Game Time Temperature: 47 degrees.
Weather: Cloudy with occasional sun. Windy.
Altoona continued its series with Erie today with top Pirates prospect James Taillon on the mound for the Curve, squaring off against minor league veteran Derek Hankins. With this recap, which I don't do very often so forgive me for it being a little scattered, I am going to cover the innings I saw, talk about a lot of the positives, and discuss individual players.
Altoona jumped on the board early in the 1st with Mel Rojas recording an infield single and then advancing to 2nd on a throwing error. Cunningham came up and placed a beautiful bunt down the 3B line and being thrown out by a step. Curry took the first pitch he saw, driving it roughly 390 feet, dead center for a SF. Lambo, playing his 3rd year in AA, came up and roped a ball right at the LF for the final out of the inning. It should be noted, the wind was blowing in from left center and it was impressive to the few people in attendance how hard Curry hit the ball.
The man everyone wanted to see came on to start the bottom half of the inning. The first thing to note is Taillon is almost immediately on the field following the final out. He is a very fast work from the windup. He gave up one hit in the inning, a hard hit ball from Tigers prospect Hernan Perez after leaving a curveball up in the zone. He got the other Tigers prospect, Daniel Fields to fly out to open the frame. The major concern in the first was Perez turned his single into a triple by stealing 2 bases with relative ease. While Charlie Cutler, Altoona's catcher, doesn't have the greatest arm, I felt Taillon could have done a little more to hold Perez. For the inning, we didn't see his changeup once but he did freeze one batter, RF Tyler Collins, on a wicked curve to get the punch out. Taillon also used his 4-seam and 2-seam heavily with the top of the lineup.
To start the second, Santos roped a single down the line in right. Just to a casual fan like myself, Santos has some ridiculous bat speed and the ball really explodes off his bat. Dickerson and Howard would both make quick outs before Charlie Cutler would lace a double into right field, plating Santos, who had stolen 2nd early. Ngoepe would draw a walk but Rojas would not be able to cash in, grounding into a force out. Altoona up 2-0. Some notes: As stated previously, the ball explodes off Santos bat. In addition, although Dickerson popped out, he really worked the count. He wasn't up there hacking away, he was looking for his pitch to drive and laid off the garbage.
Former Pirate farmhand Ramon Cabrera would lead off with a weak single to left off a Taillon 2-seam fastball. He would quickly be erased by a 4-3 DP due in large part to Taillon's changeup which really drops off the plate. Things would briefly get out of hand as he would walk the next batter on 5 pitches and then surrenders an infield single, the ball bouncing off a diving Santos at 3rd. Taillon would thrown a mix of 4-seamers and curves to induce an inning ending ground out. Some Notes: The Curve allowed another SB, this one creating a 2nd and 3rd, 2 out situation. Cunningham showed some nice range at 2B, making the inning ending play in the hole and also inducing the DP up the middle.
Altoona would make two quick outs to start the 3rd before Lambo a 2-0 pitch into right center for a stand up double. He would be gunned down at the plate, however, to end the inning following a sharp single from Santos. From here, Altoona's offense would go AWOL until the 6th. The bottom half of the inning would be a 1-2-3 frame for Taillon, inducing two weak groundouts and a fly out. What was very noticeable was how much he was using each pitch. To one batter in particular, he opened up with a 4-seamer up in the zone for a ball, the came at him with a curve for a strike, threw a 2-seamer inside for a ball, then a 2-seamer for a strike in roughly the same location, before capping it off with a low changeup that the batter rolled down the 1B line for an out.
The next two innings for him would be fairly quick. An 2-0 flyout to LF off a low and inside 4-seamer, a tough strike out to Cabrera, throwing three straight curves after falling behind 3-0, to get the punchout, and a sharp groundout to 3B. The 5th, Taillon's last inning, he lost a little composure as his fastball became a little erratic. Up until that point, he was locating the 4-seam fairly well. After striking out the first batter, Taillon left an upstairs fastball that was smacked over Cunningham's head into RF. Taillon quickly induced a fly out to bring up Daniel Fields, who would be his last batter. With Field's batting, Taillon would allow a 4th stolen base but it wouldn't matter as he would throw a nasty curve low and away to get the punch out. Taillon's Line: 5.0, 4 K, BB, 0 ER, 75 pitches (43 strikes).
In the top of the 6th, Lambo would use a 7 pitch at bat to draw a lead off walk before 2 fielding errors by Erie SS Hernan Perez would load the bases with no outs. Justin Howard would plate a run, driving a 3-2 fastball into RF. After a fly out, Gift Ngoepe would bring another run in on a SF to left field before Rojas would ground out to 3B to end the frame. Altoona up 4-0.
The rest of the pitching was a string of relievers who I had never seen before: RHP Ethan Hollingsworth, RHP Jeff Inman, and LHP Nate Baker. Hollingsworth gave up a lead off HR to Perez before settling down to retire the next 6 in a row. Inman was quite erratic, issuing two walks, throwing a wild pitch, and giving up 2 hits. Baker came in for a 4 out save, striking out James McCann with the bases loaded to clean up Inman's mess. Baker would see some struggles in the 9th, however, giving up a lead off double and a walk. However, he would induce an game ending flyout to RF to end the contest.
Following the 6th, Curry, Lambo, and Santos would string together three straight singles, plating a run before Dickerson drew a walk to load the bases. Justin Howard would be called out on strikes before Charlie Cutler would line out sharply to end the inning. Lambo would hit a 9th inning dinger over the right center wall, roughly 370 feet, to give the Curve their final run of the ball game.
