Found May 20, 2013 on Pirates Prospects:
Jeff Locke was one of the four pitchers known as The Altoona Four. In 2010 the Altoona Curve had a group of pitchers that went on to be called “The Altoona Four” out of convenience. I say convenience because the group led Altoona to an Eastern League title in 2010, but they also led the Lynchburg Hillcats to a Carolina League title in 2009. So they could have easily been “The Lynchburg Four”, which isn’t really as catchy. Then, in 2011, only two of them moved up to Indianapolis at the start of the season. Eventually the other two pitchers made that jump. After that it would have made sense to call them “The Indianapolis Four”. But you say “The Altoona Four” and most people know you’re talking about Jeff Locke, Bryan Morris, Rudy Owens, and Justin Wilson. For most of the 2010 season the Pirates didn’t have an ace of the future. They had the pitchers in Altoona, and the hope that one of the prep pitchers from the 2009 draft would break out and become a top prospect. It wasn’t until a one week span in the middle of August that the team signed Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie, and Luis Heredia. The following year they would draft and sign Gerrit Cole. It’s hard to think back before the Pirates had pitching depth. Now you hear people say “I don’t want the Pirates taking a pitcher” if people talk about top pitching prospect Sean Manaea possibly falling to the Pirates. Early 2010 Pirates fans would kick us all in the balls if they knew. That was a time when The Altoona Four represented hope for the short-term and the long-term of the pitching staff. Now that hope lies with Cole, Taillon, Heredia, and other potential breakout guys like Nick Kingham and Tyler Glasnow. So what about The Altoona Four? Where did they end up? What kind of help are they going to provide the Pirates with in the short and long term? Let’s take a look at each pitcher. Jeff Locke - After another outstanding start today, Locke has a 2.73 ERA in 52.2 innings on the season for the Pirates. That won’t last, as his xFIP is 4.45, due to a low .224 BABIP and a high 82.5% strand rate. Neither will be sustained as the season goes on. One advantage Locke could have is that his 11.4% HR/FB rate could come down, even below the 10% league average. As a left-hander in PNC Park, Locke should see a lower amount of fly balls going for home runs, much in the same way that Paul Maholm always had a low HR/FB rate with the Pirates (7.3-7.7 range in 2009-2011, 12.8 in 2012 and 9.5 in 2013 away from Pittsburgh). Then again, it took Maholm a few years to get to those levels, so that might not happen yet for Locke. I see him ending up as a strong number four starter, and possibly an average number three guy. Bryan Morris - It looks like Morris is finally in the majors for good. He’s not posting dominant numbers yet, but he also only has 14.2 innings this year. I’ve felt that Morris could be a closer option, and it will be interesting to see what he can do with more experience. Right now he has a 3.68 ERA in those 14.2 innings, with a 5.5 K/9 and a 4.9 BB/9 ratio. Rudy Owens - He hasn’t reached the majors yet, but Owens has already helped the Pirates. He was one of three players the Pirates traded to the Astros last year to get Wandy Rodriguez, who has been a huge anchor for the rotation. Owens is out for most of the year with a foot injury after pitching 17 innings in Triple-A for Houston this year. Justin Wilson - He’s been outstanding in the bullpen this year, with a 1.40 ERA in 25.2 innings, along with an 8.8 K/9 and a 4.9 BB/9 ratio. There will be some regression, since he has a 2.95 FIP and a 3.97 xFIP. One of his strengths throughout the minors was that he rarely gave up any hits. That, combined with the high strikeout numbers, countered the walks. So far Wilson is doing the same in the majors with a .110 BAA. He’s also putting up great velocities out of the bullpen. #Pirates LHP Justin Wilson topped out at 97.4 mph last night, averaged 95.5 mph with fastball. He’s enjoying a velocity spike this year — Travis Sawchik (@Sawchik_Trib) May 18, 2013 When Wilson first moved to the bullpen in 2011 he hit 99 MPH on a few occasions. To see him back in the upper 90s again is a great thing. A lefty with an upper 90s fastball is rare. I wouldn’t be opposed to the Pirates using Wilson as a starter down the line, but this year he should provide them with a strong middle relief option. In the future he could be a dominant late inning reliever if they don’t go the starting route. At the moment Locke has the most value for the short-term. I wouldn’t go as far as saying he will have the most value for the long-term. I’ve always liked Owens more than most, and if Wilson ever makes the jump to being a starter I think he could have more upside than anyone. The overall results from this group have been good. In 2010 the Pirates had four outstanding starters in Altoona. That doesn’t always translate over to four starters in the majors. Right now it’s looking like the return from this group will be a mid-to-back of the rotation guy, and two dominant late inning relievers. Plus Owens represents one-third of the trade that brought in Wandy Rodriguez. Considering the high attrition rate for pitchers, those are some good results to have. They’re not providing the Pirates with a group of pitchers who will lead the pitching staff. Morris and Wilson could eventually lead the bullpen, but there’s no top of the rotation guys. However, the Pirates have other pitchers in the system now to potentially fill those roles. Getting a starter, two relievers, and a trade chip that brings in another starter is definitely a good result, and so far has helped the Pirates get off to their strong start in 2013. Links and Notes **The 2013 Prospect Guide and the 2013 Annual are both available on the products page of the site. If you order them together, you’ll save $5. **Check out the new episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast: P3 Episode 4: Are the Pirates For Real? Plus a Jameson Taillon Interview. **Pirates Notebook: Andrew McCutchen Scratched From Lineup. **Pirates Win Series on Locke’s Sharp Start, Alvarez’s Homer. **Huntington: Decision To Be Made on Karstens; McDonald and Morton Updates. **Prospect Watch: Kingham and Taillon Have Good Starts While Cole Gets Hammered. **Barmes Makes Adjustment, Improves at the Plate. **Minor League Schedule: Rodriguez Looks To Continue Recent Hot Streak. **Draft Prospect Watch: High School Notes, Former Picks And Second Round Possibilities.
THE BACKYARD
BEST OF MAXIM
RELATED ARTICLES

