Prior to the season we’re previewing the 12 Eastern League teams in reverse order of last season’s record. Rosters won’t be finalized until the week before Opening Day, so my Players to Watch is pure speculation at this point.
Up next, we have the Altoona Curve…
2015 record: 74-68
Affiliation: Pittsburgh Pirates
Manager: Joey Cora
Hitting coach: Kevin Riggs
Pitching coach: Justin Meccage
Five Players to Watch
OF Austin Meadows – The 20-year-old brings an advanced approach to the plate and showed that in a brief stint with Altoona last season when he slashed .360/.429/.680 in six games that catapulted the Curve into the playoffs. Meadows, however, will start 2016 on the disabled list as he will be out until at least early April with a fractured orbital bone he suffered in a freak Spring Training injury.
OF Harold Ramirez – Ramirez remains of the more enigmatic prospects. The Colombian is a stud with a bat in his hands at the plate, has good speed on the basepaths, and can adeptly play all three outfield positions. But Ramirez can also be surly with umpires, lack focus at times, and be the poster child for TOOTBLAN.
RHP Yeudy Garcia – Garcia is a late bloomer who went 12-5 with a 2.10 ERA at Low-A West Virginia in his first season in the States. The native Dominican throws a mid-to-high 90s fastball and a hard slider that elicits weak to little contact. The righty will begin 2016 in Bradenton, but could move up the ladder quickly.
C Reese McGuire – McGuire has a reputation as a defense-first catcher and it’s warranted as he’s one of the best receivers in the minor leagues with a feel for calling a game behind the plate. The big question mark is will his hit tool ever develop enough to be little more than a backup. Double-A will really put his offensive skills to the test.
RHP Clay Holmes – After Tommy John surgery in 2014, the Pirates have brought Holmes back slowly beginning with six starts at High-A Bradenton last year. Holmes features a heavy sinker and an effective change-up to keep the ball on the ground and in the park. The ninth round draft pick was the valedictorian of his high school and uses his intelligence to prepare and attack hitters.
Hiring Joey Cora to be the Curve’s new skipper in 2016 was a coup for the Pirates’ organization considering he was thought to be in the hunt for a Major League managerial position. I expect big things out of Cora as Pittsburgh’s top-loaded system will stack the Triple-A Indianapolis roster and push lots of talented players to Altoona. The Curve will have the offense and pitching to contend all season long and are my favorites to claim the Western Division title.