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Stetson Allie, Pirates Press The Reset Button

Stetson Allie sat, staring at the ground as Rockies farmhand Drew Beuerlein verbally tore into him. Moments before, the 240-pound Allie delivered a glancing blow on a home plate collision, unable to jar the ball loose from the 24-year-old catcher. As teammates took the field, Allie continued to sit as if he’d been shaken up during impact. The pitcher-turned-first-baseman eventually rose to his feet and gingerly took two steps towards the third base dugout before he quickened his pace.

Instead of responding with words, Allie punished Beuerlein’s pitchers. First, a fifth-inning sacrifice fly capped a three-run inning against supplemental first-round pick Eddie Butler. Then, a leadoff double by Allie started a six-run inning and put the game out of reach. Finally, Allie singled and scored a run in the ninth to complete a perfect day at the plate.

Allie’s failure, and subsequent success in this particular game mirrored his career path to date. As a pitcher with a career line of 37 walks and 10 wild pitches in just 26 2/3 innings, it would have been easy for Allie to keep his head down. Instead, both he and the Pirates organization came together on a new plan, and it’s re-shaping the 22-year-old’s career.

“It’s been a blast and a blessing,” Allie says of his shift from pitcher to everyday player. “It fits my personality. I’m an everyday type guy, and I need to keep moving.” The result so far has been a triple-slash line of .351/.409/.660 while splitting time between first base and designated hitter.

Kyle Stark, the Pirates’ assistant general manager, agrees. “The path [Allie] was on wasn’t working, so we stepped away from the situation to focus on what about baseball brings him joy.”

But things hadn’t been working so well. Allie started taking batting practice and hoped it would make him feel like an everyday player. As both he and the Pirates’ folks discussed the future, Stark was direct with the pitcher. “Closers in the minor leagues don’t become closers in the major leagues,” Stark told Allie. With no discernible path to the majors on the mound, Allie finished 2012 in the Gulf Coast League as a first baseman.

There were some adjustments to make. Not only did he hit just .213/.314/.340, Allie was trying too hard at the plate. “When I first started, I wanted to hit balls 600 feet,” Allie says. “I realized it just wasn’t going to work.” He stepped back, talked to hitting coaches and assessed his approach. Allie began by studying players who had similar right-handed swings as his, which was an important first move. From that he learned truly “dangerous hitters are ones who can hit the ball out to right field, too.”

Allie’s focus on becoming a well-rounded hitter has fueled his resurgence. “Philosophically, we believe a player has to be a good hitter to get to his power,” Stark said. “Our focus this off-season was for [Allie] to develop a a middle-of-the-field approach and trust the power would come behind a repeatable swing.”

As of this morning, Allie is tied for the South Atlantic League lead in home runs with eight — nearly three times his 2012 total in 63 fewer plate appearances. That’s been a welcomed development, though it’s not totally unexpected, considering Allie has generally been the strongest player on the field. But that strength is something he’s trying to corral. “My strength is both my best and worst asset,” Allie says. “Sometimes, I try to hit the balls out of the ballpark. But when I stick to my approach, strength is the best part of my game.”

Allie has posted lofty strikeout totals to date, but showed the ability to sit back on quality breaking stuff better than his experience should allow. With time and the accumulation of plate appearances, Allie’s strikeout percentage will improve. “We want him to focus on a pitch he can drive and be hard-headed and committed to that pitch,” Stark says. For Allie, a few extra strikeouts are an acceptable outcome as he learns the strike zone.

On defense, Allie has played first base and designated hitter to focus on offensive development. “A corner player has to hit, regardless of what position he plays,” Stark says. “Normally, we want our guys moving the other way on the defensive spectrum, but he’s missed a year’s worth of plate appearances.”

Around the bag, Allie shows surprising agility for having the frame of an NFL linebacker. He’s an excellent target at first base for infielders to throw to, but Allie’s plus arm is underutilized at the position. In instructs, the first baseman played third base for a week before moving across the diamond. I asked Stark about negating what was Allie’s best tool, and he seemed open to letting the bat guide defensive decisions in the future. “If the bat gets to where it needs to be, we can revisit in instructs,” Stark told me.

In the stands, scouts discussed Allie, surprised the Pirates decided to make the switch so quickly after awarding him a $2.25 million signing bonus. In general, organizations exhaust all avenues before making a drastic change. Allie’s response to the chatter is simple. “The longer you take off from hitting, the harder it is.”

As for Allie’s timetable, Stark added some perspective: “In baseball, we get caught up on missed development time.” He added, “If you step away from that, he would be a draft-eligible sophomore right now.” Allie definitely has repetitions to make up, but Stark says, “overall, he’s not far behind from where he should be.” added Stark.

When asked about Allie’s promotion schedule, Stark told me, “We always have ideal plans for guys, but when you do that too much, you stop focusing on players as human beings.” In general, the Pirates organization has opted to develop players slowly at the lower levels. “The big picture approach is to be more aggressive later than early,” Stark added. “We are more patient early so the player can build a foundation.”

For Allie, the opportunity to build a strong foundation has caused his confidence to blossom. For the first time as a professional, he’s experiencing success and is excited about the future. With right-handed power at a premium, look for Allie to push for placement in the Pirates top 10 prospects by year’s end. If he continues to improve at his present pace, Allie will also be mentioned as one of baseball’s better first base prospects.