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Altoona Curve Notebook: All-Stars, An Australian, Analytics and Athleticism

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I was able to head out to Altoona this weekend for the Curve’s most recent series against Binghamton Rumble Ponies. Here is what’s going on with the Pirates’ AA affiliate.

Hey Now, You’re An All-Star

The Altoona Curve will be sending three representatives to the Eastern League All-Star game on July 10: right-handed pitchers Pedro Vasquez and James Marvel and catcher Jason Delay.

Vasquez came into Pirates’ the farm system as the Player To Be Named Later in the 2016 Arquimedes Caminero deal with the Seattle Mariners. His 2.30 ERA is the eighth lowest across all of AA, and his 4.1% walk rate is the sixth best among qualified pitchers at that level.

This is on the heels of a disappointing 2018 campaign where he started with an illness and finished with a 5.12 ERA.

“He’s healthy,” said manager Mike Ryan. “He’s back to where the organization thought he was gonna be. Watching the ball come out of his hand and being healthy and doing what he wants to do out there instead of worrying about something not feeling right. He’s been outstanding.”

Altoona might not want to get too attached to Vasquez. He has already made two spot starts in AAA Indianapolis, so a promotion may be imminent.

Delay, a fourth round pick in 2017 out of Vanderbilt, is enjoying his best offensive season in the minors, recording a .760 OPS and a 119 wRC+. Most of that success is coming from the extra pop in his bat, recording a .194 ISO, the second best among AA catchers (min. 120 PAs). 13 of his 32 hits this year have gone for extra-bases.

It will be Delay’s first minor league All-Star Game.

“I think it will really sink in once I get there,” Delay said. “See the players that I’m with. As time goes on, seeing where those players wind up. That’s the end goal, and it’s nice to be recognized with an All-Star game.”

Brains and Brawn

The third All-Star, James Marvel, will also be making his first minor league midsummer classic. The 2015 36th round pick out of Duke pitched well upon his promotion to AA in August of last year and has kept that pace in 2019, recording a 3.16 ERA and 3.29 FIP over 16 starts and 99.2 IP.

When asked to describe his pitching style, Delay called Marvel “analytical.”

“I think I’m a student of the game. I feel I’m a guy who, to have success, has to plan ahead,” said Marvel. “Know what makes me good and evaluate the other team beforehand, and hopefully pair that with some athleticism. Being able to evaluate the other team, sequencing I want to do and going from there, pairing those two things together.”

While analytics has become a supercharged term in the big leagues, it isn’t just number crunching for Marvel. He said he gets an edge from watching games on the bench and talking to either Delay or Arden Pabst, the Curve’s other catcher. He takes those conversations about the other team’s hitters into bullpen session as he tries to find ways to take advantage of what they saw.

Those conversations are not just for Marvel’s benefit. Delay has taken a lot from those talks on the pine and the time in the bullpen with him.

“It really helps to amplify my performance to think along with him,” Delay said.

Thinking is at the core of what Marvel is trying to do.

“When I think about ‘analytical,’ I’m thinking about the game, thinking about sequencing,” Marvel said. “Understanding numbers. What guys are hitting, what their first swing percentages are. What they swing like when there are runners in scoring position.

“All of that plays an important role for me, and I like to look at that stuff. I know when I don’t pitch well for a little bit, I’m going too deep into that stuff. That’s why I mentioned athleticism. I think there’s a good balance, an artful balance. I think pitching is as much analytical for me as it is creativity.”

From Down Under

The Curve got a boost this weekend with the signing of Gift Ngoepe, but they had been getting solid production out of shortstop with Robbie Glendinning.

Glendinning, a 21st round pick in 2017, has been tearing it up in the Pirates’ farm system this year. He has recorded a 192 wRC+ over 172 PAs with Bradenton and a 180 in 83 PAs with the Curve thus far.

He started the season with the Curve, filling in for an injured Stephen Alemais. While he held his own, the Pirates felt it was better for him to get consistent playing time at a lower level rather than sit on the bench in AA.

“The first time he was here, he was just filling in,” Ryan said. “...When [Stephen] Alemais got back, it wasn't anything that Robbie did wrong. It was just [he] wasn’t going to play over Steph.”

On his second trip, Ryan has noticed a more relaxed Glendinning, with him playing like he deserves to be in this role rather than just an injury call-up. He has certainly hit like he belongs, slashing .358/.433/.566 over 60 PAs since being recalled on June 14.

Glendinning had some strong offensive seasons in 2017 and 2018, but nothing close to what he done so far this season. This breakout is coming after a coming out party in his native Australia, winning the 2019 Australian Baseball League Rookie of the Year Award.

“I just kind of figured myself out as a hitter,” said Glendinning about his time playing on the other side of the world. “Really just trusted myself. I think that’s the biggest thing.”