek Cunningham launched a leadoff solo home run on a first pitch fastball that landed in the last row of the left field bleachers. It was Cunningham’s 19th homer of the season and showcased his power that is rare for a second baseman. Cunningham made a nice leaping catch of a line drive in the ninth, timing his jump perfectly and catching the ball at the apex of his jump.

Mel Rojas Jr. led the Curve offense going 3-for-5 with a double and RBI at the plate. In the tenth, the speedy center fielder hit a line drive into the left-center field gap that he stretched into a double to get in scoring position for Dickerson with two outs. The first baseman made a diving play to his right to keep the game tied at two.

Player Notes

**SS Alen Hanson - Hanson had a fielding error in the sixth inning, but then showed a short memory by making a nice backhand play on a ground ball in the hole in the seventh.

**RF Alex Dickerson - Dickerson was promoted to Indianapolis after the game to play in the International League playoffs with the Indians before competing in the Arizona Fall League.

**RHP Jason Grilli – Grilli threw a rehab start today, striking out three batters.

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Alex Dickerson Wins Two Awards and Celebrates With Four Hit Night http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/09/alex-dickerson-wins-two-awards-and-celebrates-with-four-hit-night.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/09/alex-dickerson-wins-two-awards-and-celebrates-with-four-hit-night.html#comments Mon, 02 Sep 2013 04:43:00 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=65434 Alex Dickerson was named Altoona's MVP and the Eastern League Rookie of the Year.

Alex Dickerson was named Altoona’s MVP and the Eastern League Rookie of the Year.

Before the game Sunday, Alex Dickerson was named as the Curve team MVP and as the Eastern League Rookie of the Year. In the first inning, Dickerson put an exclamation point on both awards as he hit a three-run home run to right field to highlight an eight-run inning for the Curve in a 8-3 victory over the Akron Aeros, the Cleveland Indians’ AA affiliate.

“He (Dickerson) put a good season together,” Curve manager Carlos Garcia said. “It’s one of those cases as long as the season goes, the better he gets. He’s made adjustments playing in the field and at the plate.”

“I mean it’s all you really play for,” Dickerson said about being named team MVP by his teammates. “Getting recognized by the team and you get to see the other awards we handed out today which are, in my mind, just as important. It’s good to see the recognition and be able to play each and every day, it’s been a fun season.”

Dickerson finished 4-for-4 with a walk, home run, and three RBI’s to lead the Curve attack, which accounted for 17 hits. Every batter in the lineup had at least one hit. Alen Hanson, Adalberto Santos, Justin Howard, Andy Vasquez, and Ali Solis also had two hits each.

Five consecutive hits started off the game for the Curve in the bottom of the first inning. 13 batters came to the plate in the first and ended up being the only inning the Curve scored in. Dickerson drove home Hanson and Santos with a long home run to right field that landed near the Skyliner beyond the fence, his 17th of the season. Andy Vasquez hit his fourth home run of the season to right field to drive in three as well. Hanson added a sacrifice fly and Santos drove in a run with a single for all of the scoring.

The Curve jumped all over Akron starter Toru Murata. The right hander came in with a 2-1, 3.00 ERA against the Curve this year throughout 24 innings.

“His off speed stuff, he was leaving it up all day and we just did a really good job sitting back and capitalizing on him,” Dickerson said about the team’s performance against Murata. “In the past we would chase him or we would chase early and we wouldn’t get a lot of those good pitches to hit and we’d put pop them up or something. I think all the way one through nine today, we just really got to him.”

Justin Howard showed good power with two doubles. The first double went to right field as it hit off the wall. In the eighth, the left-handed hitting Howard sent a deep shot to dead center field which bounced once just to the left of the 405 foot sign.

The eight-run first inning gave a big cushion to starter Nate Baker, allowing the Ole Miss product to pound the strike zone throughout his six innings. Baker gave up seven hits and struck out seven, but even more importantly, Baker did not walk a batter. The Pirates’ 2009 5th round pick came into the game with 45 walks in 74 innings. Nine outs came on ground balls and he struck out a batter using each of his three pitches (fastball, slider, changeup). Baker was burying his slider down and in on right handed hitters to induce chases outside the zone. Baker was sitting 89-93, changeup 80-83, and his slider 78-81. Luis Sanz pitched the ninth hitting between 91 and 95 with a curveball 76-79.

