First Pitch: Who to Watch in Altoona This Year, Other Than Oneil Cruz


Everybody loves Curve baseball.

What’s not to love about this year’s team?

The Altoona Curve will be led by top position player prospect Oneil Cruz, who will play shortstop while also expected to get some work in center field. Cruz has the highest ceiling of any player in the system, and leads a very prospect-heavy group.

I wouldn’t expect Cruz to be with the team all year if he hits well enough. I don’t know if he can reach the majors this season, but a good overall year could put him in position for 2022. Cruz could be a key to a future winning Pirates team, with tons of athleticism, elite raw power, and plenty of other tools. It would be easy to compare him to Gregory Polanco as a tall, lanky, raw, but extremely toolsy player. The value of that comparison is just showing how difficult baseball can be for a tall, lanky, raw, but extremely toolsy player.

Joining Cruz on the field are fellow top 50 prospects Ji-Hwan Bae, Mason Martin, Rodolfo Castro, Cal Mitchell, and Canaan Smith-Njigba.

Martin and Mitchell will pair with Cruz to give this team some of the best raw power we’ve seen from any Pirates affiliate in years. You might as well add Castro to that mix. Expect a lot of home runs that will keep Al Tuna very busy in deep center field. We’ll also see the hit tool and speed of Bae, at a level where that will be really tested, while getting a first look at newcomer Canaan Smith-Njigba.

On the pitching side, Roansy Contreras opened the season with an impressive outing, striking out 11. Contreras will be joined in the pitching staff by Osvaldo Bido, Max Kranick, Travis MacGregor, and Noe Toribio, along with Cody Bolton at some point. All six pitchers have a chance to reach the majors in some capacity, with Bolton and Contreras having the best chances to start.

Altoona Curve Roster Highlights

Jumping Over High-A

In the Indianapolis article, we looked at guys who were jumping over the Double-A level. There are a lot more players who are making the jump over High-A, which doesn’t seem like as extreme of a jump.

Two of the prospects the Pirates acquired in the Jameson Taillon trade will join this list. Canaan Smith-Njigba will man the outfield, while Roansy Contreras joins the rotation (check the Prospect Watch link below for his impressive Opening Day results). Altoona will give a first good look at these two players.

Ji-Hwan Bae is another top prospect making the jump over High-A. He’s on a team with several other infield prospects, so it will be interesting to see his positioning. He can play shortstop, but profiles better at second base.

Jonah Davis, Noe Toribio, Travis MacGregor, Cam Alldred, Yerry De Los Santos, and Will Gardner are other players skipping a level. Toribio could factor into the rotation. Davis has shown some potential with the bat at the lowest levels. De Los Santos is a hard throwing reliever who has gotten a consistent push by the new front office.

Last Chances?

I don’t know if the guys at this level are really on final chances, but there are two pitchers who have seen their progress stall in A-ball. Oddy Nunez is a 6′ 7″ lefty who was seeing declining control and velocity by 2019, after previously getting his fastball into the low-90s with movement. Travis MacGregor had a lively fastball with good swing and miss, and the makings of a solid slider to go with his changeup. He then went down with Tommy John, and hasn’t pitched since 2018 in Low-A.

Surprising Placements

Josh Bissonette played in Bristol in 2019, which was his age 22 season. He’s shown a solid hit tool and plate patience, with good defense at second. Brent Citta also spent his age 22 season in short-season ball. He’s got raw power and the arm strength to play right field. Ethan Paul is yet another age 22, short-season guy from 2019. He plays solid defense at second, with the ability to get on base, and average power/speed. In all of these cases, my expectation would be organizational fillers off the bench.

Lower Levels

I’ll have looks at Greensboro and Bradenton the next two nights.

Daily Links

**Pirates Place Gregory Polanco on 10-Day Injured List; Add Hunter Owen to Active Roster

**Live Game Discussion: Pirates at Padres, 10:10 PM


**Prospect Watch: Home Runs, Pitching and Lots of Strikeouts Headline Opening Night in the Minors

**Greensboro Grasshoppers 2021 Preview

**This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: Five Former Players Born on This Date

**Card of the Day: 1922 Lou Gertenrich Babe Adams

**1925 Pirate Replay, October 4: World Series-Bound Pirates Finish Regular Season With Doubleheader Split

PBN Updates

I’ll have some updates to the PBN Pirates page throughout the day, making navigation for the key features much easier.

Song of the Day

First Pitch