The Pirates’ announcement that Stetson Allie is moving from the mound to thirdbase is hardly good news. As a pitcher, Allie was rated as a mid-1st round talent at the time of the draft. He had a 100-mph fastball and a devastating slider. I watched both Allie and Jameson Taillon quite a bit in camp in March, and Allie’s stuff was better. As a hitter, he was regarded as a good draft prospect, but not on the same level. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus said he was closer to a round 3-5 talent as a hitter. His skills as a hitter apparently mirror his skills as a pitcher: great raw power but lots of swing and miss. Ironically, his biggest problem as a hitter may be a lack of walks.
Nevertheless, the easily predictable screaming, and calls for Neal Huntington’s head, from certain mindless quarters of Pirate Nation is completely off-base. There are plenty of reasons to harbor doubts about Huntington’s ability to turn the Pirates into a contender, but the team’s evaluation of Allie isn’t one of them. At the time of the draft, there was remarkably little mystery about what he represented: extremely high upside combined with extremely high risk. It wasn’t just a matter of Allie’s control problems, either. He pitched very little until his senior year in high school. Once he did start pitching, he was encouraged to air it out in an effort to light up the radar guns, rather than to learn how to pitch. Teams had no ability to see how he’d react to real coaching, or how he’d do with a reasonable amount of experience. His chances of harnessing his outstanding raw ability were a complete unknown. The only thing talent evaluators could know for sure was that the odds were probably against him panning out.
It was equally clear, though, that the risk was worth it. Even in his walk-filled 2011 season at State College, he allowed only 20 hits and fanned 28 in 26 innings. Back in March, Allie was showing some improvement in his command. At times he even managed to get ahead of hitters, which gave him the opportunity actually to pitch, instead of just throw and hope he hit the strike zone. The result when he was able to pitch was hitters flailing helplessly at nasty sliders. The possibility of seeing him do that at the major league level was worth the financial gamble the Pirates took. It’s amusing now to see the same pitchfork-wavers who scream endlessly about the team being unwilling to take chances with money wailing that $2.25M is too much to risk on a prospect like Allie. Of course, none of them said that at the time of the draft. Had the Pirates passed on Allie, the same people screaming now would have been screaming about the team being too cheap to draft the guy who, at the time they made their second round pick, was by far the highest-rated prospect left on the board.
One thing I’m confident I won’t see is people crediting the Pirates with having the guts to make a difficult decision. We don’t know what specifically led to it. Allie’s been in extended spring training since his early season meltdowns with West Virginia and the Pirates undoubtedly have been working to harness his stuff. It obvious didn’t go well, but there’s no way to judge the decision to move him without knowing the specifics of how he was progressing, how he was responding to the coaching, and what led them to conclude it just wasn’t going to work out. The loss of face will be considerable, but which would be better? A front office that refuses to face reality, or one that’s willing to take the PR hit in order to pursue what’s best for the team’s future? This isn’t a unique question. I’ve always been struck at how Huntington never got an iota of credit for his willingness to make unpopular moves like trading away veterans for prospects (you remember him breaking up the ’27 Yankees, right?). Huntington’s predecessor was entirely unwilling, except when ordered to dump salary by ownership, to trade veterans for prospects despite the fact that the team desperately needed to rebuild. What a lot of Huntington’s critics have effectively been doing for years, without admitting it of course, is arguing for a return to the Littlefield years.
You can’t fix a problem until you know it exists. At least with this move, there’s a chance of the Pirates getting a return for their $2.25M. If the team waited another couple of years, their chances of getting any return at all would be near zero due to Allie’s age and the operation of the roster rules. Huntington at least deserves credit for being willing to make the call in the face of the inevitable mob scene. Would it really be better to have a front office afraid to do anything that might trigger a negative fan reaction? Did that work so well before?