To cap off the end of the 2009 season, I’m going to be counting down my list of the top 50 prospects in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ system. I’ll be counting down one prospect per day, with an extensive recap on each player, until I reach number one. Check out the previous installments:
Alderson pitched 72.2 innings in AA with San Francisco, racking up a 3.47 ERA, and a 46:14 K/BB ratio in those 13 starts. He was traded to the Pirates at the end of July in exchange for Freddy Sanchez, a move that was met with outrage from a lot of Giants fans. After the trade, Alderson struggled with Altoona in AA, with a 4.66 ERA in 38.2 innings pitched, and an 18:13 K/BB ratio. His 3.0 BB/9 ratio during that stretch was one walk per nine innings higher than his career average of 2.0.
One area of concern for Alderson was a velocity drop. Alderson normally pitches in the high-80s to low 90s, but saw his velocity drop strictly to the high-80s this season. Fellow Giants prospect Madison Bumgarner had the same issues, so it’s unknown if the velocity drop has to do with the Giants use of their top pitching prospects, or if it’s just coincidental for two young pitchers who saw major changes in 2009 (Bumgarner went all the way from A-ball to the majors, and Alderson was traded).
Alderson normally throws an 88-92 MPH fastball. He has a four seamer, a two seamer, and a big breaking curveball that is a plus offering. There is the concern with his velocity drop, as well as his curveball not being as sharp last year, but Alderson was still effective. Part of that has to do with his unorthodox delivery, which leads to deception against hitters. The delivery (which can be seen here) is an area for concern, and something the Pirates may look to change to try and improve Alderson, although that may not be necessary since he’s had success with it in the past.
There are no guarantees that the Pirates will take this route. General manager Neal Huntington and Director of Player Development Kyle Stark have a no-touch policy with new players in the system, which means they don’t alter the mechanics of a recently acquired player in an effort to “clone” players. This evaluation period usually lasts the length of the short season leagues, so the Pirates likely just observed Alderson’s delivery in 2009 and didn’t make any adjustments. They were also uncertain on any future decisions on Alderson’s delivery in the Baseball Prospectus Q&A at PNC Park in September, saying it would be something they would continue to evaluate.
If there is one strength Alderson excels at, it is control. Alderson has had low walk ratios throughout his career, with a career 2.0 BB/9 ratio. While a 3.0 BB/9 ratio would look good for some players, it represents a struggle for Alderson. As for the strikeouts, Alderson had a 7.7 K/9 ratio in 145.1 innings in high-A in 2008, but just a 5.5 K/9 ratio in 137.1 innings between high-A and AA in 2009.
Alderson is young for the advanced level he is at. He was selected by the Giants out of high school in the first round of the 2007 draft. He pitched five innings in rookie ball in 2007, then jumped to high-A ball for a full season in 2008. By comparison, Quinton Miller only spent half a season in low-A ball in his first full year as a pro with the Pirates in 2009, and that was considered an aggressive placement. It’s because of the young age that I don’t think we’ve seen the best out of Alderson as far as velocity and strikeout ratios go.