ALTOONA, PA - The Altoona Curve, in conjunction with their parent club the Pittsburgh Pirates, are proud to announce their 25-man roster for the club's 14th season of baseball that will begin at 6:30 p.m. on April 5th vs. Erie at Peoples Natural Gas Field. This year's Opening Day roster features 11 players that spent time with Altoona in 2011 as well as the reigning Pirates' Minor League Player of the Year in outfielder Robbie Grossman.
Grossman, who scored more than 100 runs and walked more than 100 times last season for Bradenton (the first time any minor league player had done so since Nick Swisher in 2004), will patrol centerfield for Altoona and take over for last year's Eastern League Rookie of the Year Starling Marte. The Cypress, Texas native capped off a breakout season in 2011 with a stellar stint in the Arizona Fall League while playing for the Mesa Solar Sox. Grossman hit .375 in 26 games for Mesa while smacking seven home runs and driving in 22. He was named to the AFL Rising Stars game for his stellar play and also was selected to the Arizona Fall League's Top Prospects Team.
Joining Grossman in the outfield will be returnees Quincy Latimore and Andrew Lambo as well as newcomer Adalberto Santos, who makes the jump to Double-A after spending 2011 in Bradenton. Latimore finished 2011 with a team-best 15 home runs and also led the club in runs batted in with 59. Lambo returned to Altoona in 2011 after starting in Indianapolis and went on to hit .274 while smacking eight home runs in 69 games. Santos, a product of Oregon State, hit .314 in 105 games for the Marauders in 2011 and finished with the fourth-best batting average in the Florida State League.
Altoona's infield should look quite familiar to Curve fans as it is virtually the same starting infield that ended the season with Altoona in 2011 with Matt Curry, Jeremy Farrell and Brock Holt. The trio of Curve alums will once again play on the diamond and be joined by newcomers Kelson Brown, Jarek Cunningham and Elevys Gonzalez, who all jump up a level from High-A Bradenton.
Cunningham played just half a season in 2011 but still hit 15 home runs 80 games before going down with injury while Gonzalez tore up the FSL to the tune of a .322 batting average (second-best in FSL) and a Pirates' minors-best 83 RBI in 2011. Brown also saw time at third 2011 while playing in 84 games for the Marauders.
Behind the plate, 2009 first-round pick Tony Sanchez will anchor a talented group of catchers that also includes the 2011 FSL batting champion in Ramon Cabrera and Rule-5 selection Charles Cutler. Sanchez enters the 2012 campaign the seventh-best prospect in the Pirates' organization according to Baseball America after playing in 118 games for Altoona in 2012.
Cabrera, as mentioned earlier, won the FSL batting title in 2011 with a .343 batting average to complement three home runs and 53 RBI. He was also a member of the FSL mid-season All-Star squad and was named a Topps Class-A All-Star after the season. Cutler, who was taken in the Rule 5 from St. Louis, spent all of 2011 in Springfield (AA) and hit .333 in 62 games with five home runs and 34 RBI.
The Curve pitching staff will have a nice mix of newcomers and young returnees when they take the field on Thursday night. RHP Tim Alderson, RHP Mike Colla, RHP Matt McSwain, RHP Aaron Pribanic and RHP Duke Welker all return from the 2011 staff to start 2012 in Altoona. They'll be joined by LHP Nate Baker, RHP Ryan Beckman, RHP Victor Black, RHP Kyle Cofield, RHP Brandon Cumpton, LHP Kris Johnson and LHP Aaron Poreda.
Colla emerged as a surprise starter for Altoona in 2011 and enjoyed success in his first season starting in the minor leagues. His 3.70 ERA was ninth best in the Eastern League while his .229 batting average against was fourth best in the circuit. After his successful stint in Altoona, Colla headed to the Arizona Fall League where he appeared in 11 games for Mesa while recording two saves.
Pribanic made a franchise-best tying 27 starts for the Curve in 2011 and was the only Curve pitcher to record double-digit wins. Alderson and McSwain both enjoyed success as relievers in 2011 while Welker was a late-season call up after posting a 2.25 ERA in 36 games for Bradenton. The 6-7 Welker was added to the Pirates' 40-man roster this past offseason.
Baker and Cumpton were both starters for Bradenton in 2011 and both enjoyed success at the High-A level. After making adjustments from the first half of the season, Baker flourished in the second half, going 7-4 with a 2.62 ERA in 14 games (13 starts) for Bradenton. He finished the campaign with the seventh-best ERA in the FSL (3.34) and accumulated 10 wins to lead the Bradenton staff. Cumpton began 2010 with West Virginia before earning a promotion to Bradenton where he posted a 3-3 mark and a 3.66 ERA in 13 games (12 starts).
The southpaw Poreda, who was selected off San Diego's San Antonio roster in the Triple-A phase of the Minor League Rule-5 draft, could find himself in Altoona's starting rotation. A former first-round pick of the Chicago White Sox in 2007, Poreda has spent 14 games in the Major Leagues (10 with Chicago (AL) and four with San Diego) all as a reliever.
Beckman, Black, Cofield and Johnson have all spent most of their time in the minors in the bullpen. Beckman, the youngest player on the roster having just turned 22 this past January, saved 11 games for the Marauders in 2011 while appearing in 42 games. Black, who only made five appearances with Bradenton last year, was a first-round (supplemental) pick by the Pirates in 2009 out of Dallas Baptist University. He enters the campaign as the 19th-best prospect in the Pirates' system according to Baseball America.
Cofield and Johnson were both signed as minor league free agents this past offseason after serving time in the White Sox and Red Sox organizations, respectively, in 2011. The 25-year-old Cofield made 15 appearances out of the bullpen for Birmingham last season and amassed a 2.89 ERA. Johnson is a former sandwich-round pick (40th overall in the 2006 draft) by the Red Sox and spent all of last season with Triple-A Pawtucket where he was 2-2 in eight games (three starts).