The Curve end the season with a Monday home game at 12:00 pm against Akron with lefty Eliecer Navarro starting. Jason Grilli will throw another 20 pitches for the Curve in Monday’s game.

Notable Players

SS Alen Hanson - Hanson went first to third on Adalberto Santos’ single to right field in the first inning, using good footwork to gain a proper angle to turn second base and head to third base on a tight turn with no wasted steps or ground. He showed soft hands on a short hop hit to him in the second inning, receiving the ball and then coming through with the throw using fluid footwork. In the third, Hanson charged in to collect a slow roller, fielded it cleanly, and then made an accurate throw to nail the runner by a half-step. In the fifth, he made a quick and smooth transition to turn a double play on a delayed pivot throw from the second baseman. In the sixth, Hanson made a perfect relay throw that he received from the left fielder and then threw accurately to Santos’ glove at third base.

RF Alex Dickerson – He went 4-for-4 with a walk, home run, three singles, and made a nice running catch near the right field wall to end the game, showing adequate range and tracking down the long fly ball.

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Polanco, Hanson Single as Curve Net Just Four Hits http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/08/polanco-hanson-single-as-curve-net-just-four-hits.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/08/polanco-hanson-single-as-curve-net-just-four-hits.html#comments Sun, 25 Aug 2013 21:44:38 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=64534 The Curve’s hot bats didn’t carry over from Saturday night’s double header, as Flying Squirrels starter Edwin Escobar scattered four hits over 6.1 innings, and two Squirrel relievers worked the final 2.2 frames to combine for the shutout.

Alen Hanson went 1-for-4 with an error.

Alen Hanson went 1-for-4 with an error.

Alen Hanson led the game off with a single up the middle, but was left stranded as Escobar retired the next three hitters, including Gregory Polanco on what amounted to a swinging bunt off the end of Polanco’s bat. Hanson advanced to second, but the inning ended on Jarek Cunningham’s strikeout. Hanson would be the only Curve runner to advance past first base.

Polanco, making his third consecutive start in right field, finished 1-for-4, singling up the middle in his third at bat. Cunningham’s bat cooled considerably, and he finished hitless for the first time in the four-game series, striking out twice. Alex Dickerson was out of the lineup for the second consecutive game, but entered in the bottom of the seventh as part of a double switch. He went 0-for-1. Drew Maggi and pitcher David Bromberg accounted for the Curve’s other two hits.

Bromberg was the tough luck loser, falling to 6-11 on the year. He worked six innings, allowing eight hits and two walks while striking out four, but was the victim of the longball. Squirrels right fielder Jarrett Parker crushed a two run homer to right field in the bottom of the fourth, and third baseman Adam Duvall added a solo shot to right in the sixth to account for all the damage. Zack Thornton relieve Bromberg, working two hitless innings.

Escobar was the story of the day in Richmond, striking out six in route to improving to 5-3. The Curve continue their road trip Monday at Harrisburg, where Nate Baker (3-3, 6.59 ERA) is scheduled to face Nathan Karns (8-6, 3.32 ERA.)

Notable Players

SS Alen Hanson finished 1-for-4, extending his hitting streak to six games. The single was well hit back up the middle, but was the only hard hit ball Hanson had during the day. He nearly legged out a slow roller to short in his second at bat, but was called out on a bang-bang play. Hanson failed to execute a sacrifice bunt attempt in his third at bat, popping it foul into catcher Tyler LaTorre’s mit. He struck out on a ball in the dirt in his final at bat against a tough sidearm pitcher Edwin Quirarte. Hanson again struggled defensively, committing an error in the bottom of the third as he attempted to backhand a ball to his right.  He atoned for his mistake on the very next pitch, initiating a 6-4-3 double play.