Sorry, Jeff Locke, You Won’t Keep Dominating

Jeff Locke says he has “gotten much better” over the last two years. Jeff Locke, let’s talk. Heh. Rhymes. Jeff, your pitching has played a role of significance in the Pirates’ 26-18 start and a spot in the playoffs if Bud Selig took ether and ended the season on May 21. You have pitched five quality starts in your last six outings in the last month, allowing an average of...

Top Performers: Do the Pirates Have Anything With Felix Pie?

Below are the top Runs Created* totals in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ farm system from the last week. The rankings include every hitter who had an at-bat for a Pirates’ minor league affiliate, not including DSL teams, and with no limitations on whether the hitter has prospect eligibility. Players who spent time at different levels are counted multiple times, once for each level,...

Prospect Watch: Kingham and Taillon Have Good Starts While Cole Gets Hammered

TOP OF THE SYSTEM A look at how the current top 20 prospects did today.  Note that this list doesn’t include players currently in the majors. If a player is in the majors, he will be removed, everyone below him will be shifted up a spot, and a new player will be added to the bottom of the list. Rankings are from the pre-season rankings, and links to each prospect writeup can be...

Pirates Notebook: Andrew McCutchen Scratched From Lineup

Andrew McCutchen has missed only 10 games since the start of 2011. (Photo Credit: David Hague) What a two months it has been for Starling Marte. The Pirates left fielder has evolved from a potential-packed-but-raw leadoff hitter to a possible All-Star. Marte was set to have a day off before the team’s scheduled off-day Monday, but Andrew McCutchen is a late scratch due to right...

After a Rough Start, Alen Hanson Has Done a Complete 180

Alen Hanson has done a complete 180 both offensively and defensively since being benched for a few games in April. Ground balls are supposed to lead to easy outs. When you see a routine grounder hit to shortstop, you expect an out. There’s usually no feeling that the play could go wrong. You get ready to write “6-3″ in your scorebook, even before the play is finished. There’s...

