Predicting the 2015 Altoona Curve

Josh Bell could be manning first base for the Curve in 2015.  (Kevin Pataky/MLBAM)
Josh Bell could be manning first base for the Curve in 2015. (Kevin Pataky/MLBAM)

Opening Day for the Curve is exactly FIVE WEEKS from today. This year’s squad will take the field to open the 2015 season on April 9 at Harrisburg.

With Spring Training games kicking off this week down in the Grapefruit League, a lot is still up in the air concerning which players will be heading to which affiliates throughout the system.

The picture may because a little more clear as the spring moves forward, but let’s take a shot at who might be suiting up for the Curve this April.

Curve broadcasters Mike Passanisi and myself, Trey Wilson, each put together their best guess at what the starting nine will look like when players disperse from Bradenton to their destinations for the start of the season. Here is what we came up with:

Disclaimer: These lineups are predictions, and are not in any way intended to reflect any official announcement, decisions made by the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, or any top-secret, classified inside information.  

Mike Passanisi’s Predictions
C – Sebastian Valle/Jacob Stallings
1B – Josh Bell
2B – Dan Gamache
SS – Adam Frazier
3B – Eric Wood
LF – Andy Vasquez
CF – Justin Maffei
RF – Willy Garcia
DH – Jose Osuna
SP – Tyler Glasnow

Trey Wilson’s Predictions
C – Jacob Stallings
1B – Josh Bell
2B – Dan Gamache / Max Moroff
SS – GIft Ngoepe / Adam Frazier
3B – Eric Wood
LF – Drew Maggi
CF – Junior Sosa
RF – Willy Garcia
DH – Jose Osuna
SP – Tyler Glasnow

The two lists are surprisingly similar, but by no stretch does that make them a lock. By our estimations, there are only two players that we both feel confident will be with the Curve: Tyler Glasnow and Josh Bell.

Hard-throwing righty Tyler Glasnow is Pittsburgh's top prospect entering 2015. (Cliff Welch / MiLB.com)
Hard-throwing righty Tyler Glasnow is Pittsburgh’s top prospect entering 2015. (Cliff Welch / MiLB.com)

Tyler Glasnow, the Pirates’ top prospect according to Baseball America, led the Adv-A Florida State League with a 1.74 ERA in 2014, and held opposing hitters to an MiLB-best .174 average. We expect to see the 6-foot-8 right-hander and his upper-90s fastball anchoring the top of the Curve rotation this spring. Both of us expect several of Glasnow’s rotation mates from Bradenton last year will be making the move north to Altoona, with possible names including Chad Kuhl (13-5, 3.46 ERA  in 2014) and John Kuchno (8-9, 3.56 ERA in 2014).

Josh Bell spent 84 games with Bradenton in 2014 and was leading the Florida State League with a .335 average before a call-up to Altoona on July 17. He suffered a knee contusion in August that cut his season short by a few weeks, but he spent part of his offseason in the Arizona Fall League converting to first base from the outfield, which is expected to give him a quicker path to the Majors with Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, and Gregory Polanco with a lock on the 7-8-9 spots on the MLB scorecard for the foreseeable future.

Willy Garcia set a Curve record with 19 outfield assists in 2014. (Mark Olson / MiLB)
Willy Garcia set a Curve record with 19 outfield assists in 2014. (Mark Olson / MiLB)

The rest of the lineup presented a bit more of a challenge to piece together. We both agreed that right fielder Willy Garcia might return to Altoona this year, but a promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis would not be a surprise, either. He flashed some great defensive abilities in 2014 with the Curve (including setting a new single-season outfield assists record), but he struck out in nearly one-third of his plate appearances. Garcia is currently on the Pirates’ 40-man roster.

Dan Gamache, who played 39 games with Altoona in 2014, was the leading candidate for second base, but Max Moroff is another candidate that could be making the jump after spending all of last year with Bradenton.

Curve fans may see infielder Gift Ngoepe at PNG Field for the third year in his career, and possibly in a battle at shortstop with Adam Frazier. Frazier, a former Mississippi State Bulldog, has shown more offensive success, hitting .261 in the second half last season with Bradenton, but he committed 36 errors.

Third base was another tough position to nail down, but both of us settled on 2012 sixth-rounder Eric Wood, who hit .271 with 28 doubles a year ago with Bradenton. With the pace of his progression since joining the system, Altoona would make logical sense for this season.

The outfield was the toughest to predict. While we both landed on Garcia to fill right field, it basically came down to picking names out of a hat to fill left field and center field.

I picked Drew Maggi to patrol left field. Going back to 2012, he has played 258 games with the Curve and spent time in seven difference defensive positions, including a pitching appearance in his first run with Altoona. Mike went with another Altoona veteran, Andy Vasquez, who has played all three outfield positions, two infield positions, and made five relief appearances on the mound in Double-A.

Junior Sosa joined the Curve in June and got off to a strong start in his first 12 games before falling to a season-ending injury, but I have pegged him to fill the center field position on Opening Night for the Curve. Mike looked to Justin Maffei, coming off of his best professional season yet after hitting .303 in 49 games last year in the FSL.

We both agreed that the Curve may see Jose Osuna start the season with Altoona, but inserted him as the designated hitter for the Opening Night lineup. The Venezuela native had a breakout season last year while repeating with Bradenton, and his numbers improved as the year went on. Even missing around a month on the disabled list, Osuna clubbed 10 home runs and drove in 57 runs with a .296 average last summer.

Jameson Taillon is looking to return from Tommy John surgery in 2015. (Carl Kline / MiLB.com)
Jameson Taillon is looking to return from Tommy John surgery in 2015. (Carl Kline / MiLB.com)

Later in the season, we may see Jameson Tallion come back through Altoona for two or three rehab starts coming off of Tommy John surgery on his way back up to Triple-A.

Reaching a bit more: We may be able to get a sneak peak at some of the younger prospects in the system closer to the end of the year, including outfielders Austin Meadows and Harold Ramirez and catcher Reese McGuire. All three of these prospects play positions that are lacking depth at the Double-A level in the Pirates’ system. It’s an outside chance, but maybe one (or more) of those prospects receive a bump to Altoona in late-August or September, but it would probably take a pretty stellar campaign in Bradenton for it to happen. Look to see those names on the 2016 roster.

To see for yourself which players will be sporting the Curve colors this year, head out to PNG Field on Thursday, April 16 for the 2015 home opener. Single-game tickets are on sale now. 


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