RF Gregory Polanco went 1-for-4 with a hard hit single up the middle. He hit two weak rollers and struck out in his other three plate appearances. Polanco saw his first real action in right field, as both home runs and a 1st inning double from Javier Herrera headed his way. He didn’t look like he read the double cleanly, but there was no chance of making a play. The solo shot off the bat of Duvall may have been catchable at the fence in another ballpark, but even with Polanco’s height, he had little hope of scaling the wall for a miraculous play.

LF Alex Dickerson didn’t start for the second consecutive outing, but entered during a double switch in the bottom of the seventh. He went 0 for the series, and is mired in a month-long slump to finish off his 2013 campaign. He’s hitting just .203 this month and hasn’t homered since August 3rd.

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Gregory Polanco Doubles Twice, Drives in Two as Curve Sweep DH http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/08/gregory-polanco-doubles-twice-drives-in-two-as-curve-sweep-dh.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/08/gregory-polanco-doubles-twice-drives-in-two-as-curve-sweep-dh.html#comments Sun, 25 Aug 2013 02:57:32 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=64465 Gregory Polanco

Gregory Polanco had two doubles tonight in game two.

Gregory Polanco went 2-for-3 with two doubles and two RBI as the Curve pounded out 16 hits while completing a sweep of Saturday’s doubleheader at Richmond, winning 13-1. (Game One Recap: Nick Kingham Labors As Curve Prevail)

Andy Vasquez provided the big hit during a seven-run fourth inning, tripling to right field to score three. The Curve managed seven tallies on just three hits during the frame, thanks to the wildness of four Flying Squirrel pitchers. The inning saw four walks and a Jarek Cunningham hit-by-pitch as 12 Curve batters came to the plate.

Staked to a nine run cushion, Casey Sadler cruised through four innings before struggling in the fifth. Sadler walked two in the fifth, before using a 4-6-3 double play to escape a bases loaded, one out jam unscathed. Making his fourth start of the year against Richmond, and second at the Diamond, Sadler extended his  scoreless streak in the capital of Virginia to 13.1 innings before giving up a run in the 7th. In earning his 11th win of the year Sadler allowed six hits and four walks across 6.1 frames, striking out two. Quinton Miller came on to record the final two outs.

Alen Hanson went 3-for-5, singling three times and driving in a run as all Curve position players had at least one hit, and one RBI. Vasquez finished 2-of-5 with 3 RBI and two runs scored, and Justin Howard went 3-for-4 with an RBI and two runs.

The series wraps up in Richmond Sunday afternoon, where David Bromberg (6-10, 3.17 era) is scheduled to face Edwin Escobar (4-3, 2.98 era).

Notable Players

**SS Alen Hanson singled three times in five at-bats, scoring once and driving one run in. He had a superb evening in the field, twice going deep into the hole almost behind third base, making long throws across the diamond for putouts. There were some flaws to his evening however. Hanson took off from first in the first inning before Richmond starter Taylor Rogers even thought about coming home, and was thrown out easily sliding in to second. He would have scored as this mistake was followed by a single, a fly out, and another single. He also didn’t appear to pick the ball up off of Polanco’s bat during a third inning double. He scored with ease, and was running on the play, but stalled around second nonetheless.

**RF Gregory Polanco ripped two doubles to deep left center, driving in runs with both knocks. Equally as impressive was a five pitch walk he earned during the seven-run fourth against sidearm lefty Phil McCormick. McCormick made Polanco look silly on three pitches during Thursday night’s game, and Polanco’s patience was well noted this evening.

**LF Alex Dickerson did not play in the second game of the twin-bill, and remains hitless during the series.

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Nick Kingham Labors As Curve Prevail http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/08/nick-kingham-labors-as-curve-prevail.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/08/nick-kingham-labors-as-curve-prevail.html#comments Sun, 25 Aug 2013 01:56:55 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=64456 Nick Kingham struck out eight in 4.2 innings.

Nick Kingham struck out eight in 4.2 innings.

A double to deep center field in the top of the seventh by Carlos Paulino plated Drew Maggi from first for the eventual winning run, as the Curve beat the Flying Squirrels 3-2 in the first of two games Saturday night.

