In celebration of Black History Month, throughout February, teams across Minor League Baseball are taking a look back at five of the best Black players to suit up for their club.
While some of these standout performers went on to long and illustrious Major League careers, others simply had great Minor League careers or, in some cases, just one incredible season that went down as “a year for the ages.”
Here is a look at five of the best Black baseball players ever to suit up for your Altoona Curve.
LHP Shane Youman (2004-06)
Easily one of the best pitchers of the first ten seasons of Curve baseball, left-hander Shane Youman turned in one of the best seasons on the mound in Altoona Curve history. A native of New Iberia, Louisiana, Youman was selected in the 43rd round by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2001 MLB Amateur Draft.
A lefty reliever at the outset of his professional career, Youman steadily climbed the Pirates minor league system by serving as the closer at Short-Season Williamsport, Single-A Hickory and High-A Lynchburg in his first three seasons. In 2004, Youman arrived for the playoff push in Altoona and threw a scoreless inning in the postseason aiding the Curve to their first appearance in the Eastern League Championship series.
Youman returned to Altoona for Opening Day in 2005 and quickly settled into a high-leverage relief role for Manager Tony Beasley and the Curve. The 2005 Curve were one of the Eastern League’s top teams combining a powerful hitting core with several future major leaguers on the mound. At the plate, Josh Bonifay and Jose Bautista sent baseballs into orbit all summer long, combining for 48 home runs, driving in speedsters Rajai Davis and Rich Thompson; who each set the franchise record with an Eastern League best 45 stolen bases.
On the mound, Youman joined future major leaguers Tom Gorzelanny, Matt Capps and Paul Maholm to lead the Curve to the postseason. Youman finished the regular season tied for third on the team with 44 appearances, including five starts, and recorded a 3.92 ERA. Youman made one start in the 2005 Eastern League Playoffs against the Akron Aeros, allowing three runs in four innings pitched, a series taken by the Aeros in five games.
Youman returned to Altoona in 2006 and turned in one of the best seasons in Eastern League history. With a dramatic cut in his walk rate from the season before, Youman set the Curve’s single-season franchise record for lowest ERA in a season with a 1.51 mark. As he swung between the bullpen and starting rotation, the crafty left-hander allowed just 92 baserunners (70 hits, 20 walks, 1 intentional walk, 1 hit by pitch) and struck out 64 batters in a swing role between the bullpen and rotation, totaling 95.1 innings pitched. All told he appeared in 23 games for the Curve and made 11 starts before earning a promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis.
The 2006 campaign finished in Pittsburgh for Youman where he made his major league debut on September 10, 2006 with a start against the Cincinnati Reds. Despite being charged with a loss, Youman allowed just three runs in 5.1 innings pitched. Youman would pitch in five games and make three starts for the Pirates at the tail end of the 2006 season allowing just seven runs in 21.2 innings, recording a 2.91 ERA. Youman would go on to make 16 appearances, eight starts, for the Pirates in 2007, going 3-5 with a 5.97 ERA.
While his major league career spanned only 79 career innings in Pittsburgh, Youman’s pro career was just taking off as he would spend the next ten years playing all over the world. Youman spent four seasons in the Atlantic League before earning his first overseas opportunity with Lamigo in the Chinese Professional Baseball League in 2011. After seven dominant starts in the CPBL, the Lotte Giants of the Korean Baseball Organization took notice and signed Youman for the 2012 season where he quickly emerged as one of the league’s best. With a 2.55 ERA in 28 starts, good for third-best in the KBO, Youman led a late-season surge into the postseason for the Giants. After a thrilling victory in a four-game series with Doosan in the quarterfinals, Lotte lost a hard-fought five-game series with SK Wyverns in the semifinals. Youman would go on to spend four seasons in the KBO where he went 42-27 with a 3.99 ERA.
A 15-year professional career wrapped up for Youman following 13 starts in the Venezuelan Winter League in 2016-17 where he was still effective to the tune of a 4.15 ERA at age 36. All told, the left-hander threw more than 1700 innings as a professional and recorded a 3.87 career ERA.
OF Rajai Davis (2005)
Pittsburgh found a diamond in the rough late in the 2001 MLB Amateur draft when the Pirates selected outfielder Rajai Davis in the 38th round out of Division-III UConn-Avery Point. Davis, a native of nearby New London, CT, used blazing speed to become one of the best outfielders in the Pirates minor league system and quickly rose to prominence for his exploits on the base paths combined with a patient, contact-oriented approach at the plate.
