Bryan Morris will be the Curve's opening-day starter Thursday at Erie, the second straight year the right-hander has drawn an opening-day assignment.
"I'm very excited for this year because it's a new year," said Morris, also the opening-day starter at Single-A Bradenton in 2010. "The beginning of a baseball season is always fun."
The Pirates don't always view a minor league opening-day nod as a reward to showcase a pitcher, and instead it's often which pitcher's turn is due in the rotation. But in this case, Morris is the highest-rated pitching prospect on the team (No. 6 in Bucs' system), so it very well could be a reward.
"I know in spring training I did have an extra day in between one of my starts, and then it turned out lining me up for opening day," Morris said.
The 24-year-old went 6-4 with a 4.25 ERA in 19 games (16 starts) for the Curve a year ago.
"In my mind, I feel like I'm a big league pitcher, and that's the ultimate goal is to be a big league pitcher," Morris said. "So I'm gonna do whatever it takes day in, day out to complete that goal."
Lineup and rotation
The Curve's opening-day lineup and batting order, plus the pitching rotation:
ThursdayRHP Bryan Morris
FridayLHP Jeff Locke
SaturdayLHP Aaron Thompson
SundayRHP Jared Hughes
MondayRHP Aaron Pribanic
Second baseman Brock Holt will be the Curve's leadoff man, same as he was last year when he hit .351 for Bradenton.
The Pirates have decided to bat speedy outfield prospect Starling Marte seventh in the order to open the season, somewhat of a surprise since he has the skill set of a prototypical leadoff man.
"Organizational decision," manager P.J. Forbes said of Marte's spot.
Forbes, hitting coach Brandon Moore and Pirates farm director Kyle Stark go over lineups and find the best spots for certain players. Marte batted in the No. 3 hole primarily for Bradenton and hit .315 with no homers, 33 RBIs and 22 steals in 60 games. His season was cut short by a broken bone in his left hand.
"Consensus with [Stark], B-Mo and some other people in the organization, you're talking about a guy that missed a lot of time last year with the hand, and we're gonna ease him in," Forbes said.
The Curve's two returning position players, Jordy Mercer and Miles Durham, will be counted on to get the offense going as they'll bat second and fourth, respectively.
"Why wouldn't you?" Forbes said of those two being near the top of the order. "And also, not just to take pressure off [the newcomers], those guys can do it. I've had both of them before. Jordy Mercer drove in, what, 85 runs at Lynchburg. They're up there not just because they've been here, these guys can produce."
Prized prospect Tony Sanchez will bat third, and the fifth and sixth spots could provide a lot of power between Quincy Latimore and Jeremy Farrell. Latimore hit 19 homers last year, and Stark said he believes Farrell, who had nine in 75 games at Bradenton, could hit 20 in the Eastern League.
"[Sixth is] where he started last year in Bradenton, and it was only through four guys getting hurt that he ended up in the four hole," Forbes said of Farrell. "Not that he couldn't have been there all year. But I like that thunder. It's thunder a little deeper in the lineup and puts a lot more pressure on that guy on the hill."
The bottom of the order, for American League games with the DH the opening week, will have Eric Fryer batting eighth and Brad Chalk ninth. Fryer hit .295 last year for Bradenton and is a .283 career hitter, while Chalk is a .273 career hitter, so they are capable of setting things up for the top of the order.
"If these guys can do what we think they're capable of, it will be a fun lineup to watch," Forbes said.
Cory Giger can be reached at 949-7031 and firstname.lastname@example.org.