Prospect Notebook: Alderson Needs to Earn Rotation Spot

Tim Alderson moved up to Triple-A this week.

On Thursday, the Pittsburgh Pirates promoted right-handed pitcher Tim Alderson from Altoona to Indianapolis. The move was made due to a combination of promotions and injuries that left Indianapolis short on pitchers. The Pirates promoted Brad Lincoln to the majors, and Shairon Martis went on the disabled list in Triple-A, forcing the need for two pitchers to be promoted. The Pirates filled that need with Alderson and left-handed pitcher Kris Johnson.

“Tim came to spring training and has thrown the ball well from day one,” Huntington said. “Velocity is 90-93. Obviously he made some appearances in spring training and did some good things. He continued to do some good things in Double-A. We’ve had some injuries, really at every level as you always do early in the season. Tim got an opportunity to go up to Triple-A. He’s done well.”

The promotion for Alderson was brought on mostly by need, but the right-hander also earned the move. In seven innings with Altoona, he allowed no runs, four hits, walked one, and struck out eight. The right-hander had a 2:1 ground out to air out ratio, and a .167 batting average against. This followed a Spring Training where he looked much improved over his 2011 performance, with a low-90s fastball and a strong curveball.

It seems like Alderson has been around forever. The Pirates added him at the trade deadline in 2009. He’s remained at the Double-A level since then, and had never made it to Triple-A. Despite the stall out at Double-A, Alderson is currently the youngest player on the Indianapolis roster, showing that he’s still very age appropriate for the upper levels.

In his debut on Thursday, Alderson threw three shutout innings, allowing one walk, one hit, and striking out three. His fastball ranged from 91-94 MPH in the outing, and he mixed in a few changeups with his fastball and curveball combo.

After returning to his high school long toss program over the off-season, Alderson has seen an increase in his velocity. He was in the upper 80s at the start of last year, but dropped to the mid-80s by the end of the year. His fastball, combined with his deceptive delivery, works well in the low 90s, which is a range it has been in all year this year. His curveball has a big break, and gets a lot of ground balls. The pitch regressed in 2009 and 2010, but returned last year. He’s got the tendency to try and place the pitch, rather than power it to the plate, which leads to the pitch getting a bit loopy at times. However, it’s a strong out pitch, that is only better set up by his improved fastball.

With Alderson’s strong start, combined with his young age, his improved fastball, his strong curve, and the ability to mix in a changeup, the question has to be asked whether he could move back to the rotation. The Pirates started stretching him out at the start of Spring Training, but a spot wasn’t guaranteed, and by the end of camp he was ticketed for the bullpen. The right-hander has pitched multiple inning outings this year, but there’s no current plans of moving him to the rotation. However, he could earn the spot throughout the year.

“Those are things that are earned,” Huntington said. “The funk, the strike throwing ability, the breaking ball that can keep the hitter off balance, most pitchers come to the big leagues in a middle role, and they earn their way to the backend. If he continues to throw well, he like any other reliever will get that opportunity to come up. Jared Hughes begins in a middle role and if he pitches well over the months and years, he could earn himself to the back of the bullpen. We’ve got a handful of guys. Bryan Morris is in that situation where he’s trying to earn his way to the big leagues. They’ll earn their way into bigger roles as they move forward.”

A big thing to watch for this season from Alderson is his consistency. He got off to a hot start in 2011, and saw an increase in his fastball velocity from the mid-80s in 2010 to the upper 80s in 2011. By the end of the year he was getting hit hard, and dropped back to the mid-80s. His start to the 2012 season is great, but he needs to show he can do this over the long haul.

As for the rotation, the Pirates would be smart to eventually give him a shot. A lot of the guys in the Double-A rotation profile as number five starter or future late inning relievers. Alderson might not become more than that, but he’s younger than the rest of the options, and was one of the top prospects in the game a few years ago. He’s a wild card due to his inconsistent past, but he has more upside than most of the Altoona rotation.