By the time Davis arrived in Altoona for the 2005 campaign, he already had a pair of 40 stolen base seasons under his belt and had established himself as a .300 hitter at the lower levels of the Pirates minor league system. Davis kept the good times rolling with the Curve and combined with Rich Thompson to create havoc on the basepaths. Davis and Thompson both stole 45 bases during the 2005 season, tops in the Eastern League, to lead Altoona to a third straight playoff appearance. Named to the Eastern League All-Star team, the Curve missed Davis’ presence in the postseason after he was placed on the Injured List in late-August and missed the rest of the campaign. Davis finished his lone season in Altoona with a team-best 140 hits and 82 runs scored in 123 games played.
Davis’ speed combined with his contact-oriented approach at the plate would serve him well as he went on to a 14-year major league career with Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Oakland, Toronto, Detroit, Cleveland, Boston and the New York Mets. Davis made his major league debut on August 14, 2006 with a pinch-hit appearance against the Milwaukee Brewers in a 4-2 Pirates victory. Like many young players, his first two seasons in the majors saw him shuttle back and forth between the major league club and Triple-A. Davis totaled 44 games in a Pirates uniform, batting .242 with three doubles, one triple and six stolen bases, and his speed allowed him to make highlight reel plays in the outfield. As the trade deadline arrived in the summer of 2007, the San Francisco Giants came calling and acquired Davis, along with a player to be named later, for righty Matt Morris. Davis played 51 games down the stretch of the 2007 season for San Francisco and batted .282 with 17 stolen bases. His performance helped establish him as a reliable contributor in the outfield that would put him in demand at the major league level.
Davis moved to the American League and into a starting role with the Oakland Athletics after they claimed him off waivers prior to the 2008 campaign. While patrolling center field for the A’s for three seasons, he compiled a .283 average and stole 120 bases in 381 games. Davis went on to spend three seasons in Toronto before advancing to the postseason for the first time in his major league career with Detroit in 2014. Led by a veteran core at the plate with future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera in the middle of the order, Davis combined to man center field with Austin Jackson and helped lead the Tigers to an AL Central Division title.
Despite a sweep at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles in the 2014 Division Series, Davis would soon write his name into the history books when found himself back in the thick of the playoff chase with AL Central rival Cleveland in 2016. On July 2, 2016, Davis became the eighth player in Major League history to hit for the cycle in reverse. Facing off against his former teammates in Toronto, Davis homered to lead off the game, tripled in the third inning, doubled in the sixth and singled in the ninth to finish off the cycle. As the Indians surged to their first World Series appearance since 1997, Davis played a massive role in the Fall Classic; a seven-game thriller with the Chicago Cubs. With Cleveland trailing by two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning and just four outs away from elimination, Davis swatted a 2-2 offering from Chicago’s Aroldis Chapman over the wall in left field to tie the game at 6-6. The Cubs went on to win break the Curse of the Billy Goat with a victory in extra innings.
Following the heartbreaking loss in the 2016 World Series, Davis signed a free agent deal with the Oakland Athletics and found himself back in the postseason the very next year as an extra outfielder for the Boston Red Sox after they acquired him up at the 2017 Trade Deadline. Despite making just one plate appearance in the postseason, Davis complimented Jackie Bradley Jr. in center field providing a right-handed platoon and maintained a veteran presence in the clubhouse that had several young stars including Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers.
Davis’ 14-year major league career wrapped up following another season with Cleveland in 2018 and the New York Mets in 2019. All told he played in 1,448 major league games batting .262 with 62 home runs, 387 runs batted in and 415 stolen bases. Prior to the 2021 season, Davis accepted a role with Major League Baseball as Senior Director, On-Field Operations overseeing the Northeast region.
OF Andrew McCutchen (2006-07)
One of the most popular players in Altoona’s franchise history, Andrew McCutchen has gone onto a brilliant major league career with Pittsburgh, San Francisco, New York (AL) and Philadelphia.
