The Arizona Fall League concluded last week after the Salt River Rafters bettered the Surprise Saguaros in the league’s championship game.
Seven members of the 2019 Altoona Curve represented the Pittsburgh Pirates and played next to prospects from the Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros, San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners that comprised the Peoria Javelinas. Dave Turgeon, a veteran of the Pirates minor league operations staff, managed the team to a 14-15 record, tied for second in their division.
Let’s look at how each individual used the experience for their development.
Starting with the hitters, look no further for a standout than Jared Oliva. The 2019 Curve MVP led the AFL in doubles (11), extra-base hits (13) and stolen bases (11). He placed second in both hits (29) and runs (18) behind AFL MVP Royce Lewis (Twins No. 1 prospect). The Pirates No. 11 prospect was the organization’s lone participant in the Fall Stars Game and closed the season with a .312/.413/.473 slash line in 26 games. Oliva was also named to MLB Pipeline’s All-AFL Team.
Oneil Cruz scuffled offensively with a .190 batting average (8-for-42) with one double and did not play past October 16. Pittsburgh’s No. 3 prospect was a streaky hitter after he joined the Curve in late July, a move that was motivated to get him up to speed for the AFL. Fans in Altoona were not wowed by the defense displayed by the 6-foot-6 shortstop, but he committed just one error in 12 games in the field for Peoria.
Jason Delay caught 11 games and went 3-for-32 (.094) at the dish with one double and walked four times. He also threw out 2-of-18 base-stealing attempts.
From a pitching standpoint, all four pitchers had solid showings against the game’s best hitting prospects.
Nick Mears quietly led the pack with 8.2 scoreless innings in eight outings. He struck out 11 hitters, walked five and surrendered just two hits. Again, he allowed two hits in 8.2 innings. The undrafted free agent also recorded a save and added one hold. He was one of seven pitchers in the AFL that did not allow a run in at least eight innings pitched.
Another hard-throwing reliever, Blake Cederlind, posted a sterling 1.13 ERA (1 ER/8 IP) during his eight outings. He struck out nine for a bit over one per inning, but he issued seven walks. However, five of those free passes were in his first two games before he found his command. His lone earned run allowed was a solo homer in his first game pitched by Jerar Encarnacion, one of Miami’s top prospects who went on to hit a grand slam for Salt River in the AFL Championship Game.
Cody Ponce started his Pirates organization career with the Curve after he was acquired from the Brewers in the Jordan Lyles trade. Used as a reliever before the trade, Ponce transitioned back to starting throughout the final month of the season and went on to make five starts for Peoria in the Fall League. He had an encouraging campaign by posting an impressive 27:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio and held down a 2.35 ERA.
2019 Curve Co-Pitcher of the Year Beau Sulser did a little bit of everything with Altoona during the regular season. It was a similar story in the Fall League. He started two games and was a little shaky with five runs allowed in five innings. However, he went to a familiar long-relief role and repeated the success he had against Eastern League hitters. He closed out the year with 7.2 scoreless innings to yank his ERA down from 7.20 to a solid 3.14. His strikeout total in six games (two starts) was 13 through 14.1 innings and he issued nine walks, but seven were in his first two appearances.
The offseason will continue to be a busy one for several players participating in various winter leagues. Alfredo Reyes, Pablo Reyes, Joel Cesar, Jesus Liranzo and Pedro Vasquez are currently competing in the Dominican Winter League. Chris Sharpe is set to play in Puerto Rico while Jerrick Suiter and Robbie Glendinning will play in the Australia Baseball League starting in November.
Also with baseball back in the Olympics, a few qualifiers will take place leading up to the 2020 Summer Games. Ponce has already been added to Team USA while Glendinning will complete for Team Australia.