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Pirates converting a pitching prospect to an everyday player

Jun 4, 2012, 8:49 AM EDT

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The Pirates’ 2010 second round draft pick is a guy named Stetson Allie.  He’s a pitcher with 100 m.p.h. gas who has a bit of a control problem. And by “a bit” I mean “a massive, horrible control problem.” So the Pirates are trying something:

The Pirates are converting high-priced prospect Stetson Allie from pitcher to hitter, the Tribune-Review has learned … Neal Huntington, the Pirates’ general manager, said the change was made “recently.” No new position was specified, but Allie played third base in high school.

“Stetson was one of the few athletes in each draft to be considered a prospect as a pitcher and as a hitter,” Huntington said Sunday night from Bradenton, Fla. “We believed his highest upside was as a pitcher. We obviously were very pleased to sign him as a pitcher. Since then, we’ve faced some challenges with him as a pitcher.”

Challenges defined: Last season, in 26 innings, he walked 29 and gave up another 20 hits. He also struck out 28 guys in those 26 innings.  In two-thirds of an inning this season, across two games, Allie walked eight dudes. He has been shut down for over a month as a result, with the Pirates trying to remake his delivery. That’s apparently not working, thus the change.

When I think about prospect conversion projects I can’t help but think of another Pirate: John Van Benschoten, who the Pirates drafted in the first round in 2001.  He was an incredible power hitting prospect, leading all of college baseball in home runs during his final year at Kent State. He was also the team’s closer, and the Pirates figured that they’d make him a pitcher in their system. From what I remember at the time, no other team pictured him as a pitcher and if he had fallen below the eighth overall pick that year, someone would have snagged him as an outfielder.

Van Benschoten made the bigs as a pitcher, but probably wouldn’t have in any other organization. He was a disaster in his time in the majors and his career fizzled out due to torn labrums and other such nastiness. In what seemed like a taunt from some alternate universe, Van Benschoten hit a home run in his second big league game.

These are obviously different circumstances. The Pirates organization of 2012 is not the Pirates organization of 2001.  And, unlike, Van Benschoten, Allie was given a chance to do what folks expected him to do before failing and, eventually, conversion. But even if this is the right move, it solidifies the Pirates in my mind as The Team That Converts Early Round Prospects.  And that’s not something you hear about too often.

  1. mcsnide - Jun 4, 2012 at 9:00 AM

    In the opposite direction, in the late 80s, the Pirates had a first base prospect who couldn’t hit and was told he’d never get above AA. So he went out and taught himself the knuckleball, and we all the know the rest of Tim Wakefield’s story. Always love it when a guy can reinvent himself. Good luck to Van Benshcoten.

    • mcsnide - Jun 4, 2012 at 9:02 AM

      Er, good luck to Allie. I’d call for an edit function, but I really need is a “pay better attention” function.

      • cur68 - Jun 4, 2012 at 10:19 AM

        Oh, I been needing one of those functions for a while now. If you can find one, lemme know.

  2. dwaynehosey - Jun 4, 2012 at 9:02 AM

    In the early nineties the Pirates converted a light-hitting infielder to a knuckle-ball pitcher who ended up with 200 major league wins.

  3. redguy12588 - Jun 4, 2012 at 9:31 AM

    Gotta admit Craig, as a Pirate fan, my mind went to Van Benschoten as well. Still, I can’t blame the Pirates for changing course with him, he would have been drafted high as well as a hitter, and the Pirates need some more hitting prospects, he’s still like 19-20, so plenty of time left for him to learn.

  4. istillbelieveinblue - Jun 4, 2012 at 9:32 AM

    The Cubs have had decent luck converting catchers into pitchers. (Randy Wells, Carlos Marmol).

  5. jwbiii - Jun 4, 2012 at 10:03 AM

    A Rick Ankiel outcome isn’t a bad thing.

    • addictedzone - Jun 4, 2012 at 10:30 AM

      At least this kid had the problem from day one and they make that switch before putting him on the mound in a big game. Ankiel along with Mark Wohlers were maybe the most painful things to watch for me in baseball memory.

  6. tmohr - Jun 4, 2012 at 10:24 AM

    Given that he can’t find home plate from 60 feet, I advise the fans behind first base to bring their gloves.

  7. florida76 - Jun 4, 2012 at 10:51 AM

    Second round draft choices are different in baseball as compared with football, especially when you’re talking about high school players. Many teams misfire when projecting 17-18 year old kids, the key is to limit the number of mistakes, while acquiring talent in other rounds of the draft as well. Pujols was a 10th round pick, as incredible as it sounds.

    • hermanbates - Jun 4, 2012 at 11:29 AM

      Pujols was a thirteenth round draft choice. Which, actually, I believe strengthens your argument.

  8. drewzducks - Jun 4, 2012 at 12:03 PM

    I thought Daniel Bard “pitched” for the Red Sox?

  9. hushbrother - Jun 4, 2012 at 1:15 PM

    IIRC Allie was the Bucs’ top pick of the second round. $2.2 million seems like a lot for a second round pick. Signing him to such a large deal may have, in a way, been the organization’s signal that they were going to aggressively start trying to build through the farm system. Specifically, it was Huntington’s signal that, come hell or high water, this was how he was going to build a team, and perhaps it took a heroic amount of persuading on his part toward notoriously cheap Bucs ownership to make them agree to it. And now that Allie looks to be a bust, are trying to salvage something out of him, even if it means he becomes nothing more than a bench player.

    Not good, but not a crippling break for the organization either. Now, if Cole and Taillon go down the same path, then there’s a problem.

    • jwbiii - Jun 4, 2012 at 3:43 PM

      Allie was indeed a second round pick, #51 overall. Baseball America had him as the #8 prospect. He had a commitment to North Carolina and slipped due to signability issues. Delino DeShields, the actual #8 pick, got $2.125M and Matt Harvey at #7 got $2.625M, so Allie got paid what his value was considered to be.

      It will be interesting to see how this kind of dynamic plays out with the new draft bonus cap rules.

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