Drafted 11th overall in 2005 by the Pirates out of Fort Meade HS in Fort Meade, Florida, McCutchen immediately became one of the top prospects in the organization and overall, in baseball. Prior to the 2006 season, Baseball America named McCutchen the #50 prospect in the minors as he embarked on his first full-season campaign as a professional, opening the season with Single-A Hickory where he was named an SAL All-Star and earned a late-season promotion to Altoona. Reaching Double-A as a 19-year-old, McCutchen continued his dominance at the plate by hitting .308 in the final 20 games of the regular season and aiding the Curve to a fourth straight postseason appearance. Despite being the youngest player to suit up for the Curve at 19 years, ten months and five days, McCutchen picked up four hits in a five-game postseason series with Akron; a series won by the Aeros with a 5-2 decision in the decisive fifth game.
McCutchen returned to Altoona as the Opening Day Center Fielder and immediately put together an All-Start worthy campaign in the Eastern League. Named as a top-15 prospect in the minors by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, McCutchen showed off an impressive power/speed combination with 33 extra base hits and 17 stolen bases in 118 games while batting .258 with a .327 on-base percentage while playing as one of the youngest players in the league. At just 20 years-old, McCutchen was named an Eastern League All-Star and earned a promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis late in the season. Combined in 2007, he batted .265/.329/.388 with 11 home runs and 21 stolen bases. After the season he played for the Phoenix Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League and was named a Rising Star and to the AFL’s All-Prospect Team.
After a Futures Game appearance in 2008, McCutchen finally reached Pittsburgh to make his Major League debut after 49 games in Indianapolis to start the 2009 campaign. Following a June 3 trade of center fielder Nate McLouth to Atlanta, the Pirates recalled McCutchen and he singled in his first career at bat off Mets starter Mike Pelfrey to begin a two-hit day at the plate and lead the Pirates to an 11-6 win at PNC Park. McCutchen’s rookie campaign saw him finish fourth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting after he batted .286/.365/.471 with 26 doubles, nine triples, 12 home runs and 54 runs batted in.
McCutchen blossomed into one of the National League’s brightest stars in his nine seasons in Pittsburgh. 2011 marked the first of five consecutive All-Star Game selections, four Silver Slugger Awards, a 2012 Gold Award and in 2013 he earned the National League MVP Award; becoming the first Pirate to claim the award since Barry Bonds in 1992. McCutchen secured 28 of 30 first place votes in the MVP voting batting a sensational .336 from April 30 to the end of the regular season, the best mark in the league. McCutchen was one of three National League players to rank in the top-seven in batting average (.307), on-base percentage (.404), and slugging percentage (.508) and led the Pirates to their first postseason appearance since 1992, defeating Cincinnati in a one-game Wild Card Playoff before meeting fellow NL Central rival, St. Louis in the Divisional Round. The Cardinals pitching staff proved to be too much for Pittsburgh, who could manage only two runs over the final two games of the series, in a five-game series. McCutchen and the Pirates remained one of the NL’s best teams in 2014 earning a second straight postseason appearance, but again ran into elite pitching as San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner delivered a four-hit shutout at PNC Park to lead the Giants to an 8-0 win over the Pirates in the National League Wild Card Game.
A model of consistency, McCutchen homered at least 20 times in each of his final seven seasons with the Pirates. In nine seasons total in the Steel City, McCutchen batted .291/.379/.487 with 203 home runs in 1,346 games. Prior to the 2018 season, the final year of a six-year contract extension he signed before the 2012 campaign, the San Francisco Giants acquired McCutchen and cash considerations for righty Kyle Crick, outfielder Bryan Reynolds and International Bonus Slot Money.
McCutchen’s name rings loudly in the Pirates record books, standing in the top-10 in franchise history in home runs (4th), doubles (9th), RBI (10th), extra-base hits (7th), and walks (7th) as well as the 2015 Roberto Clemente Award; given annually to the Major League player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team. McCutchen also ranks first in PNC Park history in hits (751), home runs (92) and runs batted in (357).
After splitting the 2018 campaign between San Francisco and the New York Yankees, McCutchen signed a three-year free agent contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. A promising 2019 season was cut short due to a torn ACL though McCutchen bounced back with 19 extra base hits in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign that saw him take the field for 57 of a possible 60 games for the Phillies who just narrowly missed the postseason. In 2021, McCutchen turned in his most powerful campaign since 2017 with 27 home runs and 52 extra base hits in 144 games with Philadelphia.
The now 35-year-old outfielder is a free agent after playing 1,761 games across 13 major league seasons. He holds a career batting line of .280/.373/.476 with 270 home runs, 933 runs batted in and 197 career stolen bases.
