ALTOONA, Pa. — Adjusting to life at the different levels of minor league baseball is never easy. Just ask any player who's struggled initially at a new level. Third baseman Brett Pope is one of many who struggled out of the gate. The Pirates' 22nd-round draft pick in 2017 is one of the few who turned those early struggles into late season success.
On April 23, Pope was hitting .071 and in mid-June, the Western Carolina product had boosted his average to .195. Since then, Pope has steadily developed into one of the Curve's most consistent and hottest hitters as he's brought his season average up to .251 with a home run, triple and 13 doubles for a slash line of .251/.323/.329.
"Besides (Jared) Oliva, you could make the argument he's been our most improved player and consistent," Curve manager Michael Ryan said. "From day one to how much he's gotten better into August, that's one of the main success stories that we've had."
Double-A features a different breed of professional baseball player, whether it's a guy who's been to the majors and is there for rehab or a top prospect working himself to be able to play at the next level. It can be a bit of a culture shock for younger guys when they get to Altoona.
"If you look at the struggles a player has early, it's very difficult. The speed of the game is different," Ryan said. "You're playing against guys who have Major League service time, against guys that just optioned down (from AAA) the day prior. That can be a sort of shock at times. You have older guys that are men and taking care of families."
The reasons why players play and do what they do varies from player to player. And with guys who have families and need to put food on the table, the reasons why would be different than for a guy like Pope who's in his first year of Double-A and only 23 years old.
"The conviction or the reason why you play is a little different for Pope than it is for guys who have Major League time that are trying to support families and have a responsibility to take care of children," Ryan said. "It can be a shock, and to learn the game against those types of players, it’s very difficult."
Before this year, Pope wasn't on many people's radar within the organization but circumstances forced him to begin the year with the Curve.
"It was a guy they weren't expecting to send to Double-A that had to start learning on the fly," Ryan said. "He's done everything we've asked him to do. He's been an unbelievable teammate. It's a guy you can rely on to have a really good at-bat. He plays multiple positions and he takes pride in that."
Now, through consistency and selfless play, Pope has not only gotten himself on the radar within the organization, but he's developed a level of trust and confidence among those on the coaching staff that has them lobbying for him to be promoted when the time comes.
“We had some moves that had to be made and the coaching staff recommended Pope be one of the guys they think about sending to Triple-A," Ryan said. "That shows you how comfortable we are and what the guy brings to the table. He's hanging in there, having really good at-bats. Those are the stories that when you sit on the couch at the end of the year, those are the successful stories you can take some pride in."
CURVE'S TOP HITTERS
Logan Hill, OF -- Hill, 26, won the Eastern League Player of the Week by hitting .458 (11 for 24) with three homers, nine RBIs while notching three doubles. Hill is hitting .261 with 10 homers for the season.
Oneil Cruz, SS -- Cruz, 20, was 7 for 20 (.375) with two doubles, four runs, four walks and six RBIs. Cruz is now hitting .273 in 20 games for Altoona this season.
CURVE'S TOP PITCHERS
Top starting performance: Pedro Vasquez went eight shutout innings Saturday night against Bowie, earning his seventh win of the season. Vasquez allowed three hits and struck out four. Vasquez is 7-3 with a 2.69 ERA for Altoona this season.
Top reliever: Blake Cederlind appeared in two games going a total of three innings this week allowing two hits while striking out three. He earned a win and a save for the two outings and he's now 5-0 with a 1.41 ERA on the season.
NOTABLE ROSTER MOVES/INJURIES
8/16: INF Mitchell Tolman and INF Darnell Sweeney promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis. INF Jesse Medrano and INF Adrian Valerio promoted to Altoona.
8/17: RHP Cody Bolton, recently profiled here, placed on 7-day Injured List. RHP Nick Mears promoted to Altoona.
8/18: LHP Elvis Escobar activated from 7-day Injured List. Rehabbing RHP Tom Koehler placed on 7-day Injured List.
Altoona went 3-3 over the past week with two wins coming against Bowie and one against Harrisburg earlier in the week.
The Curve host Hartford for three games before heading to Bowie to take on the Baysox for a four-game set. Only 14 games remain in the 2019 season for Altoona and they've officially been eliminated from playoff contention.
ALTOONA FUN THING
Short of winning the Eastern League Championship again, it was a banner weekend for Altoona manager Michael Ryan who was inducted into the American League Baseball Hall of Fame, as well as becoming the winningest manager in Curve history with his 214th win Sunday afternoon.
This game is HISTORY
FINAL: Curve 5, Bowie 4
— Altoona Curve (@AltoonaCurve) August 19, 2019
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