In yesterday’s Morning Report, we looked at the Indianapolis Indians at their All-Star break. The Altoona Curve are also on their All-Star break. They resume play today, sitting in second place in their division, 3.5 games back of first, but 1.5 games ahead of third place for the second playoff spot. Just like Indianapolis, Altoona came into Opening Day loaded with prospects.

The top prospect for Altoona this year was Mitch Keller until he moved up to Indianapolis. Three members of the Curve’s Opening Day rotation have moved up to Triple-A already. Keller was the last, following JT Brubaker and Brandon Waddell. Those last two dominated early in the season, while Keller battled some control issues and had a few rough outings, before really settling down and finishing very strong. The three have been unable to duplicate their Double-A success yet, but it’s still early in the process for the trio. That’s especially true for Keller, who has made just two starts with the Indians.

Sticking with pitchers, Taylor Hearn has been tremendous lately. He was showing lower velocity early this year and the results were poor in April. Things have turned around since then with his velocity, control and results. He has a 2.30 ERA in his last ten starts, with 62 strikeouts in 54.2 innings. It’s just my guess, but I think Hearn will remain in Double-A until the end of the season, with a possible call-up if Indianapolis is going to make the playoffs and Altoona won’t be in the postseason.

Dario Agrazal was part of these prospect-laden rotation early in the season, but he has not pitched since May 24th due to a right shoulder strain. He was getting excellent results when healthy, albeit with a very low strikeout rate. Part of the reason he was rated so high last year was because he started picking up strikeouts, while maintaining a low walk rate and high ground ball rate. If he’s not getting the strikeouts, his stock will drop. It’s going to drop regardless, because this is his second long-term injury in two seasons.

Eduardo Vera gave the team another top 30 prospect when Agrazal was gone, but Vera got hurt in his last start when a line drive caught him on his right (pitching) forearm. It’s unknown right now if he will miss any starts. Vera is an interesting case this winter. He reaches minor league free agency at the end of the season. He will need a strong finish to get a 40-man roster spot, but if he doesn’t get it, he will probably look elsewhere for a better opportunity as a minor league free agent.

While we have had Cam Vieaux as a top 50 prospect in the past, he sort of came out of nowhere to put up strong numbers in six starts for the Curve so far. Much like Agrazal last year, Vieaux saw a mid-season spike in his strikeouts at Bradenton, which led to his promotion. He’s been even better in Double-A, so he’s one to watch. Pedro Vasquez had a Spring Training illness that set him back over a month, and it seems like he made the jump to Altoona before he was 100%. He’s still just 22 years old, so patience is the key with him. A strong finish would help out his prospect status.

In the bullpen, Geoff Hartlieb is the key player to watch. I mentioned a few weeks back that his ERA didn’t match what he was doing with his strikeouts, walks and huge ground ball rate. Hartlieb has allowed just one run in his last 13 innings. He now has a 3.93 ERA in 34.2 innings, with 40 strikeouts, eight walks and a 2.75 GO/AO ratio.

On the hitting side, Cole Tucker and Ke’Bryan Hayes were the top prospects coming into the season, but Jason Martin stole the show. Martin moved up to Indianapolis with Mitch Keller after hitting .325/.392/.522 in 68 games. About the only thing he didn’t do right is make good use of his speed on the bases. He used it well in the outfield, showing that he can play center field. The 7-for-15 in steals needs some work, and the running game has always been a weak point. Everything else was better than advertised.

Tucker has had a rough season at the plate. He’s been hitting the ball hard, so there is some bad luck involved in his average, which should even out as the season continues. The defense has been strong like we saw last year and now the stolen bases have returned. The .245/.308/.324 slash line has to improve before he goes anywhere.

While Tucker has been trending up slowly recently, Ke’Bryan Hayes has been trending up quickly. He had a very slow April, so not many people noticed the .833 OPS in May, but they took notice when it went up to .982 last month. His July has kicked off strong and his season OPS is at .814 through 74 games. When you add in his defense and speed, you’re talking about a top prospect living up to the hype.

Will Craig has shown more power this year, although he isn’t combining it with the high OBP from last year. He showed a lot of power during the Eastern League Home Run Derby on Tuesday, hitting 12 in one round. If he could somehow combine the best of last year with the best from this year, then he becomes a much better prospect.

Bryan Reynolds hasn’t done much this year, mostly due to the hand injury that cost him seven weeks. He’s quietly blending in with a .715 OPS. At some point in the near future, I’ll do a Morning Report with my guesses for the Arizona Fall League participants. Bryan Reynolds will head that list. It’s usually Double-A players, and it can include guys who missed time due to injury, and 99% of the time it’s players who haven’t been there before. He checks all of the boxes.

Stephen Alemais and Christian Kelley are players who will likely get to the majors based on their defense. Kelley is showing improved hitting this year, although it’s much more power and a lower OBP. Alemais isn’t hitting much yet, but he only put in a half season between West Virginia and Bradenton last year, so it was somewhat aggressive pushing him to Altoona to begin the season. Logan Hill hasn’t been the same as last year, showing a sharp drop-off in both power and OBP. At 25 years old, with prior Double-A and AFL experience, that’s not a good sign.

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates won 2-0 over the Washington Nationals on Wednesday afternoon. The Pirates now take on the Milwaukee Brewers for five games, which leads up to the All-Star break. Jameson Taillon will be on the mound today for his 19th start, coming off of three runs over 6.2 innings against the Philadelphia Phillies in his last start. The scheduled Brewers starter is left-hander Wade Miley, who has a 1.42 ERA in 6.1 innings, with four strikeouts and a 1.26 WHIP. He has started twice this season, allowing one run over six innings in his debut, then was removed from his second start on May 9th after three batters due to an oblique injury, which landed him on the 60-day DL.

