Let’s Not Carve Stetson Allie’s Career in Stone

Allie is projected by many to be a power closer in the majors one day.

A year ago today, the Pittsburgh Pirates didn’t have a single pitcher in the farm system with top of the rotation potential.  They had drafted Jameson Taillon in the first round, and signing him was almost a guarantee.  They also drafted Stetson Allie in the second round, although his addition wasn’t as guaranteed as Taillon.  By the time August rolled around, they signed both pitchers, and added top Mexican pitching prospect Luis Heredia, giving the organization three starters with top of the rotation stuff.  This August, the Pirates should add a fourth to that list by signing right handed pitcher Gerrit Cole, which should happen by the August 15th draft signing deadline.

No one really has major concerns about Jameson Taillon.  No prospect is a guarantee, but he was rated as the #11 overall prospect in baseball coming in to the year, and has shown some dominance, with a 67:10 K/BB ratio in 65.2 innings in his pro debut.

Cole is in the same boat.  He’s further along than Taillon in his development, and both could be in the major league rotation by June 2013.

Heredia is a little on the raw side, but shows some great promise, with a mid-90s fastball, and a confident demeanor you don’t usually find from a 16 year old.

Then there’s Stetson Allie.  Ask most Pirates fans who has the best shot at a major league rotation, and Allie comes up fourth.  Ask them who they’d trade of the group of potential aces, and Allie would be the guy.  Ask them what Allie projects as, and they’ll say a relief pitcher in the majors.

Now there’s a good reason for the above.  Allie is raw, even more-so than Taillon.  He also lacks control, with 17 walks in his first 19.2 innings as a pro.  Last night was an example of how bad his control can be.  He walked one, hit two batters, and allowed a hit, being chased before recording an out.  He can throw in the upper 90s, touching 100, although he’s been working in the low-to-mid 90s this year while he works on fastball command.

Allie is a big project, with a lot of upside.  The most likely path is that he will become a star closer in the majors.  However, I find it hard to believe that so many are willing to rule out the chance that Allie could become a starter, when he’s only 20 years old.  In fact, let’s consider Baseball America’s scouting report from a guy that we’ll call “Player A” for now:

Player A is the best righthander out of STATE since Phil Hughes starred at SCHOOL in 2004. Player A’s four-seam fastball ranges from 93-96 mph, occasionally peaking at 97-98. He adds a hard, late-breaking curve which shows bite, tilt and depth. Player A used his changeup sparingly early in the season, though he used it more later. Adding to Player A’s considerable appeal to scouts is his tall, lanky and projectable frame, which is nearly ideal for a prep righthander. Scouts are split over whether Player A profiles as a starter or closer. He maintains velocity and pitch movement deep into games, but his inconsistent command and tendency to run up high pitch counts may move him to the bullpen. Some scouts have compared him to Mariners closer J.J. Putz. Player A does bring mechanical concerns. He lands on a stiff front leg, and he recoils his arm during his follow-through. Both hurt control and raise injury concerns. Player A also hasn’t endeared himself to scouts or teammates with what one scout described as his immature mound demeanor.

This unnamed player has a lot of the same reports as Allie.  He peaks in the upper 90s, has a hard breaking ball, doesn’t use a changeup often, and scouts are mixed on whether he can be a starter or a closer.  A big concern with Player A is his inconsistent command.  From the sound of this report, we’re looking at a guy who profiles as a future closer in the majors.  So who is Player A?

Gerrit Cole.

That’s not the Gerrit Cole that the Pirates drafted though.  That’s the Gerrit Cole that the Yankees drafted, in 2008.  The same Gerrit Cole that went to UCLA for three years.  The same Gerrit Cole that still looked like he could be a power closer in the majors before his junior year.  The same Gerrit Cole that, in his junior year and at the age of , saw his changeup emerge as a plus pitch, and greatly improved his command, thus giving him the upside of a number one starter.

Gerrit Cole 2008 and Gerrit Cole 2011 were totally different pitchers.  The 2008 version looked more like a closer, due to command issues and a lack of a strong changeup.  The 2011 version looks like a future ace, thanks to adding a plus changeup and improving his command.

