Sunday, July 21, 2013

My Trip To See Altoona

No, not Al Tuna....
That loveable mascot of the Curve!

But rather the Altoona Curve, the Pittsburgh Pirates' AA minor league baseball team.

My first attempt got rained out in the third inning a few weeks back. But, it actually worked out for the better as Gregory Polanco was not in the lineup due to a sore shoulder from a play in the outfield and Casey Sadler was on the mound. On Thursday, top Pirates' position player prospect Gregory Polanco was in the lineup and top Pirates' pitching prospect Jameson Taillon was on the bump.

Jameson Taillon warming up before the first inning

Jameson Taillon beginning his night
I tried something new at the game and attempted to post to twitter my observations for every half inning of Taillon's outing, as well as any positives from Altoona's offense in the bottom half of each inning.

It looked something like this:

(First Inning) In Altoona seeing J Taillon for 1st time. After if single &SB, retired the next 3, striking out 1 & 2 GO 3-u. Hitting 94-95

It seemed like he was getting warmed up to full speed still in the first. The first batter hit a weak grounder up the middle that got past Taillon and second baseman Jarek Cunningham flagged down, but didn't have time to get the speedy runner, Jamie Johnson. Johnson then stole second on a close play, but he's a good base stealer (15 SB, 2 CS). The strikeout was an 8-pitch at-bat, the most pitches of any of his strikeouts again showing he was still getting ramped up. The next two batters helped out Taillon's pitch count by grounding weak rollers to first base.

Taillon 2nd: PopupSS, line 1B to RF, seeing eye 1B to RF, sawed off 96mph popup, sb, bloop1B scores2, BB, 4-3. tied 2-2

This was a frustrating inning that goes back to the box score doesn't tell the whole story. He didn't get hit hard, but ended up giving up two runs. Taillon's fastball was much more consistently 96 mph in the second inning.

J Taillon 3rd: 3-pitch K- 96fb, 85 change (swing), 81 curve (frozen looking); go 6-3; go 3-u;43 pitches totthru 3. tied 2-2

A good recovery inning after the second. He made the first batter look like a high schooler with the pitch sequence. Overall, a 7-pitch inning.

Taillon 4th: weak go 4-3,  K (95 fb, 95 fb, 96 fb ball, 81 curve looking), lazy inf popup. 3-2 Curve after 4. 

More weak contact, another statue of a batter on a curveball, and a weak pop up. 9 pitch inning.

Taillon 5th: ripped 3B to RC on 95fb, rbi 4-3 go, K (fb,fb,96fb,change,fb looking), K (fb,change,foul fb, 81curve swinging)

The triple was pretty much the only hard-hit ball on Taillon the whole night. I'm assuming the 1-2 fastball wasn't where Taillon wanted it. But, he managed the rest of the inning even though you would've like to have seen him strand the leadoff triple.The first strikeout off the inning you had to think the batter was looking off-speed and got locked up on the fastball. The second was probably the opposite and went flailing at what he thought was going to be a fastball.

Taillon 6th: 3-pitch easy f8, dicey 2-pitch go 4-1 (1st pretty 82 curve), K (fb,change, curve, ch, 96fb, 83curve swinging)

A lazy fly ball to lead off the inning. I described the second out as "dicey" because 1B Justin Howard came off the line to try to get it, but wasn't able to reach it. 2B Cunningham did get to it, and Taillon beat the runner to the bag and received the throw. It wasn't pretty but another out on weak contact. And the whiff on the curve again set up by premium fastball velocity.

Taillon 7th: 1 pitch 92fb sliding f8 (polanco), k (95 fb, fb, 81curve swinging), 3-2 BB, go 4-3 (96fb on pitch 95)

Gregory Polanco made a nice grab and covered a lot of ground to make it look like a "routine" sliding catch. The strikeout was again an overwhelmed batter with the speed and then curve. Only his second walk of the game (and first since the second inning). Then, a routine grounder finished his night with Taillon still putting 96 on Peoples Natural Gas Field's radar gun.

Taillon's final line: 7IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 7K

My impressions of Taillon didn't change much since I saw him look like he belonged in the World Baseball Classic against Team USA back in March. That curve is devastating and his fastball is major-league caliber. He needs to work on his control more, especially of his 87-88 mph changeup/slider. It seemed like he was searching a little on that pitch and it was up and in the right hand hitter's batter's box.

As far as the offense, the leading role is played by Gregory Polanco. No other hitters are ranked in Pirates Prospects mid-season top 20. Players like Adalberto Santos, Alex Dickerson, and Jarek Cunninham have shown flashes but nothing to make you think they will be a standout player in the majors. The additional factor that made it difficult to look at the hitters was that Erie's pitcher, Patrick Cooper was only throwing in the 80's so was this night's 6-run outburst good hitting or poor pitching on Erie's part?

Gregory Polanco coming to bat in the first inning
Gregory Polanco just before hitting a sacrifice fly into foul territory in right field
Regardless, a few observations on Polanco. His first at-bat he struck out after working the count full. In the third inning, he put a bunt down the third base line. I didn't notice where the third baseman was playing before the pitch, but there was no chance of getting Polanco as he glided down the line. In the fourth inning, he lofted a 2-1 pitch into foul ground out in right field by the Altoona bullpen, deep enough to score Andy Vasquez. In the seventh inning, Polanco led off the inning by grounding a 2-2 pitch to the shortstop but made the play close with his hustle down the line.

Defensively, he didn't get many chances with Taillon's strikeouts and many weakly-hit ground balls. He had one ball hit to him, charged in three quick steps, but then glided back two lazy steps to catch the ball. Also, there was the previously mentioned sliding catch in left center.

All-in-all, a worthwhile trip to Altoona and I hope to make it out again before school starts. I'd like to see Nick Kingman and perhaps Alen Hanson will be up then.

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