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A big ‘what if’ year expiring for Curve

By Cory Giger

sports@altoonamirror.com

What if I told you this season was supposed to be the most talented Curve team ever? And the most talented prospect-filled team in all of minor league baseball this year.

What if …

Those two words likely will define this Curve season forever. And even though there’s still a third of the season left, the “what if” ship has already sailed for a club with a 47-51 overall record and fading playoff hopes for the second half.

Entering the season, there was a chance this Curve team would include, at the same time, ALL of these guys: Henry Davis, Nick Gonzales, Quinn Priester, Liover Peguero, Jack Suwinski, Mike Burrows, Tucupita Marcano, Matt Gorski, Matt Fraizer, Kyle Nicolas, Carmen Mlodzinski, Jared Triolo, Tahnaj Thomas, Luis Ortiz, Connor Scott and Blake Sabol.

That group includes the Pirates’ top four prospects, six of the top 10 and 16 of the top 30.

My goodness. That Curve team could have been awesome.

Coulda, woulda, shoulda.

The giant bummer of the summer is that we never saw that team together. Not for a single game, let alone for an extended stretch where that collection of talent would have kicked some serious butt.

“We’ve caught some really tough breaks,” Curve manager Kieran Mattison said.

That’s putting it lightly.

In a worst-case scenario, you couldn’t make up all the nonsense that’s happened to this year’s team, which has faced Friday the 13th type of horrors since day one. Shoot, even before day one.

“To start the year, Priester gets hurt last day of spring,” Mattison said of the outstanding pitching prospect, who suffered an oblique injury in Bradenton and didn’t join the Curve until June, after the impressive Burrows had already been promoted to Triple-A.

“(From) right then it’s been like a spiraling effect. Fast forward, Henry gets hit by a pitch (on the wrist) the day before he gets promoted, and he’s missing time from that same hit by pitch. … And Nick (hurt his foot) legging out a single.”

That’s not just any three players, either. Those are the Pirates’ top three prospects (Davis, Gonzales, Priester in that order), according to MLB.com.

At this point, there’s hope that Davis and Gonzales can still return to salvage some games this season. That will benefit their development, but it probably will be too little, too late to help the Curve make a playoff surge.

It’s easy to forget that Suwinski started this season with the Curve because he only played 13 games before getting promoted straight to the majors. All he did with the Pirates over the ensuing two months was hit 14 home runs to lead all MLB rookies.

On April 26, both Suwinski and Marcano were promoted from the Curve to the Pirates. You know how rare that was? Never before in 23 seasons had two Curve players been called up directly to the Pirates on the same day.

Sure, it helped the Buccos that those guys were ready to contribute from Double-A, and that’s by far the most important thing for the organization. Still, we barely got to see Suwinski and Marcano at all this season in Altoona, and they would have been game changers.

How’s this for crazy, involving outfield prospect Lolo Sanchez?

“I’ve been around Lolo, and he was about to start tearing it up,” Mattison said. “He sleeps wrong on the bus, and now he has an oblique strain, so he’s been out six weeks.”

Again, you just can’t make this stuff up.

Then there’s the Gorski situation, which takes the cake when it comes to bad luck.

Gorski was leading the minor leagues in home runs when, on June 30, he smoked a triple off the wall in center at Peoples Natural Gas Field. As he was coasting into third base, Gorski went down in a heap and had to be carted off the field with a quad injury that will cost him two months.

“Gorski’s on fire, having a hell of a year, hits a triple and hurts his quad muscle,” Mattison said

That bizarre bit of bad luck sums up the whole season.

“It’s almost metaphorical,” Mattison said.

To his credit, Mattison has done a heck of a job with this year’s team. He never got to manage the potentially awesome collection of talent at the same time, but he’s helped hold the club together, and it has competed very well night in and night out.

Now, a lot of that is a testament to the depth the Pirates have in their organization. No, the Curve don’t have the great roster we had hoped to see, but they still have enough good players that the club can hold its own right around .500 in the Eastern League.

Mattison is quick to praise all the quality players he does have, and he respects that they go out and compete hard every night.

“Whoever is in there is going to give us their best, and that’s one thing I can say this group has done consistently is give it their best,” the manager said.

“When you have known prospects like we’ve had get injured, it opens up opportunities for other guys,” he added. “You get to see how much depth you’ve got to give guys opportunities like they have to step up and make themselves very valuable in the plans going forward.”

That’s the silver lining of this season, and it’s at least something to hang your hat on.

But man, when you think about all of those ultra-talented prospects we never got to see play together, you can’t help but wonder … what if.

Cory Giger has covered the Curve for the Mirror since 1999. He can be reached at cgsports12@aol.com.

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