By Michael Marcantonini
It’s not uncommon for an organization to move top prospects quickly through its minor league system. It is, however, uncommon to see a 22nd-round pick reach Double-A with less than two full minor league seasons under his belt–especially a player who’s spent most of his professional career in a utility role.
That’s the path Altoona Curve infielder Brett Pope has taken. A native of Statesville, North Carolina, the 23-year-old Pope made the Curve roster out of Spring Training and has been with the team all season.
Pope played in just 116 career games with only 437 professional plate appearances before he made his Double-A debut on April 5 in Akron. Fast forward a few months and Pope has played in 60 of the Curve’s 92 games through July 17 with 177 plate appearances, three away from setting a new career high with 48 games still left in the regular season. He’s started 42 games with 27 starts at shortstop, eight at second base, six at third base and one as the designated hitter.
“Just being kind of a utility guy and not playing every day, you learn how to adapt when you do get an opportunity and even when you’re not playing, you learn to view the game from a different lens and just learn,” Pope said. “You could possibly learn more from the bench than you could actually playing, looking from each perspective of the game.”
Roster changes throughout the season have created opportunities at three infield positions for Pope, who is having a strong season defensively. As a left-handed batter on a right-handed-heavy club, he’s also a go-to bat off the bench when he doesn’t start.
Pope struggled with Double-A pitching early in the season and hit just .196 through May but caught fire and hit .291 over 20 games in June. He hit safely in 12 games during the month, totaled four multi-hit games and came through as a pinch-hitter with a game-tying, RBI double in the eighth inning on June 28 against Binghamton. With help from his coaches, Pope made necessary adjustments to hit Double-A pitching.
“It’s been great learning from coach [Michael] Ryan and coach [Jon] Nunnally, and just going through the everyday experience and you learn the game from a new perspective,” Pope said. “You find out just the little things of the game, just learning different situations throughout the game that you may not have thought of from your past experiences.”
Pope played his college ball at Western Carolina, where he hit .311 with 30 extra-base hits and went 35/43 in stolen base attempts in 138 games. He earned Second Team All-Southern Conference honors as a junior in 2017 and the Pirates drafted him in the 22nd round that June.
Pope was assigned to short-season West Virginia after being drafted and hit just .205 in 39 games with the Black Bears in 2017. He made strides in 2018 with the Single-A West Virginia Power and A-Adv. Bradenton Marauders and hit .255 with 13 doubles, three home runs and 29 RBIs in 77 games.
“It was a learning process and it still is as we’re going through today. Just learning the game from a more advanced perspective and playing against better [players] all throughout each level you go up,” Pope said of his college career and first two pro seasons.
Now in his third season in the Pirates organization, the Eastern League has been a new challenge.
“The velo is way higher at this level, the pitchers are smarter, everyone is smarter throughout the game, and just the everyday environment of being at the field every day, there’s wear and tear on your body and you have to learn how to prepare each day,” Pope said.
Through it all, Pope has moved quickly through the Pirates’ farm system, quicker than you might expect from a 22nd-round pick. Regardless of how he got here, Pope is keeping a consistent mindset moving forward.
“Just learning to keep going every day and battle through.”