ALTOONA, Pa. — With as bad as the Pirates have played at times over the course of the year we've seen a plethora of position players pitching. It's provided excitement for fans and saved arms for the coaches, but in the minor leagues, it's given players like Altoona's Elvis Escobar a new lease on their professional careers.
It started with Escobar, a left-handed outfielder, coming in to pitch in a lopsided game against Harrisburg last summer. He might not have lit up the stat sheet but he did light up the radar, continuously pumping 94 mph without any prep as a pitcher.
Following the outing, Curve manager Michael Ryan discussed the opportunities for Escobar to continue with the club as a hitter and outfielder or begin life as a minor league pitcher.
"They told me what they were thinking about and I said yes," Escobar recalled. "I took it as a new challenge and when I first heard I was going to be a pitcher, I just focused on that."
Going from outfielder to pitcher is quite the adjustment, especially after focusing on one area for more than six years.
"It's a lot different. I was in the outfield for six and a half years," Escobar said. "Being a pitcher is different than not playing every day, just getting used to the bullpen. But at the same time you're still playing baseball. I'm happy to be challenged and I just take it seriously and compete. That's all."
Although it may be a difficult adjustment, Altoona pitching coach Joel Hanrahan believes there are a lot of benefits to becoming a pitcher after being a professional hitter.
"I think it's got to be extremely difficult, but there are things that benefit you," Hanrahan said. "You know what it's like being in the box, what hitters are looking for. You can game call a little bit better than some guys, maybe."
It's not just a position change for Escobar's but also a lifestyle change. No longer is he taking batting practice or throwing only to get loose. Now he's fully engaged in a stretching and throwing program on a daily basis.
"Making the adjustment to a pitcher's lifestyle is tough. You change your whole workout. Your whole day is changed," Hanrahan said. "You actually put some focus into your throwing program whereas if you're an outfielder you just throw to get loose and get ready to make two or three throws a game. As a pitcher, your work day is getting your throwing program in."
Year two as a pitcher hasn't quite gone to plan for Escobar. After starting the season in big league spring training, he was shut down for nearly five months with a shoulder injury.
"It was a tough year this year," said Escobar, 24. "Being in big league spring training, I was so happy to be there and two hours later, my shoulder wasn't good and I end up being out five months. I'm healthy now and just happy to be here and compete."
Now healthy, Escobar has given up only three earned runs in nine games since returning from the disabled list. In two outings with Altoona, Escobar is 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA, four strikeouts and a walk.
The stats have been decent as he's returned to the game and the mound, but they are the least of Escobar's worries as the season nears its end.
"My expectation right now is just being healthy," Escobar said. "There's no reason to worry about stats at this point of the year. Just focus on being healthy, finishing the season strong and being ready for next year."
The future remains bright for Escobar. He will be heading to winter ball this year to focus on honing his craft as a pitcher and Hanrahan has enjoyed what he's seen out of the southpaw from La Guaira, Venezuela.
"I saw him a little bit last year and this year. He's strong enough and the arm works quick. He's got an idea of what he's doing up there," Hanrahan said. "I think he's got the pitch ability, he's got good feel for the change-up, can spin a breaking ball and the fastball is a power fastball. He's going to need some reps and going out there and getting in the game."
CURVE'S TOP PROSPECTS
Jared Oliva, OF -- Oliva, 23, garnered Eastern League End-of-Season All-Star honors last week and is currently going through a seven-game hit streak. He's hitting .360 (9 for 25) with two stolen bases, an RBI and scoring five runs during the streak. Oliva is hitting .287 with 34 stolen bases for the season.
Oneil Cruz, SS -- Cruz, 20, was 6 for 22 (.272) with three doubles, a home run, three runs and two RBIs. Cruz is now hitting .275/.333/.451 with seven doubles, three triples, a homer and 14 RBIs in 27 games for Altoona this season.
CURVE'S TOP PITCHERS
Top starting performance: Sean Brady posted a complete game shutout against Bowie Friday night. Brady allowed seven hits and struck out six. Brady is 4-12 with a 4.47 ERA for Altoona this season.
Top reliever: Nick Mears appeared in two games, going a total of three innings for the week. He allowed a hit and a run while striking out three. He's now sitting at a 3.00 ERA through his first two outings with the Curve.
NOTABLE ROSTER MOVES/INJURIES
8/20: RHP Austin Coley reinstated from 7-day Injured List and released.
8/22: RHP Blake Cederlind promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis.
Altoona went 2-4 over the past week with a win coming against Hartford and one against Bowie.
The Curve welcome Akron to Altoona for a four-game set and their last home series of the season before hitting the road for the Route 22 Rivalry against Harrisburg to end the season.
ALTOONA FUN THING
Promotions rule Minor League Baseball and Altoona is no different. During their homestead it was Italian heritage night and it sure did not disappoint.
— Altoona Curve (@AltoonaCurve) August 22, 2019
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