Pittsburgh Pirates Top 50 Prospects: 4 – Tim Alderson

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:

4. Tim Alderson, RHP
2009 Season: Alderson opened the 2009 season in the San Francisco Giants’ farm system as the fourth best prospect, behind Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey, and Angel Villalona.  He was also rated as the 45th best prospect in Baseball America’s top 100 prospects before the 2009 season.  Alderson started the season in high-A, and needed only 26 innings before getting promoted to AA.  In those 26 innings, Alderson posted a 4.15 ERA, with an excellent 20:3 K/BB ratio.

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).

Check out Tim Alderson’s 2009 stats and game logs.

Information: Scouts are largely divided on the future potential of Alderson.  He’s a large pitcher, at 6′ 6″, 217 pounds, and just turned 21 in November, so he still has room to develop and add velocity.  Some scouts think he will add velocity, and could be a top of the rotation starter.  Others feel he will remain the way he is, making him a bottom of the rotation starter.  If there’s any consensus, it’s that Alderson projects to be a Major League starting pitcher one day.

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.

2010 Expectations: Alderson will spend the 2010 season in AAA as a 21 year old.  I doubt he would make the majors this season, especially with Brad Lincoln set to make his debut in June, and guys like Charlie Morton, Kevin Hart, and Daniel McCutchen looking to make an impression in the rotation with only two spots available to fight for before Lincoln arrives.  Alderson could use the entire year to develop, with a possible promotion in June of 2011.
Optimistic Projection: There’s a misconception that a top of the rotation starter can’t throw 88-92 MPH.  While a lot of notable top of the rotation starters throw with a high velocity, there are also top of the rotation starters who work in Alderson’s range.  Alderson has the control to be a top of the rotation option without a mid-90s fastball.  He will need to work on his strikeout ratio, getting it back to the level it was at in high-A.  He could be a Cole Hamels type, with a low 90s fastball, and living off of solid control with a low walk ratio.  Benefitting Alderson is his ground ball ratio, which was well above average this past season.
Conservative Projection: Alderson could be a number three starter, and in the majors by 2011 if he doesn’t improve the strikeout rates or add velocity.  A strong comparison for him would be Chris Young, who is also a big framed pitcher who has low velocity but good command of his pitches.
Check back tomorrow for prospect number 3…
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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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