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2009 In Review: Altoona Curve

I've been doing these in order from the bottom to the top, but since Lynchburg is still in the playoffs, I'll skip them in return to them later.

Altoona finished last in the Southern division of the Class AA Eastern League, and it's the first affiliate we've reviewed so far that still bears the stamp of the Littlefield era. The team's lineup featured a ton of non-prospects, like Jonel Pacheco, Jason Delaney, Pedro Lopez and Jeff Corsaletti. And its rotation was filled with soft-tossing Littlefield acquisitions like Danny Moskos, Yoslan Herrera, Jared Hughes, Tony Watson and Derek Hankins.

Despite all that, a number of prospects made their way through Altoona this year, some with more success than others. Obviously, the big-ticket player was Pedro Alvarez, who reeestablished himself as an elite prospect at Altoona after a questionable pro debut at Lynchburg. The Bucs looked at his high strikeout and walk totals at Lynchburg and gambled that, paradoxically, Alvarez would have more success against better pitchers, because those pitchers would fear him less and throw him more balls in the zone. The Pirates appear to have been right--at Altoona, Alvarez walked at about the same rate, struck out a bit less, and hit .333/.419/.590, looking every bit like a future star. This was all the more impressive given that Alvarez got off to a slow start for Altoona, hitting .228/.258/.509 before the All-Star break; he batted .370 the rest of the way. Obviously, hitting .228 is never good, but for a prospect in his first pro year, it's great to see improvement throughout the season.

Elsewhere, Jose Tabata played a big chunk of the year for the Curve and hit pretty well, although his power still hasn't really developed. Most of the other hitting prospects who played for Altoona, though, were disappointing. The defensively challenged Jim Negrych failed to show the stick he'll need to make it to the majors, and he finished the year on the DL. 2007 third-rounder Brian Friday was pedestrian at best, which is unfortunate because, with the recent trades of Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez, there would be space for him in the Pittsburgh middle infield if he played well. Jamie Romak completely fell off the map after a dismal start and wound up back at Lynchburg. Shelby Ford ended up in Altoona only after flopping in Indianapolis. Gorkys Hernandez did little after the Bucs acquired him as one of the key pieces in the Nate McLouth deal. And 40-man roster member Steven Lerud did what he typically does, which is to say he didn't take the step forward he'll need to be anything more than a backup catcher in the bigs.

Fortunately, there were at least a couple real prospects in the pitching staff. Brad Lincoln opened some eyes with a very strong start at Altoona; he struggled a bit after being promoted to Indianapolis, but he still had respectable ratios, so he's probably still on track to make his Pirates debut in 2010. Tim Alderson, acquired for Sanchez, pitched neither well nor badly in a small sample at Altoona. I'm more skeptical of Alderson than most because his strikeout rate has been very low in Class AA, but at age 20, he's still an interesting player. And in the bullpen, Michael Dubee continued to pitch well after destroying Carolina League hitters for half the year.

Some might wonder why I've hardly said anything about Moskos, and the reason is that I simply don't consider ERA to be the only important consideration here. Moskos' 3.74 ERA and his status as a former top pick are the only things he has going for him. He's already 23, his strikeout rate and strikeout-to-walk ratio--both of which are pretty predictive of major-league success--are disastrous, and all his numbers except his ERA are eerily similar to his numbers in 2008, when his ERA was 5.95. To Moskos' credit, he did strike out 27 batters while walking only six in his last five starts this year, but he still has very little to hang his hat on. As far as I'm concerned, he's only a prospect in the loosest sense of the word, and if he's lucky he might be the second lefty out of someone's bullpen someday.