A year ago today, the Pittsburgh Pirates didn’t have a single pitcher in the farm system with top of the rotation potential. They had drafted Jameson Taillon in the first round, and signing him was almost a guarantee. They also drafted Stetson Allie in the second round, although his addition wasn’t as guaranteed as Taillon. By the time August rolled around, they signed both pitchers, and added top Mexican pitching prospect Luis Heredia, giving the organization three starters with top of the rotation stuff. This August, the Pirates should add a fourth to that list by signing right handed pitcher Gerrit Cole, which should happen by the August 15th draft signing deadline.
No one really has major concerns about Jameson Taillon. No prospect is a guarantee, but he was rated as the #11 overall prospect in baseball coming in to the year, and has shown some dominance, with a 67:10 K/BB ratio in 65.2 innings in his pro debut.
Cole is in the same boat. He’s further along than Taillon in his development, and both could be in the major league rotation by June 2013.
Heredia is a little on the raw side, but shows some great promise, with a mid-90s fastball, and a confident demeanor you don’t usually find from a 16 year old.
Then there’s Stetson Allie. Ask most Pirates fans who has the best shot at a major league rotation, and Allie comes up fourth. Ask them who they’d trade of the group of potential aces, and Allie would be the guy. Ask them what Allie projects as, and they’ll say a relief pitcher in the majors.
Now there’s a good reason for the above. Allie is raw, even more-so than Taillon. He also lacks control, with 17 walks in his first 19.2 innings as a pro. Last night was an example of how bad his control can be. He walked one, hit two batters, and allowed a hit, being chased before recording an out. He can throw in the upper 90s, touching 100, although he’s been working in the low-to-mid 90s this year while he works on fastball command.
Allie is a big project, with a lot of upside. The most likely path is that he will become a star closer in the majors. However, I find it hard to believe that so many are willing to rule out the chance that Allie could become a starter, when he’s only 20 years old. In fact, let’s consider Baseball America’s scouting report from a guy that we’ll call “Player A” for now:
Player A is the best righthander out of STATE since Phil Hughes starred at SCHOOL in 2004. Player A’s four-seam fastball ranges from 93-96 mph, occasionally peaking at 97-98. He adds a hard, late-breaking curve which shows bite, tilt and depth. Player A used his changeup sparingly early in the season, though he used it more later. Adding to Player A’s considerable appeal to scouts is his tall, lanky and projectable frame, which is nearly ideal for a prep righthander. Scouts are split over whether Player A profiles as a starter or closer. He maintains velocity and pitch movement deep into games, but his inconsistent command and tendency to run up high pitch counts may move him to the bullpen. Some scouts have compared him to Mariners closer J.J. Putz. Player A does bring mechanical concerns. He lands on a stiff front leg, and he recoils his arm during his follow-through. Both hurt control and raise injury concerns. Player A also hasn’t endeared himself to scouts or teammates with what one scout described as his immature mound demeanor.
This unnamed player has a lot of the same reports as Allie. He peaks in the upper 90s, has a hard breaking ball, doesn’t use a changeup often, and scouts are mixed on whether he can be a starter or a closer. A big concern with Player A is his inconsistent command. From the sound of this report, we’re looking at a guy who profiles as a future closer in the majors. So who is Player A?
That’s not the Gerrit Cole that the Pirates drafted though. That’s the Gerrit Cole that the Yankees drafted, in 2008. The same Gerrit Cole that went to UCLA for three years. The same Gerrit Cole that still looked like he could be a power closer in the majors before his junior year. The same Gerrit Cole that, in his junior year and at the age of , saw his changeup emerge as a plus pitch, and greatly improved his command, thus giving him the upside of a number one starter.
Gerrit Cole 2008 and Gerrit Cole 2011 were totally different pitchers. The 2008 version looked more like a closer, due to command issues and a lack of a strong changeup. The 2011 version looks like a future ace, thanks to adding a plus changeup and improving his command.
That’s something to think about when you start trying to carve Allie’s career out in stone. All he has to do is improve his command, or add a strong changeup, and he goes from a guy who looks more like a closer, to a guy who looks more like a starter. Now those are no easy feats, especially the command part. But let’s consider that Allie is very raw. He’s a guy that didn’t start pitching until his junior year, and didn’t really start “pitching” until his senior year. This is only his second year where he’s really focused on being a pitcher, and this is his first year where he’s focused on being a pitcher full time.
As we saw with Gerrit Cole, a pitcher’s career path isn’t set out of high school, even with highly rated prospects. Cole went on to improve his future projection, and now looks like one of the top young starting prospects in the game. Remember that next time you think about Allie as being a lock for the bullpen in the future. That’s not saying that Allie doesn’t look like he profiles more as a reliever right now. It’s just saying that he’s not a lock to be limited to that relief projection, especially if he can mature as a pitcher, improve his command, and develop a strong changeup. That’s no easy feat, but it’s also not impossible.