Altoona Season Preview: Hinsz, Alemais and Oliva Lead the Way for the Curve

Over the last two days, we have been posting the season previews for each full-season affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The group going to Greensboro has a lot young players with breakout potential. Bradenton has some of the top prospects in the system on offense and a nice second tier group of top 50 prospects to follow.  The minor league season begins on Thursday for all four full-season affiliates.

We get to Altoona today, and after being loaded with prospects last year, this is a down year for the team. They could get better as the season goes along and we see some mid-season promotions, but to begin the season, they have just six top 50 prospects and none of them are among the top 20 prospects in the system. While we could see some of the better Bradenton prospects move up to help this team, most of the better players on Altoona now are repeating the level and could also move up. For fans of the Altoona Curve, the large group of experienced players should actually make them a pennant contender, so lacking top end prospects won’t hurt the team itself.

We start with the rotation, where the most interesting storyline this season will be the return of Gage Hinsz. If you follow our winter coverage, you already know that Hinsz has made quite a comeback from his 2017 shoulder injury and his 2018 open heart surgery. He pitched in Puerto Rico, where he was dominating the competition, facing lineups with as many as six players with big league experience each time out. We ranked Hinsz as our #30 prospect, but he could easily move well up that chart with a healthy season.

Eduardo Vera is coming off of an outstanding spring, which followed a strong winter in Mexico and a great finish to the 2018 minor league season. He is starting the season back at Altoona, but he could move up quickly with a fast start to the season. The rest of the rotation includes Dario Agrazal, lefty Cam Vieaux and James Marvel. All three pitched at Altoona last year and all three have big league upside, so at least whenever you see an Altoona game, you’re dealing with a starting pitcher of interest.

The bullpen could soon include two top 50 prospects in Elvis Escobar and Blake Weiman, but both are injured to begin the season. Until they return, pitchers Jake BrentzVicente CamposMatt EckelmanYeudy GarciaAngel GermanScooter HightowerTate Scioneaux and Pedro Vasquez will hold down the bullpen. All except German have Double-A experience already.

The lineup will be led by SS/2B Stephen Alemais (pictured above) and center fielder Jared Oliva. Alemais was almost strictly a second baseman last year, but that was due to Cole Tucker being at the level. Oliva had a terrific start to the 2018 season, before falling off in the second half. He homered nine times last year, but finished with no homers in his final 201 plate appearances. If he can add/maintain power, he becomes a very intriguing prospect, because he already has plus speed and strong defense in center field.

There are no other top 50 prospects in the lineup, though the catching duo of Arden Pabst and Jason Delay each provide the potential for solid big league backups. Pabst showed signs at the plate last year in Bradenton of improving his ceiling, but they numbers fell off in Altoona. Both are outstanding defensively.

Fans of the Curve will like the power potential of a lineup that includes outfielder Logan Hill (who played some first base in spring), third baseman Hunter Owen and IF/OF Jerrick Suiter. They should provide plenty of offense in the middle of the order. Brett Pope and Alfredo Reyes both bring solid defensive skills in the middle of the diamond, while infielder Mitchell Tolman, and outfielders Bralin Jackson and Bligh Madris are all capable of solid seasons. The chance for playing time should be wide open with this group, as all of them playing multiple positions. Whoever has the hot hand should get the opportunity to play full-time.