The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Sports

April 2, 2013

Expectations run high for Curve

ALTOONA — It may have been an exhibition between the AA Eastern League Altoona Curve and their parent club, the Pittsburgh Pirates, but the excitement level Saturday was unmatched. Not only did the Curve win, 8-6, in front of a Peoples Natural Gas Field-record of 10,116, but their Player Development Contract with the Pirates was extended through 2018, making it the longest affiliation in Pirates’ history.

If that wasn’t reason to cheer, then came the announcement that Altoona will host the 2014 Eastern League All-Star Game.

This all before a single pitch is thrown in 2013.

“What a great day that was for the franchise,” Curve General Manager Rob Egan said. “It was a great launching point for this season. We’re especially grateful to the Pittsburgh Pirates for coming here and participating in that game, certainly something they don’t have to do.”

Shortstop Gift Ngoepe added, “The atmosphere was great, there was a lot of people. The game was loud and great, they were so interested and it made the game fun. Playing against big league guys, it gives you that much power to say I want to be there one day.”

That’s likely to come true for several members of the Curve.

The 2013 roster is loaded with premium prospects. Five of the top 30 prospects in the Pirates organzation, according to Baseball America, are on the opening day roster. Fifteen of the 25 players played part of the 2012 season with the Curve. Returning from last year’s 72-70 team is pitcher Jameson Taillon, the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft and the second-ranked prospect in the organization. Taillon started three games for the Curve at the end of the 2012 season, going 3-0 in three starts with 1.59 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 17 innings. Also on the roster is right fielder Alex Dickerson (11th-ranked prospect), first baseman Matt Curry (.285, 11 home runs, 76 RBI), pitcher Brandon Cumpton (12-11, 3.84 ERA), and Ngoepe (22 steals).

Taillon had the opportunity in March to participate for Canada in the World Baseball Classic. Taillon pitched four innings against Team USA, giving up one earned run and striking out three, including 2011 National League MVP Ryan Braun.

“That was fun,” Taillon said. “It was an incredible experience. Facing the United States lineup, that’s an all-star team. Just getting to go up against them and compete, it showed myself, when I’m on, I can get anybody out, something that can carry over to any level, anytime, any game.”

When asked about coming back to Altoona to start the 2013 season, Taillon said, “I think that’s going to be a big confidence boost to carry that over to this year. Just knowing that I can come in at this level and I can succeed and I’ve done it before and I can get hitters out at this level. I think it’s already a comfort factor.”

Dickerson will make the jump from high-A Bradenton, where he was the Florida State League Player of the Year (.295 average with 13 home runs and 90 RBI) in 2012. Dickerson will play left or right field with Curry firmly planted at first base.

The Curve will also feature a new manager in Carlos Garcia, a 1994 National League All-Star for the Pirates. The 10-year major league veteran managed the Bradenton Marauders the last two seasons.

“Carlos does an outstanding job of managing this group,” Dickerson said. “Last year, he was probably the best coach I ever had. I’m extremely excited to have him again. He was an outstanding player and I think he’s an outstanding coach. I think this group overall is going to improve a lot from where they were last year just by being around him.”

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