Yesterday we took a look at the season recap for the Altoona Curve. They were a below .500 club, that was short on top prospects in the system. The Pirates had a weak year at Bradenton in 2018, and many of those players moved up to Altoona this year to join a group of players with experience at the level. Combined with some solid players who didn’t meet our minimum requirements to qualify for the list below, this top ten is easily the worst group of the eight lists we will end up posting this year (Both DSL clubs will be on one list).
The voting for this list was done by myself, Wilbur Miller and Tim Williams. As with all of our full-season lists, we use a minimum of 140 plate appearances for position players and either 20 appearances or 40 innings for pitchers. That kept Oneil Cruz off this list, as Bradenton’s top prospect missed by just five plate appearances. Stephen Alemais wasn’t eligible due to his early season injury, and Gage Hinsz was scheduled to pitch for Altoona this year before an early April forearm injury sidelined him for the season. Blake Weiman also would have made this list with a little more time before his promotion to Triple-A. Those players certainly would have helped this list.
On my own personal list, I started with 14 names to consider and believe that there is a bigger difference between #4 and #5 on the list below, than there is between #5 and #14 on my initial list. Not surprisingly, the 1-4 was the same players/order for all three of us voting. In other words, this is a nice top four, followed by guys who need to make significant progress to become more than AAAA players. That’s not to say that only four players have good shots at making the majors here, just that the rest have bench or middle relief upside at this point. As you will see in the reports below, there are multiple examples of players who increased their ceiling in 2019, so things can look up for the group.
Here are the previously released lists:
Altoona Top Ten
- Cody Bolton, RHP – Bolton’s time in Bradenton was covered in the previous top ten linked just above. In short, he dominated the level while coming back from a forearm injury that cost him the second half of last year. He moved up to Altoona in late June and made nine starts, before being shut down in mid-August. It was listed as a blister issue, but I believe that was just a random reason given and there was nothing wrong. Bolton threw 61.2 innings last year and over 100 this season, so that appeared to be his set limit for the season. Bolton wasn’t the same in Altoona as Bradenton and it showed in the stats. He appeared to be over-throwing the ball at times, looking like he was putting more effort into the delivery and his control was way off. In other words, there were a lot of pitches that missed by a lot. He had 14 walks in 61.2 innings with the Marauders and 16 in 40 innings with the Curve. That’s not a bad number, but it was a lot different than the dominating performance lower. Bolton needed to just trust his stuff in Double-A and he will be fine. In his best three starts, he allowed one run over 17 innings, but the other six all saw him allow 3+ runs, and he tended to let a big inning pile up. Some of those poor outings looked strong for most of the game. Bolton will start next year at Altoona and he won’t have to worry about an innings limit in 2020.
- Jared Oliva, CF – Since being drafted in the seventh round in 2017, Oliva has put up solid stats all three seasons, showing flashes of more potential. After skipping from Morgantown to Bradenton last year, Oliva showed power potential during the first half of the season, which we didn’t see at all in his first year of pro ball. The power has basically disappeared since early 2018, with only six homers in his last 708 plate appearances. He’s a streaky hitter, which we saw this year in June/July, which were much better than his other three months. It’s that inconsistency that keeps the 23-year-old (turns 24 next month) from being one of the top prospects in the system. If Oliva can keep the lows from being so low, then he’s a legit MLB starter in the future. He has the defense to play center field full-time, and he uses his above average speed well. He’s currently putting up strong stats through the first two weeks of the Arizona Fall League.
- James Marvel, RHP – Marvel made huge strides this season and they all came from developing his curve into a better out pitch. He already had the tools to be successful, with control, the ability to get ground balls, low-90s velocity and a nice three-pitch mix. He was more of an innings eater with middle relief potential before his curve became one of the better breaking balls in the system this year. He was using the pitch to get ahead early in the count and put away batters all season. That led to a promotion to Indianapolis, where he was even better, which in itself was quite an accomplishment with the livelier baseballs in Triple-A. Marvel made 11 starts in Indianapolis, so he didn’t have the innings to qualify for league leaders, but he out-pitched everyone who threw enough to qualify. That led to a promotion to Pittsburgh, where he made four more starts to end the season, finishing with a total of 179.2 innings. Expect him to open up in the Indianapolis rotation next year.
- Blake Cederlind, RHP – Cederlind really made huge strides this season. He added some velocity last year, going from mid-90s to high-90s, hitting triple digits numerous times. There weren’t good results to go along with that added velocity. That’s because his had average at best control, along with no solid secondary pitch. This year, the velocity continued, and at one point we saw 102 MPH. The difference was that he had better control this year. His off-speed pitches still need some work, though they flashed average more consistently and I personally saw some curves from him that were legit swing-and-miss pitches. He seems to feed off of hitters who gear up for fastballs and don’t recognize anything off-speed, as I saw a lot of batters well out in front of average looking sliders/changeups. He’s improving though, make no mistake, and he’s in the AFL right now working on tightening up those off-speed offerings. Cederlind received a late promotion to Indianapolis and we could see him in Pittsburgh mid-season in 2020, but later in the year would probably be more ideal.