Starter Nick Kingham lasted just 4.2 innings while throwing 103 pitches. He allowed four hits, walked five and hit one, while striking out eight. Kingham worked in and out of jams in the first two innings, each time allowing runners to reach first and second with just one out, but benefited from a double-play ball and a runner caught stealing to make it through two scoreless.

Alen Hanson got the scoring started for Altoona, tripling to center field in the top of the third to plate Mel Rojas, Jr. For Hanson, it was his second triple in as many nights.

A Hanson error in the bottom of the  third led to the Squirrels first run as Kingham left a ball up in the zone that was pelted off the top of the left field wall for an RBI double. Kingham settled down and retired the next six hitters, four by strikeout, before losing his control in the fifth. For the evening, Kingham only retired hitters via strikeout or ground ball, as the only balls to reach the outfield went for hits.

The teams again traded runs in the fifth, when the Curve manufactured a run following a Maggi hit by pitch. He stole second, advanced to third on a fly to right, and scored when Kingham bunted towards first.

Jarek Cunningham continued to swing a hot bat, singling twice in three at bats and is now 8 for his last 13. Jhonathan Ramos worked 1.1 innings in relief of Kingham, striking out three to earn the win. Luis Sanz worked a perfect seventh for his 16th save.

Notable Players

**SS Alen Hanson went 1-for-3, with an RBI triple. Hanson allowed himself to get behind in the count early, and thus had an aggressive approach in his other two at bats. Leading off the game, he popped up to short, but hit a hard ball down the third base line that resulted in a close play in his final at bat. He again had ups and downs in the field, bobbling a ground ball towards his left that led to the Squirrels first run. A quick reaction in the seventh allowed Hanson to quickly catch a line drive that seemed destined for center field.

**RF Gregory Polanco finished 0-for-3, striking out once on a questionable called third strike. He hit a weak comebacker in the first, and was robbed of at least a single by a diving catch in left field in his final at bat. Polanco made just his second start of the season in right field, and while there doesn’t seem to be much more to this than getting others at bats, Polanco is again in right field for the second game of the double header. He saw no balls hit his way in the first.

**LF Alex Dickerson struck out in all three plate appearances. He battled in his first at bat, seeing seven pitches, but failed to put the ball in play. He’s hitless in two games at Richmond, and is out of the lineup for Saturday night’s second game.

**SP Nick Kingham

Kingham never found a groove but managed tow work out serious trouble all evening. When he needed strikeouts, he got them, twice striking out the side. Unofficially, I had him with 13 first-pitch strikes to 23 batters. He helped his own cause at the plate, both times advancing runners including a sacrifice bunt producing the Curve’s second run. Kingham showed a slow, deliberate delivery, and the Squirrels attempted to run on him three times. One runner was thrown out, while the other two saw balls put into play.

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Alen Hanson Picks Up Three Hits, But Pitching Dooms Curve http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/08/alen-hanson-picks-up-three-hits-but-pitching-dooms-curve.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/08/alen-hanson-picks-up-three-hits-but-pitching-dooms-curve.html#comments Fri, 23 Aug 2013 04:39:05 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=64300 Alen Hanson went 3-for-5 in tonight's loss.

Alen Hanson went 3-for-5 in tonight’s loss.

Eliecer Navarro, Kenn Kasparek and Tyler Waldron allowed 17 hits, walked five and gave up nine runs combined as Altoona lost for the fifth time in six outings, falling 9-7 to the Richmond Flying Squirrels.

Navarro worked in and out of trouble for three innings, soft tossing his way out of jams before surrendering five runs in the fourth inning before being pulled. Navarro’s final line sat at 3.1 innings, seven hits, five walks and two strikeouts while throwing 88 pitches. His fastball rarely hit 85 mph, and on times when he reached back to fire in the 87-88 range, he had no idea where it was going. The Curve bullpen didn’t fare much better, as Waldron left too many balls over the plate en route to surrendering seven hits over just two innings.

