Friday, July 9, 2010

DBS On The Road -- Altoona

With the promotions of Alvarez, Tabata, and Lincoln to the major leagues, Bryan Morris is the Pirates #1 prospect in my opinion (until the day Jameson Taillon inks his name on a contract). It has been rumored that Morris will see some time in AAA this year, which means that if you want to see him close to Pittsburgh, your time to see him in Altoona is limited.

So a road trip was in order...out 22 East, past the numerous strip clubs, greasy spoon diners, and tattoo Blair County Ballpark. Home of the Altoona Curve since 1999. I was there during its inaugural season, but have not made it back since, with many regrets.

DB~ was a last-minute go to join me. I would have perfectly happy going solo, but it was great to have her join me. She knows I don't really get too excited about things, so she indulges my zeal of minor league prospects whenever possible. Plus she brought her professional-grade camera with lenses that cost a ridiculous amount, so we got some nice shots (like the one above).

We drove 2 hours with the prime purpose being to scout Bryan Morris and imagine him in the Pirates 2011 rotation. He lasted 2 innings. So I suppose in a perverse way, I WAS able to envision him as a Pirate. :)

He just didn't have it last night. He sat 91-93 on his fastball and peaked at 95 (note - these gun readings were off a radar gun...we sat behind Rudy Owens and Jared Hughes...the reputed 2 mph difference on the stadium gun is real), but his changeup was blah in the low 80's and his slider was elevated all night in the mid 80's.

The second inning had a no-doubt HR from the bat of Kirk Neuwenheis and then Morris beaned a guy for good measure. Easily his worst performance of the year. In fact, by the time DB~ got her super-duper lens ready, the only picture we got of Morris was of his bunt in the 2nd inning. It was the best thing he did all night.

As for the rest of the Curve, Chase d'Arnaud was solid, if unspectacular. He looks to go opposite field at the plate first and foremost. He is fast down the line and he and Mercer (playing at 2B) were smooth on a double play. Mercer has an inside-out swing that led to a slicing double to RF in his first AB and a pop out to RF in his second AB. In his 3rd AB, he rocketed a shot to left-center that hit off the very top of the wall, resulting in another double.

I came away from this game very impressed by Josh Harrison, though. To get it out of the way first....he is short. DB~ is 5 foot 5 inches and may have her beat by only 2 inches. He is kind of shaped like a fire plug, too, but he hustles hard. Every ball was hit square and exploded off his bat. It just sounded different than anyone else on the Curve. He only had one chance in the field at 3B, that I saw, and he handled it cleanly. Perhaps he can fake it enough in the field to be a nice super-sub and not just a pinch hitter.

After the 3rd inning, we walked around the stadium for an inning to get some photos and take in the park. When we returned, we shifted one section over to sit behind Rudy Owens and Jared Hughes so I could see the gun readings. I wished Rudy continued good luck and told them that I hoped to see them in Pittsburgh next year (I had to be polite to Jared). Then I looked to my right across the aisle and saw the familiar military-grade crew cut adorn by everyone's favorite Farm Director....Kyle Stark.

I couldn't resist asking him some questions, but which ones in such a limited time frame. I could, literally, ask him questions for two hours I think. I introduced myself and established rapport by saying that many hardcore fans supported what they were doing in the minors. Then...

1. "When will Jeff Locke be here (meaning Altoona)?"
KS - "Much sooner rather than later. He's pitching very well in Bradenton."

2. "A lot of fans are starting to buzz about Exicardo does he look?"
KS - "I just came from seeing him. He's the real deal with the bat."

After an inning break, I hit Kyle Stark with 2 more questions...

3. "Who is the prospect that no one is talking about, but should be?"
KS - "With all the information available today, there are no more surprises, but I don't think Alex Presley is talked about enough."

4. "How does Colton Cain's FB look in the GCL?"
KS - "He's still not 100% recovered from his back injury, but he has an average fastball right now."

He was very pleasant to talk to. I could tell it was the last thing he wanted to do, but he was very gracious with me, even if his answers were close to the vest. I respected his time and only asked him questions in between innings, but I wish I could have asked a ton more.

The whole night was enjoyable. A ticket behind home plate is $10, parking is $2 at the garage, and they have this interesting culinary creation called the Walking Taco. It's a bunch of nacho chips crushed up in Mission Tortilla's bag, and drenched with nacho cheese, topped with lettuce and tomato. It gives you the breath of a fire-breathing dragon, but for a ballpark food it was good.

A trip to Altoona is well worth it for a Pittsburgh baseball fan.

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