Reinvented Power hitter
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Most Major League baseball players have gone through quite a journey through the minors, usually starting at the rookie-league level before moving up to Class A.
But in the case of West Virginia Power first baseman/designated hitter Stetson Allie, it's taken a trek off the beaten path just to get to back to this point.
Allie was selected out of high school in the first round of the 2010 draft and was given a $2.25 million signing bonus to pass up a scholarship to North Carolina, but not as the middle-of-the-lineup power hitter he's turned into - the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted him as a pitcher.
The product of St. Edward High School in Lakewood, Ohio, Allie compiled a 9-1 record with a 1.29 ERA in his senior season, featuring a fastball that topped out in triple digits and a devastating slider in the low 90s. They produced 134 strikeouts in 60 innings pitched, more than two per inning.
He struggled in his first season at State College as a 20-year-old in 2011, posting a 6.58 ERA in 26 innings in the short-season New York-Penn League. Despite that, he was promoted to the Power last year, making just two appearances. They also didn't go well - he retired two hitters, walked eight, hit one with a pitch and threw three wild pitches.
A pitching prospect once mentioned in the same breath within the Pirates organization as Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, Allie soon found himself in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, trying to reinvent himself as a hitter.
As challenging as that situation might seem, Allie welcomed it with open arms.
"Mentally I was prepared to do it - I was excited to do it, actually," Allie said. "It fits more of my personality of playing every day, I was excited. [The toughest part] was just getting back into it."
It wasn't smooth sailing at first.
Allie also struggled as a hitter in the GCL, batting just .213 with three home runs and 19 RBIs in 42 games.
But Allie said it was this experience that enabled him to put it together this year, and put it together he has.
Through just 19 games in his return to West Virginia this season, Allie has already hit twice as many home runs (six), has more RBIs (20) than he did in more than twice as many games last year, and is hitting at a .367 clip.
It's been quite a turnaround.
"[The time in the GCL helped] a ton," Allie said. "In the Gulf Coast League there's a lot of guys that throw hard, but they don't know where it's going. Here they have a little more idea where it's coming and where it's going so it's a little easier to hit. Obviously you're going to have your ups and downs, but I'm just going to stick with it and hopefully continue what I'm doing."
Allie's emergence as a South Atlantic League pitching killer in Charleston coincided with the arrival of hitting coach Orlando Merced.
Merced played first base and outfield and was an integral part of the Pirates teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s that were consistently among the best in the National League.
So if anyone should know what a power hitter is supposed to look like, it stands to reason that Merced, who played with Barry Bonds and against many of the ferocious hitters of the steroid era, would have a pretty good idea.
In Allie, Merced sees someone who could be wrecking big-league pitching staffs in the near future.
"He worked very hard in the offseason and prepared himself," Merced said. "Defensively, he's been improving also and he's going to continue to improve on the offensive side of the game as well. He has seen results in a very quick manner."
Allie's ranks third in home runs and is tied for second in RBIs in the Sally League and is helping lead a West Virginia offense that ranks near the top in almost all hitting categories, including leading the league in runs scored.
But perhaps none of this would be possible had Allie taken personally the organization's decision to move him from the mound to the field a couple of years ago.
While it would be easy to view such a move as an act of giving up, Merced said that Allie simply chooses not to look at it that way.
"He doesn't look at the negative side of that where other people may see it," Merced said. "He sees it as a second chance, as another opportunity to show the world that he's a legitimate position player. In my opinion, he's very talented. I see a very consistent big-league player in the near future. I'm pretty sure he sees this as a chance to prove to the Pirates that, 'I'm a legitimate player.'"
Whether Allie can continue to put up such numbers is unknown, but Merced is certain that the physical tools are there.
In fact, in terms of raw power, Merced uttered Mark McGwire's name as a comparison for Allie.
"Well," Allie said before going silent for a moment and chuckling to himself, "that's a good one to resemble, I guess."
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.