The erratic pitching cast a shadow over an impressive showing from a struggling offense. After failing to score in their two previous games, the Curve came out blazing in the first of a four game set at The Diamond. Alen Hanson led things off with a single over third base, and advanced to third on a double by Drew Maggi. Both runners scored on consecutive sacrifice flies from Gregory Polanco and Alex Dickerson, and the Curve were staked to a 2-0 lead before Richmond came to the plate.

Hanson had arguably his best game since moving to Double-A, finishing 3-of-5 with two runs scored and two RBI. His bases clearly triple in the top of the ninth nearly capped a miraculous comeback which saw the Curve go from 9-3 down to a 9-7 deficit when Carlos Paulino grounded out with the bases loaded to end things. Jarek Cunningham finished 2-for-4, and is now 6-of-10 over his past three games. Cunningham showed impressive effort in the third inning, singling, stealing second and scoring from there on a wild pitch.

Richmond starting pitcher Jack Snodgrass made his first start since being activated from the disabled list, and got stronger as the game progressed, finishing with eight strikeouts over 6.1 innings, allowing three runs and six hits.

Notable Players

**SS Alen Hanson finished 3-for-5 including a game opening single, a bunt single to third and a bases clearing triple in the ninth. He misjudged a ball off of Drew Maggi’s bat in the first, and should have scored on Maggi’s double, but came around to do so on Gregory Polanco’s sac fly. He seemed to “flip a switch” defensively, often times allowing routine plays to become close, while making more challenging catch and throws look easy.

15 pitches seen/five plate appearances, four from the right side, his triple coming from the left

**CF Gregory Polanco went 0-for-3 with a sacrifice fly, a walk and two strikeouts. He went after the first pitch he saw, and roped a ball to deep center/right center that drove in Alen Hanson from third. Polanco struggled with left-handed sidearm pitcher Phil McCormick, striking out on three pitches down and away with runners in scoring position, and looked like he carried that mistake into the field. He made a tremendous throw in the first inning to gun down a runner attempting to score from third on a sac fly, but appeared to pull off of a similar throw in the later innings.

19 pitches seen/five plate appearances; Polanco stuck out twice on seven pitches, and smacked a first pitch fastball deep for his sacrifice.

**RF Alex Dickerson had a quiet night, finishing 0-for-2 with two walks, and a sacrifice fly. None of the balls he put in play were hit particularly hard, but he drew consecutive walks in the seventh and ninth inning.

17 pitches seen/five plate appearances

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Cunningham Picks Up Three Hits, But Curve Continue Losing Skid http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/08/cunningham-picks-up-three-hits-but-curve-continue-losing-skid.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/08/cunningham-picks-up-three-hits-but-curve-continue-losing-skid.html#comments Thu, 22 Aug 2013 05:22:03 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=64101 Jarek Cunningham picked up three hits tonight. Photo Credit: David Hague

Jarek Cunningham picked up three hits tonight. Photo Credit: David Hague

The Altoona Curve have found themselves in a late season swoon, losing to the Reading Fightins 8-0 on Wednesday night. They lost three of four to the Philadelphia Phillies’ AA affiliate in the series and five of six overall, scoring just seven runs in that span.

“It’s just not being able to make adjustments,” Jarek Cunningham said about the lack of offense. “Last night and tonight we faced very similar pitching and we weren’t able to make adjustments and just played right into their hands both nights.”

“I see a team a little bit desperate right now, swinging at too many pitches out of the strike zone,” manager Carlos Garcia said. “Probably in the back of their mind they want to maintain their numbers and try to be a little careful and they go out there and try to have a quality at-bat. I was disappointed with the lack of patience at the plate earlier in the game. When we got down eight runs, rather than take a strike and work the count, we started swinging at first pitches. We tried to hit five-run homers when we didn’t have anybody on base. In that situation, you work the count, try to get on base, trust the guy who is on deck and pile as many runners on as you can.”

The Curve got shut out for the second consecutive night by a left-handed pitcher. You may think the Curve have lower numbers against left-handed pitching, but the numbers are very similar when facing a lefty and righty besides the slugging percentage.