HITTING STREAK FOR HANSON

Alen Hanson entered action on Sunday with a .420/.459/.783 line in 69 at-bats. He also carried a 12 game hitting streak in to the day. Hanson extended that hitting streak to 13 in the fifth, with his eighth double of the year. He also has three triples, and four home runs.

“From the day [Director of Latin American Scouting] Rene [Gayo] signed him, we’ve liked the athleticism, we’ve liked the life of the bat,” Huntington said. “We’ve liked the looseness to the actions. We believe he has the ability to play shortstop. He’ll show his arm when he needs to. There’s plenty of arm in there he just doesn’t always show it. He’ll flip it over there. When he needs to let it fly, he lets it fly. But with every young player, there’s got to be some continued refinement of the mechanics, consistency. We’ve loved the life of the bat and the speed, the athlete, the tools package that he’s put together. He’s obviously off to a great start offensively and we’re working to get him to grow defensively. Working to get him to grow on the finer elements of his game.”

Earlier this week I conducted a Prospect Roundtable on Hanson, getting the opinion of several national writers on the hot start from the shortstop prospect. Most of the opinions were that Hanson is a strong hitter, but profiles more for second base.

SANTOS TAKING ADVANTAGE OF PLAYING TIME

Altoona outfielder Andrew Lambo went on the disabled list earlier this week, which opened up more playing time in the Curve outfield for Adalberto Santos. Since Lambo went down, Santos has started every game. So far he is taking advantage of the playing time.

The outfielder is 11-for-20 with four doubles in his last five games, putting his season line at .469/.541/.594 in 32 at-bats on the season.

Santos is coming off a year where he hit for a .314/.392/.476 line in 353 at-bats in high-A Bradenton. He came out of college, so the jump to Double-A is the true test of his hitting abilities. However, the Altoona outfield didn’t provide many opportunities, with Robbie Grossman, Quincy Latimore, and Andrew Lambo taking up playing time. That will change with Lambo out, and if Santos continues hitting, he might force his way in to the lineup, even when Lambo returns.

D’ARNAUD RETURNING FROM A CONCUSSION

Chase d’Arnaud continues to recover from a concussion he suffered after getting hit in the head with a pitch. D’Arnaud traveled to Pittsburgh earlier in the week, and Saturday was his third day without a headache. He has started exercising, but hasn’t returned to baseball activities.

“Chase is getting better,” Huntington said. “We need him to be symptom free before we can really start heavy exertion. He’s had some good days along the way, but its just one of those things coming back from a concussion. It literally is day-to-day in how he feels. You build the program based upon the results you get today. He is feeling better.”

Tim Williams

Author: 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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  • http://twitter.com/BuccoMike Mike

    You can give Alderson another shot. He’s done so well in long relief. Plus is velocity is up with Evan Meek being god awful with his velocity. Alderson might be needed cause he has more control and is getting outs at better rate then Meek.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AGRPLJJRC5GNBYXDY6LHF2U6DU white angus

      maybe, but you cant compare Meek and Alderson because up until this week Alderson had never faced AAA pitching while Meek has been in the show for 3 years going.

      yes, Meek is not the same Meek of 2 years ago.  and im really glad to see Alderson gaining some success, but Alderson getting guys out in Altoona isnt anywhere near the same as getting dudes out in Pittsburgh.

  • maguro

    They need to find at bats for Santos, period. Quincy Latimore certainly shouldn’t stand in his way.

    • Kevin_Creagh

      Neither Santos or Latimore offer much potential defensively long-term, but Santos has shown the ability to make contact and Latimore has not.  I agree Santos deserves AB’s and I would even go so far as to say that Brandon Boggs in AAA shouldn’t stand in his way by the end of the year.

      • http://twitter.com/pskell02 Patrick Kelly

         Brandon Boggs shouldn’t stand in the way of a promising little leager.

  • Michael Mawhinney

    I feel like it would be more beneficial in the long term to have Alderson in the rotation over Jo-Jo Reyes…