The Altoona Curve bats have come out hot to start the 2017 season

The Altoona Curve have some very hot hitters at the moment, and it’s not just the big names.

Hitting at a clip of .262 as a team, the strong start by the Curve offense has led Altoona to the top of the Double-A Eastern League with a 9-4 record through 13 games this season.

Boasted by quality pitching, the Curve bats have continued to help propel Altoona throughout the early part of the season. Led by second baseman Kevin Kramer, who’s currently hitting .417, the Double-A affiliate of the Pirates are averaging 8.6 hits per game.

Kramer, along with four of his teammates are hitting .300 or better through the first 13 games for Altoona. Kevin Newman (.304), Wyatt Mathisen (.321), Elvis Escobar (.333), and Edwin Espinal (.415) join Kramer in the over .300 club and they have all appeared in 11 or more games so far this season.

Espinal continues to swing hot bat

Edwin Espinal entered his second season with the Altoona Curve coming off a 2016 season in which he finished with a .289 batting average. As the everyday first baseman for Altoona, Espinal has yet to disappoint while being on manager Michael Ryan’s lineup card in 11 of the Curve’s first 13 games, hitting .415. Espinal has made his presence in the line-up well known day in and day out.

The second-year first baseman for Altoona boasts a .415/.457/.585 slash on the season and serves as the team leader in RBIs with 10. For good measure, he is also tied for the team lead in doubles with four.

In his last four games dating back to last Saturday’s game against Akron, Espinal is 7-for-17 at the plate with two doubles, a home run, and five RBIs.

As Espinal goes, so, too, do the Altoona Curve. The team has won three out of four of those games during Espinal’s hot stretch.

Espinal spent all of 2016 with the Curve – in fat, he is a rarity in the minor leagues as he has played a full system at every level of the Pirates’ organization – and had a solid season. He slashed .289/.324/.411 for the year, with a 17.1 percent strikeout rate. He slugged 25 doubles and seven home runs in 423 plate appearances. Those numbers are solid if not spectacular, but it may take a continuation of this hot start for Espinal to continue progressing towards the major leagues.

Here is a look at Espinal’s minor league career to date:

courtesy of Baseball-Reference

DuRapau set up for all roles as a reliever

Altoona Curve reliever Montana DuRapau

A theme on display for the Altoona Curve bullpen has been to use relievers in different roles as they might be used in a different role as they move up the ladder in the Pirates’ organization or elsewhere. So far, many of the Curve pitchers are thriving while being used in different situations, especially Montana DuRapau.

“We try to get guys out of the bullpen in different situations and try to prepare them for the next level.” Ryan explained. “One day he might come in in the sixth inning, one night come out in the seventh, and one night he might close. just try to get him and everybody used to different situations.”

“Montana might not be a closer at the Major League level, he might be a sixth inning guy. He has to learn how to pitch in the sixth inning,” Ryan said of DuRapau who currently leads Altoona in saves.

Pitching in different situations and being available whenever Ryan calls on him is not something DuRapau takes lightly as the 5’11” right handed pitcher makes sure he’s prepared for whatever situation he’s called upon.

If you know you’re the closer, your preparation is going to slightly differ to being a long relief guy dictating your throwing program, and your workload if you need to throw one inning or three innings then getting three days off whereas as a closer you need to be ready to go whenever,” DuRapau said of being ready to go whenever called upon.

DuRapau has appeared in five games recording six innings of work while only allowing a singular earned run in his outings so far this season. While DuRapau’s arsenal of pitches has been working well during his second season in Altoona, he sees himself developing in to a smarter pitcher.

“My stuff probably plays the same, it’s just growing as a player. Going into some of these situations you learn a lot of things, the more situations you are in the more you are going to pick up on sequences and at bats.

“Coming into this year, having full year of Eastern League play under my belt my stuff is going to play better because of my knowledge in how to use my stuff.,” DuRapau said.

Up Next

The Altoona Curve hit the road for a six-game road trip starting Friday with a three-game series in Akron as they take on the RubberDucks with first pitch scheduled for 6:35 PM. Following the three-game set against Akron, Altoona stays near Lake Erie for a three-game series for Eastern League Western division supremacy against the Erie Sea Wolves.

Jarrod Prugar

Jarrod Prugar is 5 and a half feet tall and you can't teach that. Jarrod grew up watching future Pirates light up the Eastern League for the Altoona Curve before going off to Robert Morris for college. Jarrod also covers Penn State for the Pittsburgh Sporting News. Ban the DH!