VS LHP .252 avg .322 OBP .349 SLG
VS RHP .251 avg .325 OBP .393 SLG

Left-hander Nate Baker (3-3, 6.59 ERA) took the loss Wednesday, giving up seven earned runs on 11 hits in five innings. In the fourth inning, Baker gave up four hits to start the inning, including back-to-back home runs on successive pitches to Maikel Franco and Jim Murphy. Most of the damage was done by right handed hitters, who were getting extended on pitches out over the plate and barreling up Baker’s fastball. The catcher was setting up inside on the right-handed batters a few times but the pitches were not enough inside or off the plate to get weak contact. The Pirates’ 2009 5th round pick had a tough time staying on top of his fastball and locating it down in the zone. The Fightins took advantage of the thigh high and belt high fastballs by driving them to all fields. In his last three starts, Baker has thrown 16 innings and gave up 15 earned runs on 25 hits. Baker did get some swing and misses when he was ahead of the count with his changeup but most Fightins hitters were ambushing the fastball.

The Curve had several opportunities to score throughout the night. They left the bases loaded in the third. Cunningham, who tripled, was thrown out at home attempting to score on a fly ball to right field in the seventh. Alen Hanson was left stranded after leading off the eighth with a double to left field. In the ninth, Mel Rojas Jr. and Cunningham singled to start the inning but were left stranded as the Curve finished 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position.

The minor league season is a grind and can take a toll on the players both mentally and physically.

“It’s just being in August and we’ve been playing since March so our bodies are tired,” first baseman Justin Howard said, who is batting .300 in his last ten games with a .382 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage for an OPS of .882. “Our mental focus is tired so it’s just the point of coming to the field and taking our at-bats and separating them when we’re on defense.”

You can’t but help to think that the team is mentally and physically drained, but no one has given up on the team or themselves.

“It’s not that you can look out there in the game and tell someone is giving up,” second baseman Cunningham said, after going 3-for-4 at the plate with a triple off the left-center field wall (385 feet) and had three of the team’s six hits. “Everyone is still playing hard and you can tell there’s been quality at-bats but at times you can see people not putting enough emphasis in situations when they need to be successful.”

Despite being out of the playoff race, manager Carlos Garcia says the team will finish the season on a good note, despite having a 59-71 record.

“We will finish strong, that’s for sure, there’s no doubt about it,” Curve manager Garcia said. “When I say we’ll finish strong I don’t mean we’re going to win the rest of the games, but we’re going to play with energy, go out there and prepare, try to be more consistent at the plate and in the field. The work will be done no matter how many games out we are and they understand that and they know that won’t fly on my watch, so they got to be ready to play.”

The game did feature some highlights made on defense by the Curve, despite two errors. Mel Rojas Jr. made two nice catches in the field. Rojas Jr. ranged to right-center to rob Anthony Hewitt of a double to the gap. In the seventh, the center fielder went back on the ball and caught a deep drive off the bat of prized prospect Franco on the warning track in dead center field.

Cunningham ranged to his right on a ground ball up the middle, making a backhand stab and making a leaping throw that could not be corralled on one hop by Howard. Gregory Polanco showcased his strong arm with a throw from the right field bullpen mound to second base. Polanco cut off the ball down the line and threw a dart just over a jumping Alen Hanson at second base with no bounce.

Top Prospects:
SS Alen Hanson went 1-for-3 with a double
1st at-bat: grounded out to third base on a 1-2 pitch
2nd at-bat: walked on a 3-1 pitch
3rd at-bat: grounded out to shortstop on the first pitch
4th at-bat: doubled to left field on a 2-1 pitch
14 pitches seen/4 plate appearances=3.5 pitches per plate appearance

RF Gregory Polanco went 0-for-3
1st at-bat: flew out to center on a 2-1 pitch
2nd at-bat: walked on a 3-1 pitch
3rd at-bat: flew out to left on a 1-2 pitch
4th at-bat: grounded out to second base on a 2-2 pitch
19 pitches seen/4 plate appearances=4.75 pitches per plate appearance

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Pat Ludwig Follows Up Pitcher of the Week Honors With Another Gem http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/08/pat-ludwig-follows-up-pitcher-of-the-week-honors-with-another-gem.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/08/pat-ludwig-follows-up-pitcher-of-the-week-honors-with-another-gem.html#comments Wed, 21 Aug 2013 05:49:02 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=64082 Pat Ludwig gave up one run in seven innings tonight.

