Morning Report: An Early Season Look at the Altoona Curve Prospects

The last two Morning Reports have been looks at the first month for both the West Virginia Power and Bradenton Marauders. We move up to Altoona today, where the team is loaded with top 30 prospects in the system.

The Curve will be a fun team to watch this year due to their deep lineup and strong pitching staff. When outfielder Bryan Reynolds returns, they will have six top 30 prospects in the lineup and five in the starting rotation, assuming none of them get promoted soon.

That’s not a guarantee because both Brandon Waddell and JT Brubaker are putting up big numbers. Dario Agrazal is also pitching well, but he had just one game of Double-A experience last year and his strikeout rate is very low this season, so he’s unlikely (at this point) to move up before them. Waddell and Brubaker have sufficient Double-A experience, not to mention they spent last fall in the Arizona Fall League.

Mitch Keller isn’t pitching up to his own standards, but he’s not pitching bad either. You probably wouldn’t notice it if he wasn’t getting out-pitched by those other three starters. If he gets on track soon, the Pirates will have some very interesting decisions to make on when to move these players. There are spots for Brubaker and Waddell in the Indianapolis rotation right now if they want to make the moves and obviously no one there will prevent Keller from getting promoted when the time is right.

The pitching disappointment so far is Taylor Hearn, although we aren’t far removed from him pitching well in back-to-back games. He was expected to spend the entire year in Altoona anyway, so two bad starts out of four outings isn’t anything to worry about now.

The bullpen has been mediocre so far, but waiver pickup Jesus Liranzo had looked very strong with a triple digit fastball and a nice three-pitch mix. He could end up being a nice under-the-radar pickup for the Pirates.

The offense really has just one player living up to the hype so far.  That would be Jason Martin, who has an .861 OPS in 19 games. The second best OPS (.734) belongs to Will Craig. Considering that the Eastern League has a .684 OPS this year, at least he’s 50 points over average. Catcher Christian Kelley isn’t doing bad at the plate so far. When you factor in that his glove is better than his bat, then it makes him a sleeper prospect to keep an eye on.

Top 30 prospects Cole Tucker, Stephen Alemais and Ke’Bryan Hayes are all below that league average OPS, though just by one point for Tucker. Part of that could be from the weather conditions during the early part of this season, though you would also factor that in with the pitchers and most of them are doing fine. I wouldn’t worry about any of them at this point for numerous reasons, such as age and small sample size. With Alemais, he barely had a half season of A-ball, split between both levels. Going into Spring Training, there was a thought that he could begin the year in Bradenton.

One thing to note about those three infielders is how well they are defensively as a group. They are all above average for their position. In fact, Altoona has been great defensively with just 16 errors as a team, the lowest total in the league.

The biggest team disappointment so far is the injury to Bryan Reynolds in the fourth game. He shouldn’t miss too much more time with his hamate, possibly returning late this month. One thing the injury does is put him on the early watch list for possible Arizona Fall League participants. In fact, that team could be loaded this year on offense when you factor in that the players usually come from Altoona. Just something to store in the back of your mind for now.


Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates lost 9-3 to the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night. The Pirates will send Trevor Williams to the mound today for his seventh start. He has allowed two runs over six innings in each of his last three starts and the start before that stretch was one run over six innings. The Nationals will counter with right-handed pitcher Jeremy Hellickson, who has a 4.11 ERA in 15.1 innings over three starts, with nine strikeouts and a 1.24 WHIP. He allowed two runs over 5.1 innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks in his last start.

The minor league schedule includes Mitch Keller trying to bounce back from his worst start of the young season. He gave three runs on five hits and five walks in four innings. Keller is holding hitters to a .200 BAA and he has a 1.93 GO/AO ratio. Bradenton starter Eduardo Vera has gone at least six innings in each of his last four starts. He has an 0.93 WHIP and a .219 BAA. Ike Schalbach has started twice since joining the West Virginia rotation from the bullpen, allowing a total of two runs over ten innings. Casey Sadler makes his third start for Indianapolis.

MLB: Pittsburgh (17-14) @ Washington (15-16) 1:05 PM
Probable starter: Trevor Williams (2.29 ERA, 23:17 SO/BB, 35.1 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (12-11) vs Gwinnnett (9-15) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Casey Sadler (8.31 ERA, 10:9 SO/BB, 13.0 IP)

AA: Altoona (13-10) vs Erie (8-16) 6:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Mitch Keller (2.78 ERA, 23:12 SO/BB, 22.2 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (15-11) vs Dunedin (9-16) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Eduardo Vera (3.00 ERA, 19:5 SO/BB, 30.0 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (14-12) vs Augusta (18-7) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Ike Schlabach (3.92 ERA, 15:9 SO/BB, 20.2 IP)


From Altoona’s game on Tuesday night, two GIFs of Dario Agrazal. First is a strikeout pitch from his strong six inning performance.

Next is his first career RBI


5/1: Joe Musgrove assigned to Bradenton on rehab.

4/29: Pirates recall Nick Kingham. Enny Romero placed on disabled list.

4/29: Brett McKinney added to Indianapolis roster.

4/27: Bo Schultz promoted to Indianapolis. Adam Oller promoted to Bradenton.

4/27: Gavin Wallace placed on disabled list. Beau Sulser and Drew Fischer added to West Virginia.

4/26: Todd Cunningham traded to Chicago White Sox for a player to be named later.

4/25: Rafelin Lorenzo placed on West Virginia disabled list. Raul Hernandez added to roster

4/25: Released Julio Gonzalez from DSL Pirates

4/25: Jose Osuna recalled for Wednesday’s doubleheader. Demoted after game.


Two former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus one trade of note that would seem backwards based on today’s standards. On this date in 1947, the Pirates traded outfielder Al Gionfriddo to the Brooklyn Dodgers for five players. The odd part of the deal is the fact the Pirates paid out at least $100,000 (possibly $125k according to one source) to the Dodgers as part of the deal. By the 1949 season, only one of the players was left in a Pirates uniform, pitcher Kirby Higbe. One of the players the Pirates got back made his name in baseball as a manager years later, infielder Gene Mauch.

Five years after that deal, the Pirates traded pitcher Bill Werle to the St Louis Cardinals for veteran pitcher Red Munger. The trade didn’t do much for one of the worst teams in franchise history, as that 1952 club finished with a 42-112 record. Munger was 0-3, 7.18 in four starts and one relief appearance for the Pirates.

The two players born on this date are first baseman Ivan Cruz (1999-2000) and catcher Chris Cannizzaro (1968). You can read a mini bio for each player in the link above.

On this date in 1882, second baseman George Strief hit the first home run in franchise history. It was the first of five homers he hit during his five-year career. It came off pitcher Will White, who would win 40 games that season and he allowed just three homers all year. White is the brother of Deacon White, who played for Pittsburgh in 1889 and was elected to the Hall of Fame five years ago.