Into the Desert

Matt Curry, Altoona’s 2012 RBI leader, is one of the Curve contingent headed to the Arizona Fall League.

While the Major League Baseball Postseason speeds toward the League Championship Series on each side, the hottest ticket of the offseason for minor leaguers is coming up fast, as well. The prestigious Arizona Fall League, the premier offseason showcase circuit for prospects all across affiliated baseball, opened play today with a trio of games in warmer climes than the current weather in Curve, PA.

Altoona baseball will be heavily represented this fall in the Phoenix area with six members of the 2012 Curve ready to take part in AFL action as members of the Scottsdale Scorpions.  In addition to the Pirates’ original group headed for Scottsdale announced in August (Curve pitchers Brandon Cumpton and Tyler Waldron, first baseman Matt Curry, and outfielder Adalberto Santos along with Bradenton shortstop Gift Ngoepe), two more Bucs names have since been added to the Scorpions roster. Fireballing Curve closer Vic Black and fellow reliever Kyle Kaminska, acquired by Pittsburgh in July’s trade with Miami for Gaby Sanchez, head to the desert to compete with the best of the best, as well.

The AFL, entering its 20th season, pits six clubs against each other in a 32-game season highlighted by the AFL Rising Stars Game midseason showcase and culminating in the league’s championship game in mid-November. Each team has five big league parent clubs, all of which send a select group of prospects to test their mettle under some of the brightest lights in the minor league game.

The Pirates’ six present an interesting mix of young talent and players fighting to showcase their identities. Here’s a glance at Pittsburgh’s Scorpions in 2012:

BLACK: The heart and soul of the Curve’s bullpen for the vast majority of the year, Vic Black has the electricity inherent in a dominant late-inning reliever and closer, and he got better as 2012 went on. After battling injuries early in his career, the former supplemental first-rounder pitched the entirety of the season healthy and finished the season among the league leaders in appearances (51, 1st), games finished (38, 2nd), batting average against for relievers (.189, 1st), highest K/9IP Ratio for relievers (12.75, 1st) and fewest baserunners per 9IP for relievers (10.95, 4th). His 13 saves led all Altoona pitchers, and opponents batted just .082 against the right-hander after the All-Star Break.

CUMPTON: While serving as Altoona’s ace for the first half of last season, Brandon Cumpton was a model of consistency who earned an Eastern League All-Star nod at the midway point. The second half, however, was a different story. After posting an 8-4 record and a 3.40 ERA through 17 starts before the All-Star Break, Cumpton went 4-4 with a 4.70 mark in 10 starts down the stretch. He’ll look to rediscover his early form and head into 2013 on a strong roll.

KAMINSKA: Brought over from the Miami Marlins at the trade deadline, righty Kyle Kaminska endured a well traveled 2012 and will do even more globetrotting in his offseason. After pitching at Double-A Jacksonville and Triple-A New Orleans in the Marlins’ system, Kaminska pitched at Altoona and High-A Bradenton with the Pirates. Overall, the right-hander went 9-4 with a 4.19 ERA in 40 appearances at four different stops. For Kaminska, the AFL would presumably provide a fresh start and a chance to impress his new employer moving toward 2013.

WALDRON:A late-season addition to the Curve, former Oregon State Beaver Tyler Waldron (below) finished his campaign brilliantly. In his final four starts in the Eastern League, Waldron tossed 19.2 innings while allowing just four earned runs (2.16 ERA). The right-hander’s 1-2, 4.05 marks in six

Tyler Waldron finished strong for the Curve in August and September

Altoona starts came on the heels of a 7-8 record and 5.09 ERA through 22 outings (20 starts) for the Bradenton Marauders from April into August.

CURRY: As Black was out of the bullpen for Altoona this year, so was Matt Curry in the lineup. The big first baseman out of TCU was the offensive engine for Altoona at many points in 2012. Curry led the Curve in doubles (34) and RBI (76) while finishing second on the club in home runs. He also ended the season ranked among league leaders in doubles (fifth), slugging percentage (.480, third) and extra-base hits (50, fourth). While questions remain in some baseball circles about Curry’s defensive acumen, the first baseman made just nine errors this year.

NGOEPE: A name unknown, perhaps, to many Curve fans, the young man named Gift is a story as fascinating as they come in baseball. Captured in this outstanding Sports Illustrated article from 2009, Ngoepe is seeking to be the first African major leaguer and showed flashes of impressive potential during his full season in Bradenton this year. The shortstop has tremendous range and defensive prowess, though his bat is a work in progress. A shot with Scottsdale will provide an intriguing look into Ngoepe’s ability to compete with top-notch talent, something he did as a member of the South African squad in last month’s World Baseball Classic qualifying tournament in Jupiter, Florida.

You can follow the Arizona Fall League all season long through the AFL’s official site, Facebook, and Twitter pages. As Mike noted below, you can also follow Curve players themselves through the magic of the interwebs, as well! Twitter handles for the AFL crew are:

Matt Curry – @MattyCurry17
Vic Black – @Vic_Black_2
Adalberto Santos – @SantosSwag
Tyler Waldron – @Twallywaldron

Keeping Him Honest: Now that we’re into the heat of the Division Series round in the MLB Postseason, thought it’d be a good time to check up on Mike’s playoff predictions. Leeeego:

Wild Card Round

Atlanta over St. Louis:  I just can’t see the final season in the tremendous career of Chipper Jones coming to an end with a bow out in the first round of the playoffs, especially with Atlanta playing at home for this game tonight in Turner Field. While “The Chop” is one of the most annoying chants in all of professional sports in my opinion, the Braves will Chop the Cards and proceed to face the ‘Nats in the other NLDS matchup.  In a promotional note though, the Braves gave away these Glow in the Dark Tomahawks this season, which are pretty darn cool.  Making the promotion even cooler was that it was sponsored by Mellow Mushroom, which is a pizza chain that started in Atlanta and has PHENOMENAL, yes, all-caps worthy, pizza and Parmesan pretzels!

No. The umpires say no to your logic. Though I completely agree with your Tomahawk Chop assessment.

Baltimore over Texas: In the other series tonight, I’m taking the O’s because the Rangers are reeling having lost the division on the season’s final day following two straight World Series appearances that resulted in losses.

Pretty spot on with this one. It’s shaping up to be an interesting offseason in Texas, by the way. Word today that the Rangers won’t make an offer to Josh Hamilton before he hits the open market. All this drama from a team that was a strike away from the first World Series title in franchise history (multiple times) a year ago. Oh, also the A’s won that division.

The A’s. Just let that sink in for a moment.

Next week, we’ll be back to check up on Mike’s picks for the NLDS and ALDS.

What We’re Watching This Offseason, Part II: I have a show I need to impart on you because chances are you’re not watching it. And it’s even weirder that I’ll be imparting it on you after it’s already over. Ok, ok, ok, so the season finale was on this past Sunday, but do yourself a favor and find a way to watch AMC’s Hell on Wheels. Do it now. With Anson Mount, Common, Colm Meany, and a deep and phenomenal supporting cast, HoW tells the story of the building of America’s transcontinental railroad just after the end of the Civil War in a fashion that equals the drama and simmering tension of any other show on television. Big thumbs up.

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