Pat Ludwig gave up one run in seven innings tonight.

Last week Pat Ludwig tossed seven shutout innings, giving up just two hits, one walk, and striking out seven. The outing was the second best in the Pirates system for the week, and was enough to earn Ludwig the Florida State League Pitcher of the Week award. Tonight was the first time Ludwig made a start since that outing. His follow up performance didn’t disappoint.

Ludwig once again went seven innings, giving up one run on four hits, with a walk and four strikeouts. That helped to lead the Bradenton Marauders to a 3-1 victory over Jupiter. Ludwig’s game score tonight was a 68, giving him his second straight gem. The right-hander worked off his two-seam fastball and cutter tonight, sitting in the 88-91 MPH range. He threw his curveball in the upper 70s, and threw his changeup in the low 80s.

“Changeup wasn’t the best tonight. It’s been better in the past,” Ludwig said after the start. “Curveball has improved a lot in the last couple of starts. Starting to be able to locate it, throw it for a strike, throw it for a strikeout whenever I want to. And that was something I had a lot of success with in college as a starter, so I’m starting to get back into that routine.”

The Pirates drafted Ludwig in the tenth round out of Yale in the 2012 draft. He had a slot value of $125,000, but was a signability pick, signing for $5,000 to create space for Mark Appel. Still, Ludwig had an intriguing arm, capable of hitting 94 MPH. He started in his three years at Yale, but has worked exclusively out of the bullpen up until recently. He was needed for a spot start in West Virginia, which had him stretched out. When Bradenton needed a starter, he was good to go, and they kept him in the rotation after that, gradually increasing his pitches. In his last two starts he has gone seven innings each, after topping out at 5.2 innings previously.

“It’s been a year since I started regularly, but starting to get back used to it, and my arm’s adjusting nicely,” Ludwig said.

The first two starts with Bradenton were impressive, as Ludwig combined for two earned runs on eight hits in nine innings. He followed that up with some poor outings, combining for 13 earned runs in 13.1 innings over his next three starts.

“We made a couple of adjustments after my first couple of starts, just trying to get my fastball to play better,” Ludwig said. He noted that the adjustments were switching to the other side of the rubber, which would give him more deception. He also focused on getting back to commanding the fastball.

“It’s clearly been working,” Ludwig said. “I’m not having to throw as many off-speed pitches. I’m not having to throw as many cut fastballs to get guys off of it and keep the ball on the ground. That’s just been a huge difference in my game so far.”

Coming into the season we had Ludwig as an interesting relief prospect due to the ability to hit 94 MPH, combined with the potential for the curveball to be an out pitch. Ludwig looked great tonight in the rotation, using all of his pitches, but primarily getting ahead of hitters by attacking with his fastball. He doesn’t have dominant stuff to make it as a starter, so his upside is probably still as a reliever. However, his experience in the rotation should give him plenty of playing time, which will give him additional innings to improve the quality of his breaking ball, and improve his fastball command.

Willy Garcia was helped off the field after a minor knee injury.

Willy Garcia was helped off the field after a minor knee injury.

Willy Garcia Leaves With Minor Injury

Willy Garcia left tonight’s game in the third inning after sliding into third base. Garcia hit a two RBI double to reach base, bringing in Ashley Ponce and Benji Gonzalez with two outs. In the next at-bat, Garcia broke for third on a pitch in the dirt. The throw was late, but Garcia slid hard into the bag, going in with his left foot first. He stayed on the ground until the trainer came out, then had trouble putting weight on his leg as he was getting up. Garcia needed help walking off the field, and was replaced by Junior Sosa.

It ended up being a minor knee injury, as Garcia was walking around after the game with ice on the knee.

