By Jason Shetler
Last season, the Altoona Curve made the playoffs, and were able to reach the Eastern League semi-finals. Their manager was former All-Star infielder Joey Cora. During this past offseason, the Pirates fired Rick Sofield as the third base coach, and he was replaced by Cora. Altoona’s managerial vacancy was given to Michael Ryan, who led the Bradenton Marauders to a Florida State League championship in 2016.
Outfield: The outfield threesome for Altoona are Elvis Escobar, Jordan Luplow and Michael Suchy. Escobar returns to the Curve, this after replacing Harold Ramirez, who was dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays at last season’s trade deadline. Luplow and Suchy were both drafted by the Pirates in 2014 as third and fifth round picks respectively.
Infield: A Seinfeld reunion of sorts this year, as Newman and Kramer will be the Curve’s middle infield tandem. Kevin Newman is of course the Bucs top shortstop prospect, and Kevin Kramer was drafted as a second round selection in 2015, the same year Newman was chosen in the first round. The other infielders will be Connor Joe, Wyatt Mathisen, Pablo Reyes and Chase Simpson. Joe and Simpson were 2014 draft selections, while Mathisen and Reyes have been in the organization since 2012.
Behind the plate: Returning to catch for the Curve is Tomas Morales. The 25-year-old Morales signed with the Pirates in 2011 out of Venezuela. Zane Chavez will be the other backstop. Chavez has spent parts of six seasons playing Independent ball.
Pitching: Yeudy Garcia and Brandon Waddell will be the 1-2 punch in Altoona’s rotation. Both are the Pirates 16th and 17th best prospects respectively, according to Baseball America. Jared Lakind will be the most notable lefty in the bullpen. Lakind pitched for Team Israel in this year’s World Baseball Classic. Another noteworthy relief arm is Montana DuRapau, who continues to be one of the better relievers in the Pirates system.