Play ball! Power begins season tonight
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In the spring of 2010, big league scouts made their way to St. Edwards High School in Lakewood, Ohio, to watch Stetson Allie launch mammoth home runs and overpower hitters with his fastball.
The scouts saw obvious potential and wrote reports recommending that young Allie be taken in an early round of the June draft.
But the scouts differed sharply on one critical question: Should he be drafted as a position player, thereby making use of his power on an every-day basis, or should he be taken as a pitcher, the most important position on the field?
Pittsburgh's representatives timed his fastball at 100 mph on half a dozen occasions that year and, undoubtedly swayed by his extraordinary arm strength, selected him as a pitcher in the second round (the 52nd overall pick) of the '10 draft and paid him a $2,250,000 signing bonus. It looked like a good decision - he had struck out 134 hitters in just 60 innings as a high school senior.
But in the maddeningly unpredictable world of baseball scouting and development, Allie encountered the age-old problem of control. Though he threw hard enough to strike out professional hitters at an impressive rate, more often than not he failed to find the strike zone.
Not to worry. Allie had other talents. When he started the 2012 season as a West Virginia Power pitcher and still couldn't throw strikes, the Pirates decided in June that his future lay as a hitter and assigned him to the Gulf Coast League to begin the transition.
The next phase of the transition process will begin at 7:05 tonight at Appalachian Power Park when Allie takes the field as the Power first baseman and cleanup hitter in the team's Class A South Atlantic League opener against the Asheville Tourists.
The 22-year-old Allie, among others, sounds ready and eager. "I'm excited. I can't wait,'' he said Tuesday at the Power's media day at the ballpark.
He will be part of a Power roster dotted with an unusually strong number of high draft picks, including three second-rounders, and will be led by an upbeat, first-year manager who already has taken a liking to his team.
"On paper,'' said manager Michael Ryan, "we could be the most talented team in the South Atlantic League. The one thing I love so far about these guys is their work ethic. They will outwork any team that they will play against. That's something you can't teach.''
In preparation for his new life as an every-day player, Allie immersed himself in a serious offseason workout regimen in Florida with fellow Pirate prospect Jameson Taillon, a pitcher taken as the second player behind Bryce Harper in the 2010 draft.
The 6-foot-4 Allie lifted weights daily, ran sprints and improved his flexibility and was pleased with the results.
"I put on 25 pounds and lost two percent body fat,'' said Allie, who increased his weight to 250 pounds. "It went really well. I knew I had to separate myself from other first basemen in the organization. I worked my butt off in the offseason because I knew I had to get a little bit bigger as a hitter. I just did everything I could. We just got after it every day. We were on a good diet. We pushed each other. I ate a lot more, but I ate healthy stuff.''
Moreover, he said playing every day suits him better than starting a game on the mound and then waiting five days for the next opportunity.
"I love it. It fits my personality way better,'' he said. "I love the every-day work. I love knowing I have the next day if I have a bad day. If you go 0 for 4 one day, you have another day. And for me, that's key, and I'm having a lot more fun.''
He also caught Ryan's attention in spring training.
"He's got more power than anyone in this league,'' the manager said of the right-hand hitter. "He has the ability to hit the ball to any part of the field. He has a great approach toward right center. He's going to be an exciting player.''
In 42 games with the Gulf Coast Pirates last year, Allie hit just .213 with three home runs but, as noted, baseball development is not easy to anticipate.
Two years ago, Greg Polanco batted only .237 with three homers in 48 games with the Gulf Coast Pirates but last year as a Power outfielder blossomed into a .325 hitter who was voted best prospect in the South Atlantic League.
Reach Mike Whiteford at firstname.lastname@example.org.