That’s something to think about when you start trying to carve Allie’s career out in stone.  All he has to do is improve his command, or add a strong changeup, and he goes from a guy who looks more like a closer, to a guy who looks more like a starter.  Now those are no easy feats, especially the command part.  But let’s consider that Allie is very raw.  He’s a guy that didn’t start pitching until his junior year, and didn’t really start “pitching” until his senior year.  This is only his second year where he’s really focused on being a pitcher, and this is his first year where he’s focused on being a pitcher full time.

As we saw with Gerrit Cole, a pitcher’s career path isn’t set out of high school, even with highly rated prospects.  Cole went on to improve his future projection, and now looks like one of the top young starting prospects in the game.  Remember that next time you think about Allie as being a lock for the bullpen in the future.  That’s not saying that Allie doesn’t look like he profiles more as a reliever right now.  It’s just saying that he’s not a lock to be limited to that relief projection, especially if he can mature as a pitcher, improve his command, and develop a strong changeup.  That’s no easy feat, but it’s also not impossible.

  • This organization has made very big strides this past year in development of pitchers due to one reason…Ray Searage. He commands respect and has a great relationship with Benedict, and that will only help spread a consistent message across the minor league teams. Translates into having major league ready pitching consistently at your fingertips when injuries and poor performance happen.

  • I think the question is can the Pirates organization develop Allie?   They don’t have a track record yet of developing pitchers in the minors with this new regime.

    I agree its really early on Allie.

  • I think the question is can the Pirates organization develop Allie?   They don’t have a track record yet of developing pitchers in the minors with this new regime.

    I agree its really early on Allie.

    • Can we really say that after seeing the huge turnaround by Charlie Morton this year?  Also, there’s the big difference by Jeff Karstens.  As for minor league players, we haven’t seen any results translating to major league success, but at the same time, we haven’t had much time for results in the majors.

      They don’t have a strong track record, but they do have some encouraging signs, and Charlie Morton this year is the biggest one.

  • As fans, you’d like to see every outing being 6 innings with 10 K’s, but as rational human beings, it’s good to take a step back and realize there will be many bumps in the road, peaks and valleys, success and failures.  Allie has the potential and it’s both his and the Pirates job to help him realize that.

  • Not to give away my age (but here we go), but I remember watching Randy Johnson pitch in short-season A ball. He was a wild and ineffective reliever with incredibly high walk rates at the time. However, the talent was obvious and the Expos stuck with him (until trading him away for Mark Langston). Not comparing Allie to Johnson, but it demonstrates the development process.

  • Good observations. There is a lot more to pitching than the things that are measureable. Desire, work ethic, mentality, aggressiveness, confidence, and attitude all go into the makeup of an athlete, and the makeup is usually what gets a kid to the highest levels of his trade. No one liked Tom Brady coming out of college, but his makeup propelled him to the top.

  • Guys who can throw in the high-90s are rare enough. Allie has five years to work out the kinks. If the unkinked Allie becomes a Hanrahan-Kimbrel like closer, well, that’s an outcome the Pirates will surely learn to live with.

  • You’re addicted to the whole player A, player B thing when the most important factor in evaluating talent is putting your eyeballs on the player and seeing what he looks like. I think more of your reports needs to focus less on stats and more on actual footage and breaking down what the players actually look like rather than numbers. Just an honest opinion. Go Bucs.

    • I use the “Player A/Player B” comparisons because it removes the pre-conceived thoughts about a player.

      As for the article above, I’m not sure if it fits your “less on stats and more on actual footage” comment.  The post is hardly about stats, and in Allie’s case, it’s almost entirely based on watching him play and talking to team officials about him.

      • At the lower levels of the minors, scouting always sets the frame for interpreting stats. If it didn’t, then the Pirates would conclude that drafting Taillon was a mistake. After all, his ERA sits north of 4.00!

    • Billy Beane wouldn’t like this post

  • Very nice write up… Agreed