IF Josh Harrison (2010)
A native of Cincinnati, Ohio native, Harrison was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 6th round of the 2008 Amateur Draft out of the University of Cincinnati. As the 2009 trade deadline approached, the Pirates acquired Harrison in a five-player deal that sent pitchers John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny to Chicago.
The Pirates identified a speedy player with a versatile glove on the infield and a knack for making solid contact that would blossom into an All-Star contributor for their playoff teams in the mid 2010’s. After finishing off the 2009 season with a Carolina League Championship at High-A, Harrison opened the 2010 season in Altoona with many of his same teammates and immediately established himself as one of the Eastern League’s best hitters.
On Opening Day 2010, Altoona was greeted by a prospect-laden roster that included four of the Pirates Top-10 prospects according to Baseball America and eight of the Top-30 overall prospects. It was also a roster that had veteran talent, and it proved to be the perfect mix to get Altoona off to a nearly perfect start as the club started the season 7-1, a drastic turnaround after starting 2009, 0-8.
Included in those first eight games was one day where everything seemed to fall into place for a memorable afternoon at BCB. After the first three games of the season were played under dreary cold conditions, mother nature opened the skies for a perfect 67-degree day on April 11th when the national spotlight turned to Altoona for the first professional start of Harrisburg Senators phenom Stephen Strasburg. More than 70 media members from around the country and upwards of 7,800 people came to watch the professional debut of the heralded Strasburg on the picture-perfect day in Curve, Pa. The Curve managed to get four runs off the future Major League All-Star but fell 6-4 to the Senators.
Harrison bounced between second and third base that season on the field. He went on to knock 156 hits, tied for the fourth-most in a single season in Curve history. He also set the record for the most doubles in a game with four on June 27 against Bowie. He was selected as an Eastern League Mid-Season All-Star.
The Curve remained at the top of the Western Division standings throughout the summer and eventually finished the season with an 82-60 record, the second-most wins in a season in franchise history and the team’s second-ever division title.
Bouncing between second and third base, Harrison finished off the regular season with an even .300 average, 33 doubles, three triples, four home runs and 75 runs batted in. He added 19 stolen bases and played a significant role in Altoona’s push toward the Eastern League Championship. After defeating the Harrisburg Senators in four games, the Curve overcame another Major League All-Star on the mound, New York Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte, in the opening game of the Eastern League Championship Series and secured their first title in franchise history. During the playoff run, Harrison recorded a team-best 11 hits in eight postseason games and homered three times, matching Chase D’Arnaud and Jordy Mercer for the team lead.
Harrison began the 2011 season with Triple-A Indianapolis and got the call to Pittsburgh for the first time on May 31, 2011 and suited up against the New York Mets, going 2-for-4 with an RBI. His debut season saw him work mostly in a bench role with 65 appearances on the diamond, showcasing a versatile glove and a solid approach at the plate.
After shuttling back and forth between Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, Harrison finally took hold of an everyday spot in the starting lineup in 2014. Named to the National League All-Star team that summer, Harrison batted .315 with a career-high 38 doubles, 13 home runs and 52 runs batted in. Harrison’s season finished the season ninth in the MVP voting helping the Pirates to an appearance in the National Wild Card Game. His .315 batting average was second-best in the National League, just behind Colorado’s Justin Morneau.
Harrison picked up a second National League All-Star selection in 2017 with a slight bump in the power department, smashing a career-best 16 home runs, and finished his eighth season with the Pirates in 2018. A .317 hitter in his time in the Steel City, Harrison has since appeared with the Detroit Tigers, Washington Nationals and Oakland Athletics. Headed into his age-34 season in 2022, Harrison has played in more than 1,000 major league games and holds a career batting average of .277. He is currently a free agent after finishing off the 2021 campaign with 48 appearances with the Athletics.
1B Josh Bell (2015)
A native of Irving, Texas, first baseman Josh Bell roared through the Pirates minor league system and quickly established himself as one of the top power hitters in the National League.
Selected by the Pirates in the second round (61st overall) of the 2011 draft, Bell quickly emerged as one of the top prospects in the Pirates minor league system and in his first full season of professional baseball was named a South Atlantic League Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star with the West Virginia Power. Bell batted .279 with a league-best 37 doubles, two triples, 13 home runs and 52 runs batted in to lead the Power to a Northern Division title and an 82-58 record under future Curve Manager Michael Ryan.
