BRADENTON, Fla. -- Tim Alderson's path back to prospect status will begin with the Curve this season, but not initially as a starting pitcher.
The Pirates set Altoona's opening-day roster Saturday afternoon, and Alderson will be on the club as a reliever to open the season.
The Curve's starting rotation -- which figures to be the strength of the team -- includes lefties Jeff Locke and Aaron Thompson and right-handers Bryan Morris, Aaron Pribanic and Jared Hughes. Morris (6) and Locke (8) are ranked among the Pirates' top 10 prospects, according to Baseball America.
Pribanic went 7-6 with a 3.33 ERA for Single-A Bradenton last year. Hughes will be back in Double-A for a fourth straight year and has pitched in both starting and bullpen roles. Thompson was 4-13 with a 5.80 ERA for Harrisburg in 2010.
"I expect that staff to not be there long," Pirates farm director Kyle Stark said. "Some of those guys have had success in that league and have a couple things they need to do, and if they do that, then we're gonna look to challenge those guys [in Triple-A]."
Alderson may have the biggest challenge of any player on the team.
Barring any last-minute changes, this will be the Curve's opening-day roster:
C Tony Sanchez
1B Miles Durham
2B Brock Holt
SS Jordy Mercer
3B Jeremy Farrell
LF Quincy Latimore
CF Starling Marte
RF Brad Chalk
IF Shelby Ford
U Eric Fryer
OF Jose Hernandez
C Kris Watts
LHP Jeff Locke
RHP Bryan Morris
RHP Aaron Pribanic
RHP Jared Hughes
LHP Aaron Thompson
RHP Tim Alderson
RHP Tom Boleska
RHP Anthony Claggett
RHP Mike Colla
RHP Michael Dubee
RHP Noah Krol
RHP Brian Leach
A former first-round draft choice who was traded straight up for Freddy Sanchez in 2009, Alderson endured a well-published disastrous 2010 season. His fastball, which sat in the low-90s in high school, inexplicably dropped to 87 mph, and he went 7-6 with a 5.62 ERA for the Curve before getting demoted to Single-A Bradenton and going 4-3 with a 6.98 ERA.
Alderson is only 22, so there's no need for the Pirates to give up on him just yet. But he somehow will have to regain velocity on his fastball, which sat consistently at 87 but did touch 89 in his most recent spring training start.
"He needs to get more reps right now," Stark said of the decision to have Alderson pitch in relief. "He needs to be out there more often, get more touches.
"I think what we're trying to do -- combination of the mental/physical -- I just think the bullpen's a better fit for him right now, and then challenge him to force our hand and try to get back in the rotation."
The only other big roster question mark entering Saturday was whether lefty Justin Wilson, the 2010 Eastern League playoff MVP, would return to Altoona or be promoted to Triple-A. The Pirates decided to send him to Indianapolis.
Wilson went 11-8 with a 3.09 ERA for the Curve a year ago, and while most of his numbers were good, there was concern over his high walk total of 71 in 142 2/3 innings
"He's got to make strides on his fastball command," Stark said. "We ultimately decided that the only way that was gonna happen was to challenge him [at a higher level] and expect him to respond, which he has every time we have done so."
Brian Leach was a starter for Bradenton last year and went 9-9 with a 3.85 ERA, but the Pirates plan to use him as a reliever going forward.
"He started the transition last year in the [Arizona] Fall League, went out there and pitched out of the bullpen, and that's where we think he's ultimately gonna end up," Stark said. "We've done the starting thing as a foundational thing, it's probably time now to start preparing him for that [relief] role."
Finishing games at the back end of the bullpen will be Double-A veteran Michael Dubee and newcomer Noah Krol, who had 34 saves in 40 chances for Bradenton in 2010.
The rest of the bullpen will consist of Tom Boleska, Anthony Claggett and Mike Colla, all of whom spent time with the Curve last season.
One unusual thing about the bullpen is there are no left-handers.
Right-hander Diego Moreno, who has a 2.05 career ERA and was untouchable at Bradenton with a 1.17 figure last year, has forearm tightness and is expected to remain in extended spring training.
There will be three catchers on the roster, led by starter and prized prospect Tony Sanchez. Kris Watts and Eric Fryer also will catch, while Fryer can play multiple positions, as well.
Shelby Ford and Jose Hernandez round out the bench. Hernandez, who's 25, is skipping high-A ball after hitting .271 with 12 homers and 57 RBIs at low-A West Virginia.
"I think we're pretty diverse, and that's all you can ask for," Curve manager P.J. Forbes said of his roster. "Kyle's put together a good group for us. Young, which is exciting, and that's what you want to be at Double-A. And a lot of talent."
Cory Giger can be reached at 949-7031 and email@example.com.