Game Notes

**You only need one look at Gift Ngoepe on the field to remember that he’s the best defensive shortstop in the system. He’s got good hands, a strong arm, and he has smooth moves on the field. That “one play” for me tonight was in the second inning when Ngoepe, in one fluid motion, fielded a ball to the left of the bag, stepped on the bag, and threw a bullet to first for the easiest 6-3 double play you’ve ever seen. Ngoepe’s issue is that he hasn’t been hitting, and while he is hitting in high-A, he’s still striking out 35% of the time. He is going to have a future because of the speed and defense, but it would be hard to find a spot for him in the majors unless he finds a way to show some marginal offensive ability.

**Orlando Castro has moved to the bullpen in Bradenton this month, mostly due to innings. Castro is currently at 102 innings on the season, after throwing 52 the previous year. Prior to that he had 57.1 innings in 2011 and 54 innings in 2010, so this has been a huge jump for him.

**Joan Montero was sitting 91-94 MPH with his fastball, also throwing a hard breaking slider in the 87 MPH range. However, he lacked control, walking three batters in less than an inning. Montero had a great outing last week where he threw five shutout innings with no walks, but the control problems are still there, and will probably hold him back from Double-A.

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Altoona Loses Pitcher’s Duel Against Reading http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/08/altoona-loses-pitchers-duel-against-reading.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/08/altoona-loses-pitchers-duel-against-reading.html#comments Wed, 21 Aug 2013 05:47:18 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=64102 David Bromberg gave up one unearned run in 5.2 innings tonight.

David Bromberg gave up one unearned run in 5.2 innings tonight.

Reading’s Ryan Demmin and Altoona’s David Bromberg found themselves in a pitcher’s duel on Tuesday night at Peoples’ Natural Gas Field. The Fightins scored a controversial run in the sixth and added an insurance run in the eighth to shut out the Curve 2-0 in Eastern League action.

The lefty Demmin was making a spot start for the Philadelphia Phillies AA affiliate. While not possessing overpowering stuff, Demmin allowed five hits, struck out one, and did not walk a batter in his first start at the AA level.

The Fightens’ Maikel Franco reached on an error and Jim Murphy singled to start the sixth. After a sacrifice bunt and walk, the bases were loaded for catcher Sebastian Valle. Valle lifted a pitch to left-center where center fielder Gregory Polanco settled under the ball for the out. Polanco then threw a one-hop strike to third base, beating Murphy to the bag and what appeared to be the third out before Franco scored from third. However, Murphy was called safe and the first run of the game scored.

Albert Cartwright reached on an RBI fielder’s choice in the eighth for the only other run of the game.

David Bromberg (6-10) was the hard luck loser for the Curve. The right-hander allowed one unearned run over five and two-thirds innings, striking out four in the process.

The Curve collected seven hits on the night, but all were singles. No one had more than one hit in the lineup. Alen Hanson and Travis Snider each singled for the Curve, who dropped to 59-70 on the season.

Notable Players

**SS Alen Hanson went 1-for-4 on the night with a bunt single, before being taking out in the ninth. He grounded out to the pitcher, struck out swinging, and flew out to left field for the rest of his at-bats. Hanson made a nice play in the hole in the third inning. He also showed great range getting to a ground ball up the middle in the eighth and almost completed a glove flip putout to the second baseman.

10 pitches seen/4 plate appearances= 2.5 pitches per plate appearance

**RF Travis Snider played six innings in the second game of his rehab stint with the Curve. Snider went 1-for-3 with a single to center field. Snider also grounded out to second base and flew out to center field.

9 pitches seen/3 plate appearances=3 pitches per plate appearance

**CF Gregory Polanco went 0-for-4 with two hard lineouts to left and center field. Polanco also grounded out to the pitcher and to the shortstop. In the ninth, Polanco drove a pitch to deep left-center field where the speedy Zach Collier made a great running catch on the warning track. Polanco made a great throw on a sacrifice fly in the sixth, throwing a one-hop strike to third base from medium left-center field.

17 pitches seen/4 plate appearances=4.25 pitches per plate appearance

**LF/RF Alex Dickerson went 0-4 on Tuesday. The Pirates’ 2011 3rd round pick flew out to left and short, lined out to right field and grounded into a double play to end the game.

7 pitches seen/4 plate appearances=1.75 pitches per plate appearance

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