Balance must include both winning and development
Tonight: Bowie at Altoona, 6 p.m.
Pitchers: Curve RHP Roansy Contreras (0-0) vs. Baysox LHP D.L.Hall (0-0)
Radio: WRTA-AM 1240 & 98.5-FM
The Curve have lived a charmed existence as a franchise when it comes to winning, which isn’t the most important thing in the minor leagues but certainly has been important to many Altoona fans over the years.
There have been a lot of changes within the Pirates’ organization — and minor league baseball in general — but the expectation to win at the Double-A level is still in place.
“The word win, for me, is up there,” new Curve manager Miguel Perez said. “We definitely want to win, and I think that’s for everybody (in the Pirates’ organization).
“The main thing is to get them to the big leagues, but we also want to win all around,” Perez added.
The Curve made the playoffs nine times and won the championship twice (2010, ’17) during their 21 seasons in the Eastern League, which is now called the Double-A Northeast League. Twice the franchise has reached the playoffs in four consecutive years, from 2003-06 and from 2015-18.
Development obviously is the primary goal in the minor leagues, but even the best prospects with the greatest MLB potential still yearn to win as much as possible in the minors.
“I’m a competitor, and winning is part of the development, too,” said Curve shortstop Oneil Cruz, the Pirates’ No. 2 prospect. “Winning for me is huge. I want to win everywhere I play because that’s part of my development.”
Nothing has changed in the organization with regards to the idea that winning in the minor leagues will help the players develop.
“We have to make sure that we develop these guys and getting them ready for the next level,” Perez said. “When I say the next level, for me it’s not getting ready for Triple-A. For me, it’s the big leagues. … We have to make sure that we get them ready for the big leagues. That’s the ultimate goal. That’s for everybody.”
The Curve’s opening-day starting pitcher will be right-hander Roansy Contreras, who came to the Pirates from the Yankees in the Jameson Taillon trade in January.
The 21-year-old from the Dominican Republic went 12-5 with a 3.33 ERA in 24 starts at low-A Charleston in 2019.
Bowie will start lefty DL Hall, a first-round draft pick in 2017.
Beginning around 2010, when the Curve won their first Eastern League title, the Pirates made a concerted effort to fill the Double-A roster with younger prospects. It remained that way through the end of the 2019 season, as Altoona typically had one of the younger teams in the league.
Prior to 2010, the Pirates often had a lot of older players — think Adam Hyzdu — on the Curve roster. That was the case during the Cam Bonifay and Dave Littlefield regimes, as well as early on in the Neal Huntington regime.
The Curve’s roster for the first season with Ben Cherington in charge as Pirates general manager more closely resembles those rosters from the 2000s than from the 2010s. There are 16 players at least 24 years old on the opening-day roster, along with a number of younger prospects, as well.
“Yes, we went up a little bit (in age),” Perez said. “But I do remember back in the days when I was here (as a player) in ’08, ’09, it was basically the same way. I was 25, 26 and we were older back then.
“The fact that we took a year off and we have such great talent all around, it’s a mix of everything because we’re getting a new GM and they’re trying to rebuild the team, but also they take in consideration that we have great talent in the organization.”
The Curve won a whole lot and made the playoffs four times with a number of older prospects in the 2000s. This year’s team will try to follow that same formula.
“We’re trying to create that winning path again,” Perez said. “And if it takes to have older guys who will play, well, that’s what it’s going to take. But we definitely want to win.”
Cruz, who is 6-foot-7, will begin the season as the Curve’s shortstop. There has been a lot of discussion about whether he eventually will move to the outfield.
Which position would Cruz rather play?
He got a big smile when asked and said, “I’d rather play shortstop since I’m more engaged and have to be moving every pitch. You have to be in the game.”