Bad inning from Alderson costs Altoona the win

Tonight was the first opportunity I had to see Tim Alderson pitch.  Heading in to the season I had Alderson as the number four prospect on my top 50 prospects list, based off of reputation and his numbers prior to his 2009 struggles after the trade to the Pirates.  I don’t make it a habit of taking too much away from one outing, but based on Alderson’s struggles this year, his reported dip in velocity, and what I saw tonight, I can’t say that I’d have him anywhere near the top five in the Pirates’ organization.

It’s not that I’m saying Alderson is not a good prospect.  I’ve heard about the two groups of people in regards to Alderson’s future.  One group thinks he can be a number one or number two starter due to his projectable frame.  Another group thinks he’s more a bottom of the rotation starter, due to his low velocity, with no chance of seeing that velocity increase.  Put me more in the second group at this point.

There was nothing that really wowed me about Alderson tonight.  His breaking stuff looked good.  It had some good movement, and he fooled a few hitters, getting four strikeouts.  One issue is that he doesn’t control the pitch with a good command of the strike zone.  He had a lot of two strike counts, and let some breaking pitches get away from him.  He was probably trying to get the batters to chase, but missed to the point where it wouldn’t have been close enough to tempt the batter.  These were mostly on 1-2 and 2-2 counts, and he didn’t really have control issues, he just didn’t really have that reliable “out pitch” that you’d expect from a top of the rotation prospect.

Alderson didn’t have a bad outing.  He was very good through four innings.  The only time he ran in to trouble was the third inning.  He hit the first batter on an inside pitch, then allowed a soft line drive single to center field.  With no outs, and runners at first and second, Alderson caught a huge break.  The pitcher, David Mixon, tried for a bunt on an 0-2 count, and bunted a shallow pop up to the first base side.  Some quick hustle allowed Matt Hague to catch it on the fly, followed by a quick throw to second to double off the runner.  Kris Watts then caught Nick Noonan stealing second base to end the inning.

Alderson ran in to trouble in the fifth, although he could have easily escaped without any damage, and he only has himself to blame.  He led off the inning with a four pitch walk.  That was followed up with a strikeout.  After a one out single, Alderson was left with runners at first and second, and pitcher David Mixon up in a bunting situation.  This time Alderson wasn’t so lucky.  Mixon bunted a short chopper to the mound, more on the third base side.  Alderson came up slow with the throw, and lobbed it over to first base, but Mixon was hustling down the line and beat out the throw for a single.  A more urgent throw by Alderson would have had the runner, giving Altoona two outs with a 2-0 lead.

Alderson walked the next batter, which brought in the first run of the game.  The walk would have just loaded the bases if he would have gotten the out on the previous play.  The next batter hit a sacrifice fly to right field, which tied the score at 2-2.  Richmond took a 3-2 lead on a line drive to right field.  Then a chopper to Matt Hague at first brought in another run, as Alderson had trouble covering first base, allowing the runner to beat out Alderson’s foot on the bag.  Dustin Molleken came in, getting a ground out to Josh Harrison to end the inning.

Those were the only runs scored by Richmond, and again, if Alderson showed more urgency on the bunt by Mixon, he could have escaped the inning unscathed.  Instead he was chased after 4.2 innings, and the four runs in the inning were all Richmond needed for the win.

The fielding mistakes weren’t why I weighed this start so heavily against Alderson.  It was more a case of his velocity and command.  Alderson’s fastball only got as high as 89 MPH, and was in the 84-89 range, sometimes just staying in the mid-80s range for a whole inning.  His changeup was hitting at around 78-79 MPH, which doesn’t give much separation between the fastball and the change, especially when he’s got the fastball in the mid-80s range.

His breaking stuff was around 75-76 MPH, which is a little more separation from the fastball, but as I mentioned earlier, his command of the pitch wasn’t strong.  The command wasn’t poor either, so don’t think that Alderson is wild in any way.  Alderson’s breaking stuff had some nice movement, but he wasn’t consistently hitting his spots with the pitches, which negates the value of the pitches.  When he did hit his spots, it usually ended up as a swinging strike, or caught the opposing batter looking.

I’ve seen a lot of the Pirates pitchers at the high-A and AA level, and I would probably put Alderson behind Rudy Owens, Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris, and Jeff Locke at this point.  I found myself thinking something on the way home.  I’ve seen guys like Matt McSwain and Michael Crotta pitch.  Both guys had less than impressive stuff, but they pounded the strike zone and got a ton of easy ground ball outs, which made them very effective.  Crotta at least throws in the low 90s, but McSwain’s fastball worked in the mid-to-high 80s.  I found myself thinking, what’s the difference between Alderson and a guy like McSwain?  I liked McSwain, but he was more of a Jeff Karstens type pitcher, rather than a top, or even a middle of the rotation guy.

Is Alderson just a Matt McSwain with better breaking stuff?  If his fastball stays in the mid-to-high 80s, I don’t see how that couldn’t be the case.  I think Alderson could be much more effective if he got his fastball up to the 88-92 MPH range.  He doesn’t have to get it higher than 92, he just needs enough separation from his changeup to fool hitters.  Until Alderson can bump his velocity up to that level, I wouldn’t view him as anything more than a number three starter, and that’s a best case scenario.

As for the rest of the game…

-Chase d’Arnaud looked good tonight.  He led off with a single down the first base line, then later stole third base on a close play (I saw the replay on my camera and the call could have gone either way, even though the ball beat Chase to the bag).  D’Arnaud scored on a Matt Hague single to make it 1-0.  He walked in his next appearance, and avoided a double play with a nice move at second base.  Chase broke to steal second, and a double play ball was hit to the second baseman next to the bag.  D’Arnaud slid around the second baseman as the ball was getting there, avoiding the tag, and making it so the only play possible was to first base.  D’Arnaud was left stranded on the play.  D’Arnaud went 2-for-3 with a walk, a run, and an RBI.

-Gorkys Hernandez didn’t do anything at the plate, but
displayed a nice arm on a throw from right-center, almost doubling off a runner at first base on a fly ball out.

-Alex Presley probably had the hardest hit ball of the night, although it was a line drive right to the shortstop, who didn’t even have to move to catch the ball.  Presley went 1-for-4 and made the final out on a fliner to left field, which almost dropped in for a hit, with runners on first and second and two outs.

-Ronald Uviedo made a relief appearance, pitching one inning, allowing no runs, no hits, walking one, and striking out two.  I’m always impressed by Uviedo.  He just looks like a future late innings reliever at the major league level when he’s on the mound.  I’m hoping he ends up at the AAA level by mid-season, and maybe in the majors by the end of the year.

-Good work by Dustin Molleken in relief of Alderson.  Molleken pitched 2.1 innings, allowing no hits, no runs, one walk, and striking out two.

-Coming in to the game, Richmond had the best ERA in the Eastern League.  They held Altoona to six hits, and starter David Mixon recorded nine strikeouts in seven innings, with two walks allowed.

-Depending on my schedule tomorrow evening, I’ll be going back to see Rudy Owens on the mound.

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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, 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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