Is this the most talent assembled in Altoona at one time?

By Garett Mansfield

As the summer of 2020 rolls on, Peoples Natural Gas Field remains full of top prospects. The current alternate site roster includes 15 players with Top 30 prospect status within the Pirates system by either Baseball America or (or both).

This begs the question: Is this the most talent ever assembled at one time in Altoona’s minor league baseball history?

To find our answer, let’s look back at the top-ranked prospects in Altoona Curve history. We’ll go team-by-team to see where the current group in Altoona stacks up to Curve teams of the past.

Click here to view the prospects of the taxi squad

Ranking prospects is no easy task and there is no exact science to it. There are times that each MLB organization is full of prospects and other times that they are prospect poor. For instance, the 2019 Curve fielded six players on Baseball America’s Top 30 Pirates prospect rankings compared to 14 the year before. The 2019 total of six was the lowest total of top-rated prospects to take the field in Altoona since BA expanded their organizational rankings to 30 players in 2001.

Baseball America has the deepest archive of prospect rankings and have compiled an annual Top 30 list for each organization since 2001. All of our rankings in this piece will reflect Baseball America’s preseason rankings.

Which Curve teams have had the most Top 30 prospects?
The criteria here is pretty simple: the total number of preseason Top 30 prospects to play for the Curve at any point during a particular season. Players that were acquired by the Pirates but were ranked on another MLB organization’s Top 30 rankings were also counted towards that season’s total.

In reverse order, here are Altoona’s top five top-ranked teams on paper:

4. (Tie) – 2009 (11)
The 2009 Curve are a classic example to the point that prospects don’t directly correlate to wins. The 2009 team had the second-worst record in franchise history at 62-80. However when top prospect Pedro Alvarez was promoted near the halfway point of the season, things were different. The Curve went 34-26 with Alvarez in the lineup and 26-51 without him. The Curve had 11 Top 30 players in 2009, including five players in the top 10.

1. Pedro Alvarez
3. Jose Tabata
4. Brad Lincoln
7. Jeff Sues
8. Shelby Ford
11. Jamie Romak
14. Brian Friday
19. Daniel Moskos
21. Steve Lerud
24. Jm Negrych
26. Donnie Veal

4. (Tie) – 2010 (11)
2010 was a dream season for the Curve. Culminating in the franchise’s first Eastern League championship, the club went 82-60, won the division and was loaded with top prospects. The official total this season was 11 ranked prospects but it could very easily be higher. A handful of players flew under the radar prior to breakout seasons with the Curve in 2010. Alex Presley, Matt Hague and Justin Wilson were all outside the Top 30 entering the season but all were ranked Pirates prospects entering the 2011 season. The total of 11 also includes Andrew Lambo, who was acquired at the July deadline from the Dodgers in the Octavio Dotel trade.

5. Chase d’Arnaud
7. Tim Alderson
7. Andrew Lambo (from LAD)
9. Rudy Owens
10. Gorkys Hernandez
13. Jeff Locke
15. Bryan Morris
17. Ramon Aguero
22. Jordy Mercer
29. Josh Harrison
30. Daniel Moskos

4. (Tie) – 2012 (11)
Highlighted by pitching prospects Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, the 2012 Curve welcomed 11 Top 30 Pirates prospects to Altoona, including five of the top 10. The club finished 72-70.

1. Gerrit Cole
2. Jameson Taillon
6. Kyle McPherson
7. Tony Sanchez
8. Robbie Grossman
18. Jarek Cunningham
19. Vic Black
22. Ramon Cabrera
25. Matt Curry
26. Evan Chambers
28. Brandon Cumpton

3. – 2001 (12)
Another team that struggled with a high volume of prospects. The 2001 Curve went 63-79 but had 12 Top 30 prospects, including Adrian Burnside after he was acquired from the Dodgers for Terry Mulholland.

1. J.R. House
3. J.J. Davis
9. John Grabow
10. Ryan Doumit
15. Adrian Burnside (from LAD)
18. Tony Alvarez
19. B.J. Barns
20. Chris Spurling
22. Steve Sparks
24. Dave Williams
26. Rico Washington
29. Lee Evans

2. – 2003 (12)
The 2003 Curve were the first playoff team in franchise history, finishing 78-63 and the winner of the divisional wild card. It was the first of five seasons that the club sported Pittsburgh’s No. 1 and No. 2 preseason prospects during the season. With 12 Top 30 prospects in all, the 2003 team sported five top-10 prospects and added two more Top 30s through trades.

1. John Van Benschoten
2. Sean Burnett
4. Jose Castillo
9. Mike Gonzalez
10. Ian Snell
15. J.R. House
18. Anastacio Martinez (from BOS)
23. Mike Connolly
24. Chris Duffy
28. Josh Bonifay
28. Ray Sadler (from CHC)
29. Shawn Garrett

1. – 2018 (14)
The 2018 Curve, on paper, is the most talented group Altoona has ever seen. regarded the Opening Day roster as one of the best in the Minors that year. Led by 14 Top 30 prospects, the Curve finished 78-60 and won a second straight division title. However, they were bounced from the playoffs by Akron and former American League MVP Josh Donaldson on MLB rehab. If one play in either Game 1 or Game 2 had gone Altoona’s way, that series would’ve looked very different.

Not only did the 2018 team have 14 members of the Top 30, but there seven players in the top 10! Both totals included preseason acquisitions Bryan Reynolds and Jason Martin that were ranked by Baseball America in their former organizations’ Top 30 rankings.

1. Mitch Keller
4. Ke’Bryan Hayes
5. Bryan Reynolds (from SF)
6. Cole Tucker
7. Luis Escobar
8. Nick Kingham
9. Taylor Hearn
19. Brandon Waddell
19. Jason Martin (from HOU)
24. Will Craig
25. Nick Burdi
26. Yeudy Garcia
28. Stephen Alemais
30. Dario Agrazal

While the 2018 Curve has the closest prospect total to the 2020 taxi squad, that entire group was never on the active roster at the same time. That probably gives us a different perspective on analyzing a certain group of prospects but it does offer us with the proper context of how unique the pool of talent is right now.

The 2020 group also has a shorter route to Pittsburgh’s roster than those from past Curve teams by being able to bypass another rung of the developmental ladder.

That means the future has never been closer than it is right now.

This contribution to the Around the Curve Blog is presented by Microtel. Plan your stay at one of Altoona’s three Lion Country Lodging locations. Click here to make a reservation today.

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