Bell began his 2014 campaign at High-A Bradenton and immediately established himself as one of the leagues best. In a league that was notoriously difficult for young power hitters, Bell grew his game at the plate and found a more contact-oriented approach that led to a third-place finish in batting average (.335) and a 13th place finish in on-base percentage (.385) to go with 20 doubles, four triples ad nine home runs. Named a Mid-Season Florida State League All-Star, Bell earned a late-season promotion to Altoona and batted .284 with seven runs batted in in 24 games. For his outstanding efforts, Bell was named the Pirates Minor League Player of the Year, an award he would claim a second time in 2016.
The 2015 Curve opened the season with high expectations as Bell, Tyler Glassnow, Chad Kuhl and Adam Frazier highlighted the star-studded group. Bell, a consensus top-60 prospect in minor league baseball according to multiple outlets, starred in the middle of the order. At age 22, Bell put together another All-Star worthy campaign, earning a selection to the Eastern League’s Mid-Season All-Star team, hosted bt the Portland Sea Dogs at Hadlock Field. Bell would also earn a spot in the Futures Game; played in Cincinnati. His 2015 season in Altoona found its way into the record books with a .307 average, the best mark in a single season in franchise history by a switch-hitter. Teaming with Adam Frazier, the Curve had two players bat .300 during the season (minimum 300 plate appearances) for just the fourth time in franchise history. While Bell became one of 12 Curve players to earn a promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis during the season, Altoona reached the postseason for the first time since 2010. Under the direction of Manager Tom Prince, Bowie eliminated Altoona in four games, capping off a season in which the Curve had its highest attendance total in nine seasons. The campaign earned the Eastern League’s nomination for the John H. Johnson President’s Award, the top honor in Minor League Baseball.
After spending much of the 2016 season in Triple-A, Bell reached Pittsburgh to make his major league debut. That season saw 14 different Curve alumni make their MLB debut including Alen Hanson, Jameson Taillon, Jacob Stallings, Adam Frazier, Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault, Tyler Glasnow, and Max Moroff all debuting with Pittsburgh. Bell made his debut on Friday, July 8, 2016 in an 8-4 win over the Chicago Cubs with a pinch-hit single off Jake Arrieta in the bottom of the seventh inning. Bell would go on to play 45 games in his rookie season with Pittsburgh, batting .273 with a .368 on-base percentage and three home runs.
Bell grew into the starting role in 2017 and blossomed into the one of the National League’s best young players. At just 24 years old, he swatted 26 home runs, good for second-most among NL rookies and his steady presence in the middle of the Pirates order helped him drive in 90 runs and earn a third-place finish in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. Bell’s 24th home run of the season set the record for most home runs by a rookie switch hitter in major league history.
After managing just 12 home runs in the 2018 season, Bell found his stroke in 2019 and capitalized on his massive power potential. Bell became the fourth player in PNC Park history to hit a ball directly into the Allegheny River on May 8. Just two weeks later he hit another home run into the river as part of dazzling month at the plate. Bell earned the National League Player of the Month in May of 2019 after hitting .390/.442/.797 with 12 doubles, 12 home runs, 31 runs batted in and 11 walks in 29 games played. Bell became the third player in NL history to log at least 12 doubles and 12 home runs in a single calendar month, joining Hall of Famers Hank Aaron (July 1961) and Frank Robinson (July 1961). Bell’s month of May also saw him record three multi-homer games, the first Pirate to do so since Brian Giles in August 1999.
Bell was named to his first Major League All-Star Game in the summer of 2019. Leading the league with 70 runs batted in and in extra base hits with 54, Bell became the first Pirates first baseman to be named an All-Star since Jason Thompson in 1982.
While the Pirates sagged in the standings, Bell managed to put the finishing touches on an outstanding campaign in 2019. He finished the season ninth in the league with 37 home runs and sixth in the league with 116 runs batted in. Overall, he hit .277/.367/.569 with 37 doubles, three triples and a .936 OPS which ranked tenth-best in the league.
Following a down 2020 season, the Washington Nationals acquired Bell in exchange for RHP Wil Crowe and RHP Eddy Yean and he bounced back with 27 home runs and a .260 average in his first season with the Nats. Through six major league seasons, Bell has hit 113 home runs and holds a .261 career batting average.