- Pedro Vasquez, RHP – Vasquez had a very strong season from start to finish, which included a brief trial in Indianapolis when they needed a fill-in starter. The recently-turned 24-year-old right-hander, was second on Altoona in innings pitched (123 IP) and ranked fourth in the Eastern League with a 2.71 ERA. He had a 1.11 WHIP, a .233 BAA and a 91:29 SO/BB ratio. Vasquez has some things going against him that keep him from being rated higher in the system. He doesn’t miss a lot of bats and he’s an extreme flyball pitcher. With the livelier baseballs in Triple-A and the majors, that’s a dangerous combo. There are things to really like though. Vasquez is the quickest worker in the system and it seems to throw off the timing of hitters. He commands his pitches, pounds the strike zone and mixes his three pitches well, using any of them in any count. He’s one of the better pitchers (as opposed to throwers) in the system in that he gets the most out of what he has available, but adding a swing-and-miss pitch to his arsenal would help him out a lot, because home runs could be a major issue in Triple-A for him.
- Chris Sharpe, OF – Sharpe was an over-slot signing in the 2017 draft as a draft-eligible sophomore. He struggled a bit in Morgantown after signing, then put up a .722 OPS last year in West Virginia. He was limited to 85 games due to a back injury and he had his issues with strikeouts. This year, we finally saw the reason that the Pirates gave him an over-slot deal. Sharpe was in an outfield at Bradenton with top prospects Travis Swaggerty and Calvin Mitchell and he outplayed both of them. He was getting on base at a high rate, using his speed on the bases, and playing solid defense. That led to a mid-season promotion to Altoona. After the jump to Double-A, his OBP dropped, but he showed more power. Despite a .216 average, Sharpe had a .707 OPS, which is above league average in the Eastern League. We didn’t see the base running skills during the second half, but they are there. He had a combined total of 16 homers and 17 stolen bases this season. Sharpe will open up 2020 in Altoona and look to regain that high OBP to go with the improved slugging, which would make him a very interesting prospect. He’s going to play winter ball this year in Puerto Rico, which is about equal to Double-A competition.
- Cam Vieaux, LHP – With Pedro Vasquez, we mentioned that flyball pitchers who don’t miss a lot of bats, could have trouble in Triple-A/majors with the livelier baseball. With Vieaux, we saw proof of that happening. The 25-year-old southpaw had a 2.23 ERA, a .201 BAA and a 1.08 WHIP with Altoona in 76.2 innings. He received a mid-season promotion to Indianapolis, where he made 13 starts, before returning to Altoona at the end of the season. Vieaux had a 5.05 ERA, a 1.48 WHIP and a .260 BAA in 62.1 innings with Indianapolis. The difference here was limiting Double-A hitters to six homers, while Triple-A batters touched him up for 15 homers, despite the 14.1 innings difference. Vieaux throws a little harder than the other lefty on this list (see below) and mixes in more pitches, but due to his age, he lacks the projection. He doesn’t have anything more to prove in Altoona, so we should see him in Indianapolis to start 2020, where he could develop into a depth option.
- Robbie Glendinning, IF – Glendinning had a rough 2018 of sorts. After being drafted in the 21st round in 2017 and playing in Morgantown, he was back at the same level to begin the 2018 season. That’s not what you want to see from a college draft pick. He made it up to West Virginia at the end of the year and put together solid stats in a small sample size, but there really wasn’t any reason to get excited. Glendinning then went to his home country of Australia for winter ball and put up huge stats. He said that those at-bats helped him catch up to players from the U.S., who played more baseball growing up and saw better competition. That winter action translated to immediate success this year, as he put up big numbers in Bradenton, leaving the league as the leader (by a large margin) in OPS and average. Glendinning couldn’t match that success in Altoona, but those were high standards, and his .737 OPS in 58 games was still well above league average. He’s not just a bat though, he also provides defensive value, with the ability to play both middle infield spots and third base, plus he runs well. He suffered an ankle injury in early August that ended his season, but he’s healthy now and will make up lost at-bats by playing the entire Australian Baseball League season.
- Domingo Robles, LHP – Robles got promoted to Altoona this season shortly after his 21st birthday. He had a 2.61 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP and a .203 BAA in 62 innings with Bradenton before the promotion. After moving up to the Curve, he posted a 4.02 ERA, a 1.30 WHIP and a .279 ERA in 103 innings. You expect some type of increase in damage as you move up a level, especially when leaving a pitcher-friendly league. For Robles though, he’s the type of pitcher we always warn about when looking at prospects. Lefties who don’t throw hard can usually have success up until Double-A, as long as they throw strikes. Once they start facing the top level hitters, then they get sorted out. There are reasons to believe that Robles can shake that tag. He will still be 21 when 2020 opens and he’s still filling out his 6’2″ frame. We have also seem slightly better velocity from him in the past, so it’s in there, he just needs to tap into more. The other thing going for him is that he switched from a loopy curve to a tight slider this year and the pitch improved as the season went along, so a better out pitch could help him. Robles already has a strong changeup, which is an important pitch with all of the right-handed batters he faces.
- Jason Delay, C – Delay is currently in the Arizona Fall League, where the big thing to work on is getting more at-bats against upper level pitching. He’s a strong defensive catcher, who gets a ton of praise from pitchers who work with him. His biggest weakness on defense is throwing out runners and much of that is on the young pitchers holding runners close, though he doesn’t have the arm of teammate Arden Pabst, who was considered for this list despite a very poor season at the plate. The Curve had two of the better defensive catchers in the system this year, but Delay hit a little better and is getting the AFL action, so he gets the nod here. His offensive stats were actually skewed by a three-week stretch in May when he was one of the best hitters in all of the minors. He had a .457 OPS before that hot streak and a .491 OPS in the final 3+ months. He could move up to Indianapolis next year and right now he looks like a solid third-string catcher because his defense plays up so well.