Sometimes in the minor leagues you can find players who actually put up better stats as they move up to higher levels. You wouldn't think that possible, but some players mature and learn more about the game and themselves, and it happens.
Joe Mahoney hit .222 his first year at Single-A Delmarva in 2008. He returned there in 2009 and hit .278. Then in 2010, Mahoney hit .299 at Single-A Frederick and then .319 at Double-A Bowie.
His game took steps forward as he moved up.
For lefty pitcher Cole McCurry, it appears his game this year has taken not only steps forward, but a few giant leaps.
A 43rd round draft pick out of Tennesse Wesleyan in 2007, last season McCurry went 5-6 with 4.23 ERA at Frederick. But he also moved to the bullpen last year, making 12 starts and 18 relief appearances.
Pitching solely in relief this year, McCurry put up amazing numbers at Bowie, and he recently was promoted to Triple-A Norfolk.
In his Triple-A debut on Friday against Buffalo, McCurry pitched two scoreless and hitless innings on 23 pitches.
This outing came after he went 4-0 with an ERA of 0.80 in 15 games over 33 2/3 for Bowie. He gave up just 18 hits with 14 walks, 44 strikeouts and a batting average against of .155.
McCurry was amazing against left-handed hitters, giving up just two hits, both singles, in 35 at bats at Bowie with 20 strikeouts. That is an average against of just .057.
McCurry has never made any of those top prospects lists probably because his numbers, until now, have never been quite this good. Plus, he is not a hard thrower, and velocity attracts attention. But he just threw strikes, learned to pitch and slowly worked his way up the minor league ladder in the Orioles' organization.
Recently, on a trip to Bowie, I asked Baysox pitching coach Kennie Steenstra about McCurry. He was his pitching coach in Delmarva in 2008 and again this year.
"He's been outstanding here," Steenstra said. "He's been able to throw all four pitches for strikes. He works ahead. He does all the things we talk about that you want pitchers to do. He throws his off-speed when he is behind in the count for strikes and throws it the first pitch for strikes. He's down in the zone. Working fast, he's been very solid.
"He's been a starter and has had to learn to pitch maybe longer than some others that pitch in relief. I had him a few years ago as a starter and he's really blossomed since then.
"I think this relief role has given him a little more arm strength and his velocity has gone up a tick. He added a cutter last year and that has helped a lot."
Steenstra said McCurry has enough on his fastball to succeed at higher levels.
"I've seen him as high as 92 but he pitches usually 88-90 with good movement on the ball and he pitches down in the zone real well with it," Steenstra said. "Velocity-wise, he has plenty. Every day you can turn on the TV and see lefty relievers pitching at 87 or 88 in the majors. It's not a concern as long as he can mix in his other pitches for strikes."
You get the feeling a lot of people in the organization are happy to see McCurry having this kind of season. Who knows how he will do at Triple-A or if he could even have a chance to get to Baltimore this year?
But as a player drafted in round 43 who has been overlooked a lot in his career, he got a chance this year and so far is more than making the most of it.
"You always have a little bit of a spot for guys that put themselves on the map. He has worked hard and done everything the organization has ever asked him to do, whether it is start or relieve. It's starting to click for him and he deserves everything he has gotten so far," Steenstra said.