As I said earlier, the Tall Guy and I made the 80 mile trip up to Altoona to watch Stephen Strasburg make his professional debut against our Altoona Curve (Pittsburgh Pirates AA affiliate).
I forgot my camera, so all the pictures I took were on my phone, and they didn't come out all that well. This is probably the best one I got of Strasburg from our seats (the Tall Guy really delivered, we were second row behind the plate).
Something little people know about the Altoona Curve; they retired Adam Hyzdu's number:
I'll have to do a feature on Hyzdu later this week, because if you don't know who he is, you probably should. We did get there about a half-hour early, but the traffic was a mess (a few people said it was worse than when the AA All-Star game was at Blair County Ballpark) and the scene was a zoo. But what a great place to watch a ball game. If you've never been there, I'd suggest you take a quick trip up on a lazy Thursday summer night; tickets are cheap, the game is usually good, and beer is cheap (and they have a good selection as well).
I was going to try and figure my way into the pack that surrounded Strasburg's bullpen session before the game, but instead I went over and checked out Altoona's starting pitcher Rudy Owens:
There was just one other guy over there with a Pirates tee-shirt on, and after I took this snap shot, I turned to him and said, "I think you and I are the only idiots watching this guy throw." I was actually excited to see Owens throw; he's a fairly under the radar prospect that you can read about here. He doesn't have great stuff, but he's left-handed, has good movement on a 89-90 mph fastball, and a tight curve ball. His change up has the workings of a good third pitch, but still needs some work. He did well against a fairly mediocre Harrisburg lineup, and I can only remember one ball struck really hard, everything else was either a flair that dropped in, a misplayed fly ball, or a ground ball with eyes.
Strasburg was very impressive, lighting up the radar gun and consistently hitting 96-98 mph. His control was iffy, but his curve ball was just as impressive, sitting in the mid-80s and getting as high as 90. I wasn't blown away (as I said, his control wasn't all there), but you can see why people get so excited. He needs to work on his change up as well, but with his fast/curve combination, he could get major league hitters out right now. I already have him on my fantasy team, so I'll definitely be keeping an eye on him in the next two months, because I think there's little doubt he'll be in DC by June/July.
Other notes: I was a little bummed that the Curve used their "C Lineup" with non-prospects like Shelby Ford (who looked terrible in both the field and at the plate), Jim Negrych, and Miles Durham. The only guys in the starting lineup who I was somewhat excited to see were Gorkys Hernandez (not impressed; he's supposed to be a stud in CF but didn't show me anything that would warrant that type of reputation and he hits like Ronny Cedeno, little bit of pop but way too many swings and misses) and Josh Harrison, who we got in the Gorzo/Grabow trade with the Cubs (has a weird looking body--short with a majority of the weight on the bottom half--and didn't do much else to warrant any distinction).
I did get to see Chase D'Arnaud later in the game, when he pinch-hit and stayed in the game at SS. He didn't do much at the plate (flew out on a first pitch, and then had a nice at bat but K'd to end the game against Drew Storen, who looked really good) and had a few nice plays in the field (caught a line-drive and then doubled a guy off, and also picked a low cut-off throw nicely), but what impressed me most was his look.
A lot of the Altoona guys just look weird because they're wearing jerseys that aren't fitted to their body's (like the MLB jerseys are) and they're also forced to wear their pants high with high socks per the Pirates minor league dress code. But D'Arnaud was the only guy who looked like he belonged (which I'm not sure if that says something good about him, or bad about the rest of the Curve roster), and it didn't just have to do with the uniform, it was how he carried himself. I'm not gonna say the guy is going to be a stud just based on a few innings of pretty much nothing, but I've watched a lot of baseball in my life, including a lot of amateur and minor league ball, and you can always tell who looks like they belong in the first few moments of seeing them. Chase D'Arnaud looks like he belongs.
One last note on Pirates prospects: there were a lot of positive performances this week (Quinton Miller pitched well today and was supposedly hitting the mid-90s with his fastball, and of course Pedro's 3 HR in the first four games) and there were some negative aspects as well (Indianapolis' pitching, specifically Brad Lincoln, and Tim Alderson still only throwing in the mid-80s). I'll have some links up later with much better analysis, but I did want to mention Neil Walker's opening weekend.
Walker actually got Saturday night off, but in the three games he has played, he was 5/12 with a double, but more importantly he has 3 BB and 3 Ks. I know it's just three games (small sample size!), but this is a good sign. Walker has the power and the athleticism to be a solid major league player, but he needs to improve his plate discipline while controlling the strike zone, so if he can keep it up, I'd be very happy. As a former WPIAL baseball player, I'm always pulling for fellow alumni, especially those who play for the Bucs.