by TREY WILSON
Originally published on April 22, 2015. Updated on October 15, 2015.
The first 17 seasons of baseball in Curve, Pa. have seen a league championship, two Eastern League All-Star Games and over five million fans packing Peoples Natural Gas Field.
Of course, the ultimate goal with Minor League Baseball is to develop and prepare young players with hopes of reaching the Majors. Since 1999, 123 players have passed through Altoona on their way to the big leagues. Scanning the list, you’ll find some players that have had brief MLB careers, as well as some of the biggest stars in the game today.
It began with catcher Yamid Haad. A member of the inaugural Curve team, he made his Major League debut with a pinch hit appearance for the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 5, 1999 after beginning that season in Altoona.
For fans of the Curve, one of the most popular players in the team’s history was outfielder Adam Hyzdu. He clubbed 55 home runs between 1999 and 2000, and several of his single-season records still stand today, including home runs (31) and RBIs (106) from the 2000 season. He received a September promotion to the Pirates and made his MLB debut on Sept. 8 against the Reds.
As it played out, one of the more notable names on that 1999 Curve roster was Bronson Arroyo. The right-handed pitcher debuted with the Pirates on June 12, 2000 and is still in the Majors today. He rose to fame as a member of the rotation for the historic 2004 Boston Red Sox, helping the team win their first World Series in 86 years.
One of Arroyo’s lesser-known talents is his ability as a musician and singer. Arroyo released an album of 12 rock covers in 2005 and plays live shows every now and then during the offseason.
As time has passed, one of the most notable Curve alumni to reach the Majors was Andrew McCutchen. After spending time with the Curve in 2006 and 2007, McCutchen has gone on to five National League All-Star selections over the last four years, a Silver Slugger Award each of the last three years, a Gold Glove Award in 2012 and the 2013 NL MVP Award.
McCutchen suited up 138 times for the Curve, hitting .265 with 13 home runs and 60 RBIs. He made his MLB debut with the Pirates on June 4, 2009.
If you flip on a Pittsburgh Pirates game today, you’ll see a lineup filled almost exclusively filled with familiar names for Curve fans. Including McCutchen, seven of the eight everyday starting position players for the Pirates passed through Altoona on their way to suiting up at PNC Park.
2014 Silver Slugger Neil Walker played alongside McCutchen with the Curve in 2006 and 2007. Including a brief rehab stint in 2013, Walker played 131 games for the Curve, clubbing 15 home runs and 70 RBIs. He was selected as an E.L. All-Star in 2007.
After a stellar career for the Commodores of Vanderbilt University, slugger Pedro Alvarez played 60 games for the Curve in 2009. He hit .333 with 13 home runs, and it did not take long for him to receive a call to the Majors. He made his MLB debut on June 16, 2010 for the Pirates. “El Toro” was a National League All-Star in 2013 and led the Senior Circuit with 36 homers.
Alvarez made the move to first base as the Pirates found a new anchor for the hot corner in Curve alumnus Josh Harrison. J-Hay made his MLB debut on May 11, 2011 after an All-Star season with Altoona in 2010 where he hit .300 and drove in 70 runs.
Harrison is joined on the infield by former Curve teammate and current Bucs starting shortstop Jordy Mercer, who played in Altoona in 2010 and 2011.
Surrounding McCutchen in the corner outfield spots are two young former Curve stars, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco. Marte was an E.L. All-Star in 2011 and won the league’s Rookie of the Year Award that season while hitting .332 in 129 games with 12 homers and 50 RBIs. He debuted with Pittsburgh on July 26, 2012. Polanco joined the Pirates last June after spending half of the 2013 in Curve, Pa.
Two hurlers in the Pittsburgh rotation developed at PNG Field on their way to baseball’s top level. The club’s current ace Gerrit Cole had a breakout season as a rookie in 2013 to climb to his current spot anchoring the Pirates’ rotation. The Cole Train passed through Curve, Pa. in 2012, where he posted a 2.90 ERA in 12 starts.
Southpaw Jeff Locke pitched for briefly the Curve in 2010 and was an E.L. All-Star in 2011. He’s off to a stellar start in 2015, posting a 2-0 record with a 1.93 ERA through his first two starts of the season.
Pirates’ fans have come to rely on the club’s strong bullpen, which is led by former Curve Tony Watson and Jared Hughes. The Curve recognized them with this Shark Tank triple bobblehead last season, which also features Justin Wilson, who was traded to the New York Yankees last offseason for catcher Francisco Cervelli.
The most recent Curve alumnus to crack the Majors prior to 2015 was John Holdzkom. The flame-throwing righty spend time in the Mets and Reds organizations before working through independent baseball. His contract was purchased by the Pirates last June and he pitched just six games with the Curve before a promotion. He made his MLB debut last September, but is currently with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians.
Although his time in Curve, Pa. came after his first run through the Majors, six-time American League All-Star Jose Bautista spent most of the 2005 season with Altoona during his interesting run to MLB stardom. Bautista was originally drafted by the Pirates in 2000, but the Baltimore Orioles claimed him off waivers in the Rule 5 Draft in 2003.
Bautista made his MLB debut with the Orioles on April 4, 2004, but spent time with several other organizations before the end of that year. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays picked him up on waivers in June, then his contract was purchased by the Kansas City Royals later that month. A month later, he was traded to the New York Mets, but never played a game for them. He was traded back to the Pirates, sending him on a full-circle ride through five different organizations in less than a year.
The Pirates assigned Bautista to Altoona to start the 2005 season, where as a third baseman he hit .283 with 23 home runs and 90 RBIs. Along with future Major Leaguers Rajai Davis and Tom Gorzelanny, Bautista represented the Curve at the 2005 E.L. All-Star Game in Portland.
He eventually settled into the Majors with Pittsburgh, playing a total 400 games for the Pirates until he was shipped to the Toronto Blue Jays as the trade deadline approached. Since heading north of the border, Bautista has led the American League in home runs twice, including an astounding 54 dingers in 2010.
Many other Major League mainstays played for the Curve, including Jack Wilson (2000), Nate McLouth (2004), Zach Duke (2004) and Steve Pearce (2007). More names break out every season, like in 2014 when pitcher Hunter Strickland (2012) came aboard late in the season to help lift the San Francisco Giants to their third World Series title in five years.
Although they do not count on the list of 123 Curve alumni to break into the Majors, occasional Major League players suit up for Altoona while doing rehab work after injuries before returning to the Big Leagues. Some of the notable names include three-time National League All-Star Sean Casey in 2006, current Pirates starting pitcher Francisco Liriano in 2013 and current Braves closer and former Pirates fan favorite Jason Grilli.
Keon Broxton was the first member of the 2015 Curve to crack the Majors with his debut in September. This year’s edition of the Curve also featured seven of Baseball America’s top 30 Pittsburgh prospects. Several of them, along with some under-the-radar players, could one day join the list of Altoona alumni to break out in the Majors.
To explore the list of all Curve alumni, click here.