Hey, the Bucs aren't the only ones with their game faces on. Their AA club, the Altoona Curve, open their season tonight. They take on the Erie SeaWolves at Jerry Uht Park in Erie. Hope they brought their snowshoes!
Lefty Tony Watson gets the nod for the opener. Starting his third season in the pros, he's a Pirate arm to keep an eye on. Watson spent 2008 with the Lynchburg Hillcats in High A, where he compiled an 8-12 record, and a nice 3.56 ERA.
He's a junkballer with control (career 1.7 walks/9 innings, 1.18 WHIP), the textbook Dave Littlefield draftee. Signed in the ninth round in 2007, Watson's been effective at the A level and looks to keep moving his career along one step at a time.
It's not just the Altoona debut for Watson. Matt "Wally" Walbeck takes over as the fifth skipper in franchise history. He succeeds Marty Brown (1999-2000) Dale Sveum (2001-03) Tony Beasley (2004-05) and Tim Leiper (2006-08). Walbeck was the Eastern League Manager of the Year at Erie in 2007, and was honored by Baseball America as their Manager of the Year for all classifications the same season.
Also making their maiden runs in the Buc system are pitching coach Dean Treanor and hitting coach Ryan Long, who both joined the Pirates organization this past offseason.
The Curve Opening Day Roster:
Pichers - RH Mike Crotta, RH Derek Hankins, RH Yoslan Herrera, RH Lincoln Holdzkom, RH Jared Hughes, RH Eric Krebs, RH Brad Lincoln, RH Juan Mateo, LH Danny Moskos, LH Shawn Nottingham, RH Jeff Sues, LH Tony Watson.
The Watch List: Krebs, Lincoln, Mateo, Moskos, Sues, Watson. They have some promising talent on the hill this year. Lincoln and Sues should be on a fast track to Indy and beyond for 2010. Mateo is a pitch away from the bigs; he needs to develop an effective off-speed delivery to go with his heat. Krebs, Moskos, and Watson all have the potential to move up but have consistancy issues.
Catchers - Hector Gimenez, Steve Lerud, Miguel Perez.
The Watch List: Steve Lerud. The LH has a great glove and some pop in his bat.
Infielders - Brian Friday, Angel Gonzalez, Pedro Lopez, Jim Negrych, Jamie Romak.
The Watch List: Friday, Negrych, Romak. SS Friday is Plan B to replace Jack Wilson after Bix, 2B Negrych has a great eye and bat, and 1B Romak has some power, but has to cut down on his K's.
Outfielders - James Boone, Brad Corley, Jonel Pacheco, Jose Tabata.
The Watch List: Tabata is the cream of this crop; all eyes are on him to see if he can put the bizarre tale of his wife in the rear view mirror and get to Indy this year.
Five of the top 15 prospects in the Pirates system (#3: Jose Tabata, #4: Brad Lincoln, #7: Jeff Sues, #11: Jamie Romak, #14: Brian Friday) are on the Curve opening day roster. Altoona also returns 18 of 24 players from last year’s squad including their 2008 MVP, Jonel Pacheco, and their Pitcher of the Year, Juan Mateo.