The minor league schedule includes Brandon Waddell going for Indianapolis as they return from their All-Star break. He allowed two runs over seven innings in his last start. Bradenton starter Luis Escobar had a season high nine strikeouts in his last start. Shane Baz allowed four runs over five innings in his last start, but he also struck out a career high nine batters. Eighth round pick Zach Spears makes his fourth pro start. He has not gone longer than three innings in an outing.

MLB: Pittsburgh (43-49) vs Brewers (55-38) 7:05 PM
Probable starter: Jameson Taillon (4.05 ERA, 93:28 SO/BB, 100.0 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (48-39) vs Toledo (49-39) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Brandon Waddell (6.51 ERA, 17:13 SO/BB, 27.2 IP)

AA: Altoona (45-39) @ Erie (41-46) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: TBD (0.00 ERA, 0:0 SO/BB, 0.0 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (43-42) vs Lakeland (48-40) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Luis Escobar (4.20 ERA, 79:37 SO/BB, 85.2 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (47-38) @ Hickory (40-47) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Hunter Stratton (5.66 ERA, 56:31 SO/BB, 55.2 IP)

Short-Season A: Morgantown (11-14) @ Hudson Valley (15-10) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Zach Spears (4.26 ERA, 5:1 SO/BB, 6.1 IP)

Rookie: Bristol (11-10) @ Pulaski (9-13) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Shane Baz (3.79 ERA, 20:10 SO/BB, 19.0 IP)

GCL: Pirates (7-10) vs Yankees East 12:00 PM (season preview)

DSL: Pirates1 (16-18) vs Red Sox2 10:30 AM (season preview)

DSL: Pirates2 (13-20) vs Mariners 10:30 AM (season preview)

HIGHLIGHTS

From Bradenton, two highlights. First is Clay Holmes picking up a strikeout…

Next is a two-run single from Adrian Valerio

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

7/10: Joe Musgrove activated from disabled list. Alex McRae optioned to Indianapolis.

7/10: Jackson Williams placed on disabled list.

7/10: Mitch Keller assigned to Bradenton.

7/9: Sean Rodriguez assigned to Bradenton on rehab.

7/8: Francisco Cervelli activated from disabled list. Jacob Stallings optioned to Indianapolis.

7/7: Pirates activate Michael Feliz, recall Alex McRae from Indianapolis. Dovydas Neverauskas and Josh Smoker optioned to Indianapolis.

7/7: Pirates released Felix Vinicio, Pablo Santana and Carlos Garcia.

7/6: Jake Brentz placed on Bradenton disabled list.

7/6: John O’Reilly assigned to Bristol. Sent back to GCL on 7/7 (really happened)

7/6: Rafelin Lorenzo assigned to GCL Pirates on rehab. Raul Hernandez assigned to West Virginia.

7/6: Jin-De Jhang activated from Altoona disabled list. John Bormann placed on disabled list.

7/6: Clay Holmes optioned to Bradenton. Pirates recall Jordan Luplow.

7/6: Raul Siri assigned to Morgantown.

7/6: Pirates sign Zack Kone

7/5: Royals claim Enny Romero

7/5: Francisco Cervelli assigned to Altoona on rehab.

7/5: Dylan Busby assigned to GCL on rehab.

7/4: Pirates recall Josh Smoker.

7/4: Scooter Hightower promoted to Altoona. Ryan Haug assigned to GCL Pirates.

7/4: Jason Delay activated from Bradenton disabled list.

7/3: Pirates released Larry Alcime.

7/3: Pirates sign Michael Burrows.

7/3: Pirates recall Dovydas Neverauskas. Tanner Anderson optioned to Indianapolis.

7/3: Montana DuRapau promoted to Indianapolis. Erich Weiss placed on disabled list.

7/3: Travis MacGregor activated from West Virginia disabled list. Gavin Wallace promoted to Bradenton.

7/2: Pirates signed a lot of international players.

7/2: Pirates signed even more international players.

7/2: Pirates sign Grant Koch and Mike Gretler.

THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY

Six former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, included a pitcher who helped the team get to two World Series. Starting with the best first, we have Lee Meadows, who pitched for the Pirates from 1923 until 1929. He was a very good pitcher on some very bad teams before coming to the Pirates. His 100-128 record in his first 8 1/2 seasons does not tell the whole story. When he was put on a Pittsburgh team in 1923 that was in contention over the rest of his career, his record turned around. Meadows ended up going 88-52 with the Pirates, including 19-10 seasons in both 1925 and 1927, helping the Pirates to the World Series each year. In between those two seasons, he led the NL with 20 wins. You can read a full bio here.

As for the five other players born on this date, we have pitcher Tom Gorzelanny (2005-09), his teammate from the 2008-09 season, pitcher Phil Dumatrait. Another teammate of Gorzelanny, 2005-07 first baseman Brad Eldred. We also have 1970 catcher Dave Ricketts and utility fielder Johnny Wyrostek, who played for the Pirates during the 1942-43 seasons.

On this date in 1997, Francisco Cordova and Ricardo Rincon combined on a 10-inning no-hitter over the Houston Astros at Three Rivers Stadium. It was only the second time in team history a no-hitter went into extra innings, with the Pirates and Harvey Haddix losing in the 13th inning in the previous game. This was the eighth no-hitter in franchise history, the first since 1976, and it stands as the most recent one as well. You can view the boxscore here.

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