First Pitch: Some Tough Questions to Answer in the Upcoming Prospect Rankings

A question I get a lot these days is “why isn’t Stetson Allie in your top 20?” The answer is that we don’t update the top 20 until after the MLB draft. The rankings that we display on the Prospect Watch each night are the pre-season rankings. There have been a few changes. Stolmy Pimentel was added when Justin Wilson made the majors at the start of the year. Pimentel wasn’t...

Q&A: Vic Black, Pirates’ Future Closer

Vic Black is the heir apparent to the closer’s job in Pittsburgh. The 24-year-old right-hander won’t be replacing Jason Grilli in the near future, but he may be joining Grilli in the Pirates’ bullpen. Four years after being drafted 49th overall out of Dallas Baptist University, Black looks close to big-league ready. Black cooks with gas: His fastball sits in the mid-to-high...

John Sickels Releases His Latest Draft

Over at Minor League Ball, John Sickels has released version two of his mock draft. He has many of the same players listed in the top 15-20 as everyone else recently, though he has a new name attached to the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Sickels has Georgia HS outfielder Clint Frazier going to the Pirates with the ninth overall pick. Frazier has been in the top six for almost all of the...

Pirates fan leaps into Allegheny River to claim home run ball (Video)

As previously noted on Outside the Boxscore, fans will pretty much do anything for a home run ball and one Pittsburgh Pirates fan proved that last week. The fan's name was Bobby Zappala and he got a little wet trying to track down a Pedro Alvarez home run ball that landed in the Allegheny river: Your browser does not support iframes. Kudos to you Bobby, your dive was...

Game 44 Preview: Pirates vs. Astros

Astros (12-31) at Pirates (25-18) 1;35 PM–PNC Park, Pittsburgh MLB.com Gameday TV: ROOT It’s dumb to call this a big game, but the Pirates are somewhat in need of a better effort today. They were lucky to escape with a victory on Friday, couldn’t get going at the plate yesterday, and are now at risk of dropping a home series to the awful Astros. Tonight’s starters… Lucas...

Pittsburgh Pirates Concession Item That May Drive Me To Pittsburgh

While surfing around the internet today I came across this article with a picture of a delicious new ballpark concession item: Mets go to Pittsburgh July 12th-14th. Lets get on this people. Tweet

Pirates lose to Astros in 11 innings

Final: Astros 4, Pirates 2 (box) WP: Jose Cisnero (1-0, 4.00 ERA) LP: Bryan Morris (1-2, 3.68 ERA) SV: Jose Veras (6, 3.71 ERA) A.J. Burnett pitched stellar, as usual, giving up just one run over seven innings. He did walk four batters and give up five hits, but was helped out by seven strikeouts and two double plays. Burnett has a 2.57 ERA this season in ten starts and somehow the...

Game 43 Preview: Pirates vs. Astros

Astros (11-31) at Pirates (25-17) 7:05 PM–PNC Park, Pittsburgh MLB.com Gameday TV: ROOT The Bucs look to win their fifth straight and clinch this weekend’s series against the Astros tonight. This is a chance for the Bucs to put together an extended winning streak – something we haven’t seen for a long time. Tonight’s starters… Erik Bedard (0-2, 6.67) vs. A.J. Burnett...

60ft6in is here to help Bob Walk

I got some love for the website on Tuesday night when my Tweet was used on the Pirates broadcast on ROOT Sports.  Announcers Greg Brown and Bob Walk couldn’t figure out why Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke came out of the dugout to talk to the home plate umpire after a strikeout. “It definitely wasn’t a foul ball.  Could that be what they were arguing about?” – Walk ...

Cubs-Pirates Preview

If the Pittsburgh Pirates truly want to contend, they will probably need to improve their play against the lowly Chicago Cubs. The Pirates, who dropped their first series against the Cubs, expect to have Andrew McCutchen back in the lineup as they try to spoil Matt Garza's season debut in Tuesday night's opener of a three-game home set. Pittsburgh (26-18) has won eight...
MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.