Sunday, July 26, 2009

From Blair Ball Park to PNC Park...

Hey, the AA Altoona Curve are having a tough season, sunk at the bottom of the Easten league standings.

Of course, no one but the local fans care where they finish; it's the player development that the PNC suits are focused on. And the Curve may well be nursing the core of the 2011 Pirates.

Pedro Alvarez
, 22, the future linchpin of Pittsburgh's middle of the order, is living up to his billing after an Abbott and Costello introduction to the Pirate Nation in 2008. He's hitting .298 with 6 long balls and 17 RBI in 94 at-bats.

Alvarez needs to develop some consistency and a better eye - he's drawn just 7 walks and struck out 30 times - and is still gloving his way to first base, with five errors in 26 games. But his bat is speaking just fine, and that's what everyone is listening to. Alvarez is also said to be a clubhouse leader, and that's a good thing for your franchise player to bring to the table.

Jose Tabata, 21, who had every excuse to tank after his wife's springtime felony, instead has put together a very nice year, batting .306 with 2 homers and 24 RBI. Because of his size - he's 5-11, 160 pounds - he projects as a top of the order hitter instead of the three hole guy, unless he packs on a few pounds.

His eye is good enough; he's only struck out 23 times in 209 at-bats, but has to do better than 19 walks.

Gorkys Hernandez
, 21, has picked it up after a miserable start. He's now stroking it at a .264 clip, with two dingers and twelve RBI. Another top-of-the-order hitter, he needs to work on his plate discipline, with 33 strikeouts and just ten walks in 174 visits to the plate.

Brian Friday, 23, is considered to be Jack Wilson's most likely replacement in the system; Argenis Diaz is just a stop-gap. He's the reigning "defensive player of the year" in the Pittsburgh organization, but needs to get through a season unscathed and hit the ball where they ain't more often.

Friday is hitting .253, with 7 HR and 30 RBI in 269 at-bats. He's disciplined at the plate, drawing 33 walks to go along with 40 whiffs.

Jim Negrych, the 24 year-old Pitt grad, is the home-grown version of Delwyn Young, though not as athletic. He's a second basemen that struggles in the field (he has 16 errors and has improved this season), but definitely not at the dish.

He's hitting .273 after a horrible start, and has 3 homers, 30 RBI, 50 runs scored, and is 8-of-9 in stolen bases. His eye is his calling card; he's walked 44 times and struck out just 37 times in 319 at-bats.

You're looking at five guys who should be at Indy by next year and PNC in 2011. There are two caveats. Except for Alvarez, none has shown the ability to hit in the middle of the lineup.

And for gap hitters that project to hit at the top of the order, they need a lot of work on stealing bases, particularly Tabata, who is 6-of-12, and Hernandez, who is 3-of-7 as base thieves. Both are burners that need to learn how to read pitchers.

As far as the fielding goes, it's feast or famine. Friday, Hernandez and Tabata are all plus defenders; Negrych and Alvarez put the steel in Steel City.

Like the rest of the Pittsburgh organization, the pitching is very much a question mark. Daniel Moskos has become a starter, and is 7-8 with a 3.90 ERA, but his peripherals are questionable - he has only 45 Ks in 108-1/3 innings, and a 1.50 WHIP.

Jeff Sues is the opposite; his record of 2-6 with a 5.10 ERA is bad, but his K rate of 63 in 65-1/3 innings is fine, and his WHIP is a little high at 1.33, but not as bad as his record would indicate. They've been stretching out Sues, who averages a couple of innings per outing, so their future plans for him as a closer may be out the window.

So if you're wondering about the direction of the new Pirates, point the gas guzzler east on Route 22 and take a trip to Altoona. You'll see the future of the Bucs in front of your eyes.

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