Making his Altoona debut in 2011 will be catcher Tony Sanchez, who is rated as the second-best prospect in the Pirates system according to Baseball America. The 22-year-old Miami, Fla. native began his first full season in the Pirates chain last season with High-A Bradenton and hit .314 with four home runs and 35 RBI in 59 games before being struck in the jaw with a pitch on June 22 that forced him to miss the remainder of the 2010 regular season.
A first round pick (fourth overall) in 2009, Sanchez came back to play in the prestigious Arizona Fall League after the 2010 season and hit four home runs in 18 games for the Mesa Solar Sox. Since being drafted by Pittsburgh, Sanchez has hit .312 in 107 career minor league games with 11 home runs and 83 RBI.
Joining Sanchez in Altoona for the first time will be outfielder Starling Marte, who is tabbed as the fourth-best prospect in the system heading into 2011. Marte, 22, spent 60 games with the Bradenton Marauders last season but also missed significant time due to a hand injury. Despite that injury, Marte batted .315 in 60 games with 33 RBI and swiped 22 bases. The Santo Domingo, D.R. native is also rated as the best athlete and as having the best outfield arm in the entire Pirates farm system.
Starting pitchers Bryan Morris and Jeff Locke will both be back in the starting rotation for the Curve when the season gets underway. Morris, the sixth-best prospect in the chain, and Locke, eighth-best, were integral cogs in helping the 2010 squad to the E.L. title. Locke was 3-2 with a 3.59 ERA in 10 starts after being promoted from Bradenton last season during the All-Star break but really flourished in the playoffs, going 1-0 with a 1.54 ERA in his two Game 2 starts.
A former first-round pick, Morris joined the Curve on May 16 after getting off to a hot start with Bradenton and went on to post a 6-4 record with a 4.25 ERA in 19 games (16 starts). The Woodbury, Tenn. native took part in the MLB Futures Game in Anaheim, Calif. last season and was also named a Florida State League All-Star before his promotion.
Aaron Pribanic and Brian Leach are on the Opening Day roster as well and will be getting their first taste of Double-A baseball after spending 2010 with Bradenton. Both Pribanic and Leach participated in the Arizona Fall League this past offseason on the heels of helping the Marauders to a FSL playoff berth. The two will join Aaron Thompson, who was claimed off waivers from the Washington Nationals after spending a majority of 2010 with Harrisburg, and Tim Alderson, who will be in his third stint with the Curve.
The back-end of the Curve bullpen will be led by Noah Krol, who converted on 34 save opportunities in 2010 for Bradenton to lead the Florida State League as well as all Pirates' minor leaguers. Krol, a mid and post-season FSL All-Star in 2010, will be joined by returning Curve players Tom Boleska, Anthony Claggett, Mike Colla, Michael Dubee and Jared Hughes.
One member of the starting infield from 2010 will return to Curve, Pa. in the person of Jordy Mercer, who is the #22 prospect in the chain entering 2011. Mercer hit .282 in 126 games with the Curve in 2010 and followed it up with a solid showing in the AFL, hitting .267 in 20 games. He'll be joined on the diamond by newcomers Jeremy Farrell, son of Toronto manager John Farrell, and Brock Holt. Both Holt and Farrell were named FSL mid-season All-Stars with Bradenton in 2010.
Miles Durham, who played primarily in the outfield in 2010, returns to Altoona along with infielder Shelby Ford.
Marte will be joined in the outfield by his Marauders' teammate Quincy Latimore, who is ranked as the 21st best prospect in the system. Latimore drove in 100 runs in 2010 for Bradenton to lead all Pirates farmhands and became the tenth Pirates' minor leaguer to do so since 1995. The Raleigh, N.C. native is also said to have the best power in the system.
Along with Marte and Latimore, Brad Chalk, who was obtained in the Rule V draft from San Diego, and Jose Hernandez, who hit .271 with 12 home runs and 57 RBI for West Virginia in 2010, will be in the outfield.
Eric Fryer and Kris Watts will join Sanchez behind the dish in 2011. Fryer, 25, batted .300 in 83 games for the Marauders with eight home runs and 48 RBI last season. Watts, who was a Carolina League All-Star in 2009, rejoins the Curve last year after platooning with Hector Gimenez, who is now on the Major League roster of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Players will available to meet with the media on Tuesday, April 5. The Curve's annual media day will begin at 12:30 p.m. with a brief press conference luncheon for media members detailing "What's New in 2011 in Curve, PA". Players will be available from 1-2 p.m. for media interviews and photographs. The first team workout of the season is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. and is open to the media.
Pitchers: Tim Alderson, Tom Boleska, Anthony Claggett, Mike Colla, Michael Dubee, Jared Hughes, Noah Krol, Brian Leach, Jeff Locke, Bryan Morris, Aaron Pribanic, Aaron Thompson
Catchers: Eric Fryer, Tony Sanchez, Kris Watts
Infielders: Miles Durham, Jeremy Farrell, Shelby Ford, Brock Holt, Jordy Mercer
Outfielders: Brad Chalk, Jose Hernandez, Quincy Latimore, Starling Marte
Altoona's title defense begins at 6:35 p.m. on Thursday, April 7 from Jerry Uht Park in Erie as the Curve take on the SeaWolves to open the campaign. The Curve return home for Championship Weekend beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 14 vs. Richmond at BCB. Individual tickets for all 71 Curve home games are on sale now and can be purchased by calling 877.99.CURVE, visiting AltoonaCurve.com or by stopping into the box office at BCB.
For a complete listing of all the festivities surrounding Championship Weekend, including the Champions of Curve, PA ceremony presented by the Altoona Mirror and Envision Laser Centers, please visit www.altoonacurve.com.