Sunday, August 22, 2010

Stetson Allie - Starter, Closer, Or Nuke LaLoosh?

The Pirates got the most electric arm in the draft when they signed second round pick Stetson Allie, a 6'3", 225 RHP from Olmsted Falls, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb. He's been clocked topping 100 MPH with his heater, and that's impressive whatever the level.

He started out as a high school squirt, entering St. Edward in Lakewood, Ohio as a 5'9" freshman, but he has bloomed since. He didn't even start pitching until his junior year.

Allie pitched only 15 innings that season, mostly during the playoffs, but allowed no earned runs while striking out 28. The youngster pitched only occasionally out of the bullpen last summer for the Georgia East Cobb Braves, a team that went 91-7 and won the World Wood Bat Championship.

He went 9-1 during his senior campaign with 134 strikeouts and a 1.40 ERA in 60 innings of work. The P/3Bman also batted .500 with 32 RBI, 14 doubles and 3 home runs (he never hit under .400 in HS), and signed a letter of intent with powerhouse North Carolina.

Allie pitched St. Edward to the Division I state championship. In the 8-3 championship game win over Elder, he pitched five frames, struck out 13 batters and reached 101 MPH according to the stadium radar gun. In the last three seasons, the Eagles captured two state championships.

The Ohio youngster has a mantle full of honors - he played in the WWBA World Championships, the East Coast Pro Game, the Area Code Games, the Aflac All-American Game, the Under Armour All-America Game, the Perfect Game National Showcase, and was named the MaxPreps National Player of the Year

His baseball coach knows all about the kid and how he rates as a pro prospect - he's Danny Allie, Stetson's dad. As a coach at Dr. Phillips in Orlando, Florida in the 1990s, Allie coached future MLB players Johnny Damon, A.J. Pierzynski, Danny Miceli and 1990 first-round draft pick Brian Barber. He took the reins at St. Edward, and turned them into state titlists. That's pretty impressive family blood lines.

Allie was expected to go in the first round by many draft experts, and the pre-draft boards had him being between the 8th and 27th selection. Many, in fact, thought he was going to be selected by the hometown Indians, one of the 20 MLB teams that contacted him. But it didn't happen.

Some teams took a rain check on Allie because they weren't certain if he would pass up a scholarship to North Carolina, especially since he would be a draft-eligible sophomore in 2012. The rumor mill said it would take $3M to get him to back off the NC commitment.

Others worried because he was a two-way player, and thought college would give him time to sort it out. Also, though he profiles as a true first round arm, he didn't show first round control of his pitches. There were also questions about whether he'd profile as a starter or closer. All in all, a lot of ifs for a pure but raw talent.

So the Pirates had him fall into their laps. They took him as the draft's 52nd pick in the second round. They seem to play nicer with his agents, the Hendrick Brothers, than they do with Scott Boras, and signed him with a $2.25M bonus. Baseball America rated him as the No. 8 prospect prior to the draft, and his payday was in line with that draft slot.

And they're not indecisive about where he should play: they want him to start, period.

Pitching is probably where he would have ended up in the pros, college or not. He struggled to hit sliders and chased a lot of pitches out of the zone. And he's sort of a Pedro at third without the pure power; soft hands, not very rangy, and his strength is his arm. So the decision wasn't that hard.

His scouting report:

Fastball - Allie sits in the mid-90s and hits 97-99, touching the 100+ mark every so often. With improved control it could be a true plus-plus pitch.

But right now, he's a thrower, not a pitcher. That's not too surprising, considering his lack of reps on the mound; he did only throw 75 innings at St. Edward in his career. He gets some movement on his four seamer, but the pitch is fairly flat. Allie needs to get a little more action on the ball.

His control and his command are both below average at this stage of the game, and he loses some velocity on the number one as the game wears on. The control issues affect his speed; he takes something off the ball when he's having trouble finding the plate.

Slider - Allies's slider has plus potential for the velocity alone, clocking in the upper-80s and breaking 90 on occasion. it's effective as an off-speed offering and a chase pitch. He gets a nice, tight break with dive, and it looks like his fastball leaving his hand.

As with his fastball, he doesn't control the pitch well yet.

Change - He could develop an above-average changeup. He doesn't throw it as much as he should, but when he does, it's 85-87 mph with very good sink.

The truth is Allie has had little use for a change; his slider works fine off his fastball against his level of competition. He'll need to develop an off speed pitch to succeed as a starter at the pro level.

Motion - His delivery fits into the "dip and dive" form, which may give him some added velocity. He finishes easily and fluidly for a big guy, without too much of a violent finish with his back leg, leaving him in a good fielding position.

There are two red flags regarding his motion. One is that he takes his arm back too far, behind his knee, and back over top to a 3/4 delivery. The other is a head jerk as he delivers. Both lead to inconsistency in his release, and could be the root of his control issues. The arm swing is the more easily correctable, though his pitching coaches will be working to clean both up.

Neither, however, indicate any kind of potential physical problems. They just make it harder for him to throw the ball to the mitt.

A lesser problem is that from the stretch, he pays little attention to baserunners and uses a big leg kick instead of a slide step. Whether he starts or closes, that needs changed, especially as that's fast becoming a Pirate priority.

So right now, he's a two-pitch pony, fine for a closer but a brick shy of a starter's repertoire. A lot of his control problems probably have more to do with his limited experience on the mound; some tinkering with his motion and becoming a full-time pitcher should greatly improve his command. One promising sign is that his control improved as the season went on, so maybe he just needed to find a rhythm.

His attitude is to go out and throw as hard as he can for as long as he can. That aggressive approach should serve him well if he slots into relief work as a pro, but not so well as a starter; the Bucs already have a roster full of five-inning arms.

While Allie's current two pitch mix would make him a dangerous late inning relief pitcher, MLB teams don't spend first round money on high school closers. He'll be groomed as a starter until he proves otherwise, and projects as a number two or three arm on a MLB staff.

There's quite a punch list to get him ready to join a rotation.

He fades noticeably after five or so innings now, and needs to build arm strength. He has to improve his control, but that's true no matter what role he ends up filling; ditto with the flaws in his motion. Allie has to develop an effective change as his third pitch. And it may be hard to alter that bulldog attitude into a nine-inning worldview.

Now, he reminds some people of Jonathan Papelbon, Boston's closer, and some of Bud Norris, the mid-rotation, inning-eating strikeout machine of the Astros. Such is the Pirates' conundrum with Allie - start or finish?

At Allie's press conference, he said he'd prefer to close but that starting was OK, too. Neil Huntington made it clear that he was regarded as starter material until shown otherwise.

So not only do the Pirates have a project on their hands, but they're not even sure what the finished product will be. And he is a project; any high school kid, especially as raw as Allie, is a high-risk, high-reward candidate to become either a Jonathan Papelbon...or Duke LaLoosh.

Still, injecting his kind of raw ability into the system was a necessary risk for the Pirates. They chose a pretty polished pitcher ahead of him in Jameson Taillon, and who knows - Allie could join him in the rotation or come on in the ninth to save his bacon.

Allie got to know Taillon through all-star games and Houston pitching coach, former Pirates minor leaguer David Evans, who tutored them both, so they are not only intertwined through the draft, but buds, too.

This week, Allie will join the Class A State College farm club with Taillon, where he will get a crash course in the pro lifestyle, then pitch in the instructional league this fall. In all likelihood, he will start next season with the Class A West Virginia team, again with Taillon.

And there's a good chance that they could end up the John Candelaria - Kent Tekulve team of the future.

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