Today we wrap up the 2011 Altoona Curve preview with a look at the bullpen. So far we’ve covered the infielders, outfielders, and the starting pitchers. As I mentioned in last week’s preview of the Indianapolis bullpen, a minor league bullpen isn’t overly important. That’s especially true the lower you go in the minors. Most bullpen guys in the lower levels aren’t likely to reach the majors, and if they do, their upside is a middle reliever. The exceptions are guys like Diego Moreno. Just like last week, we won’t go over every last player who could possibly pitch in the bullpen this year.
The Top Prospects
The Pirates have two hard throwing prospects expected to start out the 2011 season in Altoona: Diego Moreno and Ramon Aguero. Both right handers are hard throwers who project as future late inning relievers in the majors.
Moreno arrived in Altoona last year, pitching 7.2 innings with a 7.04 ERA, a 14.1 K/9, and a 3.5 BB/9 ratio. His strikeout ratios so far have been outstanding, with a 13.4 K/9 in 38.1 innings in high-A last year. That’s fueled by a fastball that sits in the mid-90s, and tops out at 98 MPH. He was suspended after arriving in Altoona, then was sent back to Bradenton to finish the year. He should return to Altoona this year, and could move quickly through the system, possibly even reaching the majors this year.
Aguero arrived in Altoona last year, but struggled with his control, putting up a 17:14 K/BB ratio in 18.2 innings. That could have been due to a minor elbow injury, which put Aguero out of action at the start of the season. When healthy, Aguero throws a 95 MPH fastball.
Returning to Altoona
There are a few guys who could return to Altoona this year, due to a lack of available spots in Indianapolis. Those guys are Jared Hughes, Michael Dubee, Tom Boleska, and Michael Colla. Anthony Claggett and Craig Hansen both spent some time in Altoona last year, and both could return this year.
Hughes spent time in the Altoona rotation last year, putting up a 4.42 ERA in 150.2 innings total, with a 7.2 K/9 and a 2.4 BB/9 ratio. He profiles best as a reliever, and should move to that role full time in 2011 due to the pitching that is expected to arrive from Bradenton.
Dubee has put up good numbers in Altoona the last two years. He had a 2.91 ERA in 34 innings in 2009, with a 7.4 K/9 and a 2.6 BB/9 ratio. In 2010 he had a 2.24 ERA in 76.1 innings, with an 8.0 K/9 and a 2.2 BB/9 ratio. Despite this, he hasn’t been moved up to AAA, outside of one inning in 2010. He throws in the high-80s to low-90s, and doesn’t project as more than middle relief depth in the majors.
Boleska made the jump to Altoona in 2010, with a 2.73 ERA in 26.1 innings, along with a 6.2 K/9 and a 2.7 BB/9 ratio. Like Dubee, his upside is middle relief depth.
Colla is similar to Dubee and Boleska, putting up good numbers in relief, with a low-90s fastball. In 2010 he had a 3.10 ERA in 29 innings at the AA level, along with a 7.1 K/9 and a 2.5 BB/9 ratio. He struggles commanding his fastball at times.
Claggett has fallen off in the last two years, going from a top prospect in the New York Yankees system, to potentially getting cut this year. Craig Hansen has also fallen, going from one of four pieces in the return for Jason Bay, to recovering from a rare nervous system condition. Hansen could make a comeback to the majors, although it would be extremely fortunate for him if that happens.
Possible Late Season Arrivals
A lot of guys could make the jump to Altoona to fill in for the bullpen this year, but I’ll try to limit this to top prospects, or guys who could stick at the level. The one top prospect is Victor Black, who missed most of last season with a biceps injury, which developed from a shoulder injury earlier in the year. Black throws a 92-94 MPH fastball that tops out at 96. He will move to the bullpen in 2010, likely in Bradenton, and could arrive in Altoona by the end of the year if he remains healthy.
Tyler Cox and Casey Erickson are two of the middle relief prospects who could arrive and stick in Altoona by the end of the year. Neither player stands out above the Boleska/Colla/Dubee group.
One outside shot could be Duke Welker. Welker has great velocity, throwing 96-98 MPH consistently out of the bullpen in 2010. His big problem is a total lack of control, with a horrible 8.5 BB/9 ratio in 24.1 innings in high-A last year. If he can get those control numbers down to a respectable number, like his 3.7 BB/9 ratio in 2008, he could start moving up from A-ball.
Opening Day Projection
The estimated opening day bullpen:
CL – Diego Moreno
RP – Ramon Aguero, Jared Hughes, Michael Dubee, Tom Boleska, Michael Colla, Craig Hansen
Candidates to join the bullpen in May/June: Tyler Cox, Casey Erickson, Victor Black
Could pitch in the AAA bullpen in 2011: Diego Moreno, Ramon Aguero, Jared Hughes, Michael Dubee, Tom Boleska, Michael Colla, Craig Hansen.