Players of Interest:
RHP Jameson Taillon 5.0, 4 H, 4 K, BB, 0 ER (75 pitches - 43 strikes)
This was my second time seeing Taillon, I saw his last start of the year in Erie last year. Comparing him to last year, Taillon looks to have improved in many facets. He works the entire strikezone, works very quickly (most of the time, he wouldn't even take his foot off the rubber in between pitches), and has a feel for his pitches. The Seawolves line up is a formidable one with young players and several high ranking prospects in the Tigers organization. That being said, every single batter in the lineup was struggling to catch up to Taillon's fastball and many were frozen by his curve. He definitely needs to work on holding runners but, with a catcher who has a stronger arm, this isn't as big of an issues. Below is a pitch breakdown:
- 4-Seam: Establish pitch. Opened several at-bats, working the entire zone with the pitch. Recorded one strikeout with it, getting a check swing K to 3B Corey Jones in the 5th. The ball explodes out of his hand. Pirates organizations emphasizing of keeping the ball down seems to have paid off as he kept the ball around the knees to open at-bats before climbing the ladder to get swings. Sat mostly 90-93 on Seawolves gun (which is notorious for being off). Every single batter was late on his fastball.
- 2-Seamer: Out pitch. I hadn't heard too much on his 2-seam fastball but, let me tell you, it's a beautiful pitch. The ball breaks hard inside on the hands of righties, causing several weak groundballs to 3B and SS. Taillon seemed to favor the pitch in the cold weather, going inside on several batters, most of which resulted in groundballs or called strikes. He did not throw this often with 2 strikes. Sat roughly 87-90.
- Curveball: Out pitch. As advertised. He gets a ridiculous amount of break on the ball. I had a Tigers scout next to me mutter, on several occasions, "Damn!" as Taillon threw it. Froze both Cabrera (on 3 straight pitches) and Collins for strikeouts as well as other hitters throughout the game. Only issue was leaving the ball up in the zone where it became somewhat hittable. He will throw this pitch at any time and gets excellent results.
- Changeup: Wasn't thrown quite as much but is still a strong pitch. The pitch really dies as it approaches the plate, almost functioning as a slow sinker. He used it to great results when he ran into trouble in the 2nd. I would like to see him use it more as I think it would make his fastball even tougher to hit. Sat 77-80
I was eager to see Curry play as I didn't get to see him last summer. Curry hits the ball really hard. His SF to CF in the first inning was, arguably, the hardest hit ball of the game. He has quick hands and drives the ball but was a little anxious at the plate, swinging at several pitches out of the zone. His defense at 1B was average, making the plays he was suppose to. He definitely looked like he was enjoying him. Note, one of his strikeouts occurred after he was hit by a pitch but was unseen by the umpire. Overall, I could see him being the first player called up to AAA.
RF Alex Dickerson 1-4, BB
While 1-4, no RBI is unimpressive, Dickerson shows a lot of discipline at the plate. He doesn't hack at everything he sees, he has a fairly smooth swing, and his bat has a lot of pop. His lone hit was a 9th inning double off the wall in LF, roughly 350 feet. His defense in right was adequate, making the few plays he got out there. His body screams power, standing at 6'3 235 with a big upper body and strong legs. He seems like a potential break out candidate at Altoona.
LF Andrew Lambo, 3-4, HR, BB, RBI, 2 R
Today was a day where I saw the full potential of Andrew Lambo. His swing was short and compact, driving each of his three hits to the right part of the field. The ball really was exploding off Lambo's bat but, even more importantly, he showed a good eye at the plate, laying off a lot of junk that was being thrown to him. Now, we've all been disappointed by Lambo since acquiring him but if he can keep doing what I saw him do today, there still may be something there for him. Playing in LF, he was adequate, making the plays and showing off a decently strong arm.
3B Adalberto Santos, 3-5, RBI, 2 R
Like Lambo, Santos was hitting the ball hard but to both sides of the field. Santos has some tremendous bat speed that generates some nice gap power. I can not see the guy hitting many homeruns but he showed a good eye at the plate. Defensively, he made some phenomenal plays at 3B, showing off a nice arm though, with his limited power, a move to 2B may be beneficial. On the base paths, he has some hops but to a lesser extent then someone like Marte. Overall a very impressive player.
Altoona ended up winning the ball game 6-3 after some pitching woes from Hollingsworth, Inman and Baker. Taillon was phenomenal but still has a few things to work on, particularly holding runners on. Curry and Dickerson are two very nice players who will be nice to have down the road. I really do think Dickerson could have a break out year in terms of power production. As for Curry, the guy is having fun out there and hits the ball hard. I don't know what the future holds for him but it seems like he could have a big year for the Curve, if he isn't called up to Indianapolis.
Lambo caught me by surprise big time. He was hitting the ball hard and working his tail off on the base paths. Who knows, maybe it was a one-hit wonder day but I certainly saw the player that the Dodgers were hoping to get when they drafted him. Lastly, Santos made a great impression and I can't see him staying at AA for more than half the year. He just hits everything. Could be little more than a utility inf. down the road but he'd be a nice guy to have off the bench in Pittsburgh.
Well, that's my observation. I hope it was coherent and not too long winded. I am not the world's greatest sports writer so I hope I was able to at least give an idea of how the game went. Go Pirates!