We begin with a few quick observations from Manchester, New Hampshire, where Altoona played Friday.
- The Curve dropped dropped tonight's game to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats 6-3. They've lost five of their last six games.
- Keon Broxton continues to do interesting things. In each of the four games I've seen this week, he has made a rangy, above-average defense play. Brian Cartwright passed along some of Broxton's advanced defensive metrics via Twitter.
@DavidManel I have Broxton +11.2 in LF&CF last yr, already +13.8 in CF in 2015, leading Double-A— Brian Cartwright (@blcartwright) May 22, 2015
- Tonight, Stetson Allie did what he said he liked to do best in right field, throwing out a runner trying to advance from first-to-third on a base hit. He got the baserunner by about three steps. The ball was thrown on a line and perfectly on the bag.
- For the fourth night in a row, a low throw to first got past Josh Bell at first. This one was ruled an error on the pitcher.
- Gift Ngoepe made a wonderful play on slow chopper hit in front of him at short. He came all the way in, made a nice stab with his glove and released a perfect throw to first to get the out at first. One thing I've learned over the last four days is how much his teammates and respect his defense and like him as a teammate. Here are Brian's metrics for Ngoepe.
@DavidManel I have Gift Ngoepe +4.5 at SS this yr, career +19.4/150g; at 2B career +14.5/150— Brian Cartwright (@blcartwright) May 23, 2015
Background: Max Moroff
Max Moroff has quickly moved through the Pirates system after being drafted in 2012, jumping up a level each year and reaching Altoona at age 21. (He turned 22 last week.) While the offensive numbers at West Viriginia and Bradenton don't jump off the page, he is in the middle of an early-season tear with the Curve.
Moroff tallied a 30-game on-base streak from April 10 to May 15. In the three games I've watched, he has worn pitchers down with good at-bats and impressive line-to-line, line-drive hitting. In the field, he's looked steady, with good range. Here's what Moroff had to say when I spoke to him Friday.
Josh [Bell] described Gift [Ngoepe] as best shortstop he's ever played with. How is your relationship working with him up the middle, and how do you guys work together?
Really good. It's my first year with him. He's by far the best defensive infielder I've seen, maybe in our league. Probably in my life, he's the best that I've played with. He helps me over there over at second. He's played second before, so he'll throw some tips at me just on double play feeds and stuff like that. He sees stuff that I need to still work on. For example, when I get to the bag [on a double play] go to the ball instead of waiting for the ball to get to me. Also, little things like the feeds and backhand feed. I'm still getting used to second base.
Your partner on the other side [Josh Bell] -- how is that relationship working out? In that case, are you giving him advice in terms of spacing?
Yeah, we're definitely still working on it. The tough play for us is the ground ball between us in the hole. Someone's got to call it, and that's what we're working on right now. The first one to call it needs to get there and the other guy needs to either go to first if it's Josh, or I need to just back him up. Right now, me, Gift and all the coaches are helping him out over there.
You have this winning pedigree to you already early in your career, having made the playoffs on all the teams you've been with. What's that experience been like?
It's definitely awesome. That's what you play for every year, to win another ring. Making the playoffs is really fun. And it says a lot about the teams the Pirates are putting together and the coaches.
Were you at all surprised to get to Altoona so quickly? You're going up a level a year.
I don't really think about it. In Spring Training, I was just trying to do the best I can and where ever they want to put me I'll do my best there. I have no control over that, I just go out there and play as hard as I can.
What's different about being in Double-A? Josh was saying yesterday that pitcher command and repeatability of the strikes.
I would say that guys are a little faster. They hit the ball a little harder. Pitchers, they're more around the zone. You're not going to get a lot of walks, even though I have a lot so far. They're more around the zone and they can repeat pitches if they want to.
The [30-game] streak -- were you aware of it? When do you become aware of it? And does it come with a little bit of pressure?
I was aware of it, I don't know, maybe 20 or something games in. But after that, I wasn't paying attention. I was just trying to go out there and have fun. There wasn't really any pressure. I just went out there and did the best I can. If I get on base, I get on base, but if I don't we've got a game the next day.
I've read some interviews where you have credited your offense success this season to some adjustments— in particular, your rhythm and timing. Does that mean you just get into this flow, where your whole body and all your parts are moving together, with everything connected?
Yes, I can actually show you. I haven't even shown anyone. [He takes his stance, leaning slightly on back foot and hands close to, and slightly above, his right shoulder.] When the pitcher is just getting set, I always have something going. [He slowly moves his hands illustrating the steady bat waggle he incorporates.] And when he's getting ready to pitch, I'm in rhythm with the pitcher.
Like [Curve hitting coach Kevin] Riggs told me, it's almost like dancing with the pitcher.
Are you more conscious of the pitcher's rhythm than before? Is that part of it? To get synced up [with the pitcher]?.
Not really. I mean, I pay attention to the arm slot and not any of that other junk that they try to throw at you. The pitcher's goal is to get our rhythm and timing off. So, I'm trying to do the best that I can to keep that as smooth as I can to get a good piece of barrel on it.
So, when a new pitcher is out there, what is the first thing you look for to get used to a new windup? How he conceals the arm slot?
The first thing I look at is his arm slot. Then, I like to see what his offspeed does, where he has a 12-6 breaking ball, a slider or slurve, and I like looking at changeup and whether he is throwing it for strikes in warm-up. If he can't throw it for strikes in warm-ups, most of the time he's not going to do it when the game starts. I can eliminate the changeup, curveball, etc.
As switch-hitter, you have to make adjustments on two sides, where most guys only have to work on one side. Do both adjustments work together, or it is a whole different program for each side?
My right-hand and left-handed swings are totally different. They may not look different, but I have to think about different things in practice or to work on stuff. Right-handed, I'm really top-hand dominant; lefty my top hand is a little weaker, so I have to focus top-hand, and stay inside and through the ball.
So, being a switch-hitter is a great advantage to have, but it also makes things more complicated doesn't it?
Yes, the advantage is especially the breaking pitches, that's the advantage. Because you want them coming into you.