Pirates Minority Report: Catching Up With Altoona

Andrew MeaseContributor IJuly 17, 2009

ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 12: U.S. Futures All-Star Pedro Alvarez of the Pittsburgh Pirates runs onto the field during the 2009 XM All-Star Futures Game at Busch Stadium on July 12, 2009 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The All Star break has come and gone in all levels of baseball, and Altoona got their second half off to a great start last night against the Harrisburg Senators (the Class AA Affiliate of the Washington Nationals). 

The Curve won 7-1 in a game that featured a triple play recorded by Harrisburg in the first inning with the Curve threatening with second baseman Jim Negrych and outfielder Gorkys Hernandez reaching base to start the game.  Key performers in the game last night were the first four hitters of the lineup: Jim Negrych, Gorkys Hernandez, Jose Tabata, and Pedro Alvarez.  Pedro Alvarez hit his fifth home run since joining Altoona on June 22.  Yoslan Herrera picked up his sixth win of the season pitching seven strong innings

The Pirates have three of their best prospects currently playing with the Altoona Curve in Gorkys Hernandez, Jose Tabata, and Pedro Alvarez.  Pedro Alvarez started out quite slowly with the Curve, but has since rebounded.  He's been on a hot streak recently hitting .351 with three homers against good Eastern League pitching.

Gorkys Hernandez is playing well so far this year hitting .250 with two homers since joining Altoona after the trade that sent Nate McLouth to Atlanta.  Prior to his coming to Pittsburgh, he was playing High A ball for Atlanta and was hitting .316. That prompted a switch promotion to AA Altoona following the trade.  Gorkys Hernandez is a very talented prospect with plenty of room to grow.  He is considered one of THE BEST defensive outfielders in all of minor league baseball, and has the speed to be a major threat on the basepaths anytime he reaches base.  His bat and eye are a work in progress but the kid is only 21 years old.

Jose Tabata is having a successful year hitting .274 with two homers and 17 RBI's so far this season.  He's missed a good deal of time due to injury but he has been playing well since his return.  One of Jose's strengths is his eye at the plate.  This season he has 19 walks so far to only 21 strikeouts, which is very impressive for the type of hitter he is at this stage of his career.  Remember, the kid is still only 20 years old.  Some of his plate tendencies have been compared to Manny Ramirez, but his production thus far in the minors leaves more to be desired if that is the case.

The impact of future Pirates positional players ends with these three as there are no significant talents in Altoona besides them and quite possibly Jim Negrych, Brian Friday, and perhaps a player that may be out with some injury time or even called up to AAA Indianapolis recently.  On the pitching side we have some potential in a guy like Jeff Sues.

Sues is struggling so far this year with a 2-6 record and a 5.19 ERA to sport.  Jeff has a ton of strikeout potential and is a solid power pitching prospect as he ranked seventh in the Pirates system according to Baseball America at the start of the 2009 season.  This season so far in 59 innings, he has struck out 56 hitters, nearly one per inning.  Last season during his stint in Altoona he struck out a whopping 11.5 hitters per nine innings.  Sues isn't likely to arrive in Pittsburgh for awhile, and at age 26 already he isn't being seen as a long term fix in Pittsburgh.

Coming up over the next few weeks for the Altoona curve are three more games with the Senators followed by a four game series against the Reading Phillies, and a three game series at Akron.  If you ever have the chance, go see a Curve game.  You'll witness three of our, arguably, top five prospects and have a great time at a cheap price.