Despite scoring nine runs on Thursday night and the fact that they have a 19-17 record, the Altoona Curve are the worst hitting team in the Eastern League. It’s a team full of hitters who have track records of hitting well in the minors. Let’s face it though, not many guys get to Double-A without hitting their way there in the first place. So the track record doesn’t guarantee success at a level that many hitters never surpass.
This group of players is different though because they have so many prospects and numerous players with previous experience at the level. Many of them are coming in under numbers we have seen in the past at Altoona. That makes you think that good things could be in store for this club.
No one should expect Cole Tucker to continue to slump. Unless he’s playing through an injury he’s hiding, then the current streak of 7-for-70 is hard to explain. Tucker was hitting the ball well late last year into the playoffs. He had a .726 OPS in 42 games with Altoona last year, but he also got off to a really slow start. He’s closing in on that same game total this year for the Curve and he currently has a .557 OPS.
Tucker’s double play partner Stephen Alemais is also off to a slow start. He definitely gets some leeway because he split last year between West Virginia, the disabled list and Bradenton, with the disabled list getting the most time of the trio. So he basically did two levels in a little more than half of a season and then jumped to Double-A. Alemais is in an 0-for-22 slump and he has a .203 OPS..yes, OPS, in May.
Other returning players besides Tucker are having a rough start. Logan Hill was one of the best hitters last year until his broken hand. He has a .541 OPS through 33 games and some huge strikeout numbers. Elvis Escobar is still somewhat young for the level despite reaching it in 2016, but his numbers have really fallen off. He has a .346 OPS in 32 games and he had three hits yesterday.
Ke’Bryan Hayes has a .664 OPS after hitting his first home run of the season last night. He’s a player who deserves a bit more patience, being one of the youngest players in the Eastern League. I expected a little more at this point because he’s not a .244 hitter. By the end of the season, you should see his numbers look much better.
Will Craig is showing the power you want to see with nine doubles and five homers, but his .331 OBP is lower than you should expect from him. He needs to find that happy medium between power and OBP, or (fans would hope) a combo of both.
With that group you have six players seeing regular time who aren’t putting up the desired numbers, and in four of those cases, they are well off of the numbers you’d like to see. The team has a .655 OPS, despite Jason Martin’s best efforts to move up to Indianapolis with his 1.031 OPS.
You could say that’s a good sign for fans of the team because there is a ton of room for improvement with this offense and only Martin is putting up numbers (in a good way) that he can’t keep up. The rest like Christian Kelley (.769 OPS) and Jordan George (.734 OPS) could easily maintain their pace. Bryan Reynolds has also been out almost six weeks now, so he should return sometime soon.
If we were to look at this team’s hitting a month from now, I don’t think we will be talking about the worst hitting team in the Eastern League anymore. There are too many solid players who are hitting below their standards.
Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates won 5-4 over the San Diego Padres on Thursday night. They will send Ivan Nova to the mound for his tenth start today. He gave up four runs over 5.2 innings against the San Francisco Giants in his last start. The Padres scheduled starter is right-hander Tyson Ross, who gave up one run over six innings against the St Louis Cardinals in his last start. He has an 3.40 ERA in 47.2 innings over eight starts this season, with 53 strikeouts and a 1.15 WHIP.
The minor league schedule includes Joe Musgrove making his final scheduled rehab start before joining the Pirates. He threw 5.2 without a hit or walk, with the only base runner reaching on an error. He is scheduled to go six innings and/or 100 pitches. Altoona starter Dario Agrazal is second in the Eastern League with a 1.30 ERA and an 0.82 WHIP. Bradenton starter Cam Vieaux faced Palm Beach (tonight’s opponent) in his last start and allowed four runs over 4.1 innings. West Virginia starter Sergio Cubilete returned last week after missing three weeks following a line drive to the face. In his first start back, he tossed one-hit ball over five shutout innings.
MLB: Pittsburgh (26-17) vs Padres (17-28) 7:05 PM
Probable starter: Ivan Nova (5.01 ERA, 39:8 SO/BB, 50.1 IP)
AAA: Indianapolis (20-17) @ Durham (24-14) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Joe Musgrove (0.00 ERA, 6:0 SO/BB, 5.2 IP)
AA: Altoona (19-17) vs Portland (14-24) 6:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Dario Agrazal (1.30 ERA, 23:7 SO/BB, 41.2 IP)
High-A: Bradenton (21-19) @ Palm Beach (24-15) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Cam Vieaux (4.38 ERA, 34:11 SO/BB, 37.0 IP)
Low-A: West Virginia (23-14) vs Lexington (18-19) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Sergio Cubilete (4.91 ERA, 4:5 SO/BB, 7.1 IP)
From two different Indianapolis games. First is a double by Wyatt Mathisen that clears the bases
Next is a nice catch by Eric Wood at first base.
5/17: JT Brubaker placed on temporary inactive list. Jackson Williams added to Indianapolis.
5/14: Jin-De Jhang assigned to Altoona. Jackson Williams assigned to Morgantown.
5/14: Josh Harrison assigned to Altoona on rehab.
5/12: Joe Musgrove assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.
5/10: JT Brubaker promoted to Indianapolis. Nick Kingham assigned to Altoona
5/10: Sergio Cubilete activated from disabled list. Jacob Taylor placed on West Virginia disabled list.
5/9: Brett McKinney placed on the Indianapolis disabled list
5/8: Pirates recall Jose Osuna
5/7: Nick Kingham optioned to Indianapolis
5/7: Sam Street released
5/7: Wyatt Mathisen promoted to Indianapolis. Logan Ratledge assigned to Altoona.
5/7: Joe Musgrove assigned to Altoona.
THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY
Four former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including Pirates great Babe Adams, who won 194 games over his 18 season in Pittsburgh. During the 1909 season as a rookie, he went 12-3, 1.11 in 130 innings during the regular season and then won three games during the World Series. Adams won a career-high 22 games during the 1911 season and was the only player from the 1909 team who was still around during the 1925 season when the Pirates won their second WS title. You can read his full bio here.
Other former Pirates players born on this date:
Nelson Figueroa, 2003-04 pitcher. He had a 4.38 ERA in 63.2 innings with the Pirates, making six starts and 16 relief appearances.
Ken Hamlin, shortstop in 1957 and 1959. Played just four games over his two seasons with the Pirates, going 1-for-9 at the plate.
Bill Batsch, pinch-hitter on September 9, 1916. Walked in his only career plate appearance.
On this date in 1909, Honus Wagner hit a tenth inning two-run triple to help give the Pirates an 8-5 victory over Brooklyn. Hall of Famer Vic Willis started the game for the Pirates and reliever Sam Leever picked up the victory. That gave the Pirates a 1.5 game lead in the standings over the Cubs, the team that won the NL pennant each of the previous three seasons.