Morning Report: The Last Resort Position Switch

With the news on Wednesday that Hayden Hurst has retired, I thought it would be a good time to look at the recent history of the Pittsburgh Pirates and their attempts to switch pitchers to hitters and vice versa. It has actually been tried a bunch of times recently and three of the players are still in the system.

The recent list of players to go from a position player to the mound includes Yhonathan Barrios, Kirk Singer, Luis Urena, Gavi Nivar and Jared Lakind. The two pitchers that switched over to hitters are Hayden Hurst and Stetson Allie. In each case, it was a player struggling at their original position, before making the switch as an effort to get some value from the player. Five of the players(all but Singer and Nivar) got large bonuses to sign.

Allie is obviously the biggest name on the list, since the Pirates paid $2.25M to sign him after taking him in the second round of the 2010 draft. He could hit 100 MPH with his fastball, but unfortunately for the Pirates, he couldn’t find the strike zone. His move was fairly quick, happening during the middle of his second full season in the system and he has now been a hitter longer than he pitched. He has tremendous power in his bat, but he swings and misses a lot. You give him some leeway for the time he took off for hitting, but he is going to need to start making more contact soon.

We covered Hurst in the link above, but quickly with his background. He threw hard when he was drafted in 2012 and he was a high school kid with a big body/frame. That is the type you dream on and take a chance with, but injuries and a lack of control limited him to one disastrous outing in 2013. When Hurst switched to hitting last year, he too struck out a lot. Unlike Allie, he hit for zero power, as in no extra-base hits in his 15 games. He also wasn’t good in the field. Hurst retired, which doesn’t necessarily mean his career is over for good, but he was already a huge long shot to do anything at the plate, so time off won’t help.

Making the other switch, the Pirates might have one future success story in their system. Yhonathan Barrios was signed as an international free agent in 2008, so he will hit free agency this upcoming off-season unless the Pirates add him to their 40-man roster(or re-sign him). He got a $250K bonus and then failed to hit for five years, giving up part way through the 2013 season and going back down to Bradenton to convert to pitching.

Barrios has hit 99 MPH with his fastball since the move, but he is still a little raw on the mound. He did well in the GCL over limited time in 2013, then split last year between Low-A and High-A. He is in Altoona now and is having success as a closer. The interesting thing with him is that he has pitched winter ball the last two years(Colombia 2013-14, Puerto Rico this off-season) and he has been awful each year. What he has done in the off-season though, hasn’t carried over to the regular season and there is a chance you could see him in the Pirates’ bullpen in the near future if he continues to pitch like he has this year.

The rest of the players haven’t come close to replicating what Barrios has done so far. Lakind went from a poor hitting first baseman to a lefty reliever. He had a decent stretch of success last year, but an injury has kept him out of play this year. Gavi Nivar made the switch after four seasons of hitting, but he never actually took the mound in a regular season game before he decided pitching wasn’t for him and he instead went into the coaching ranks. Singer was a late round draft pick, who was being used as a utility guy before making the switch in 2013. He pitched briefly for Bradenton, then in 2014, he signed with the Giants and pitched 23 times in short-season ball. He is still pitching with the Giants, currently in Extended Spring Training.

Finally, we have Luis Urena. The scouting report when Urena signed was off the chart good. At $150,000, he was considered a steal. He had potential to be a future All-Star outfielder with plus-plus power. That potential never developed, as he had a horrible time making contact at the plate and it never got better. Urena is still only 22 years old, so he still has time to develop into a pitcher, but he will have to do it in the Tampa Bay Rays system if he does, because he was lost in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft back in December.

As you can see, switching positions doesn’t have a high success rate and none of them have made the Majors yet. The flip side is that all of them were given a chance to make it at other positions and the switch at least prolonged their career and gave them a chance to still try to live out the dream. The Pirates will continue to switch players as long as the players are willing to accept their new role and embrace the new challenge ahead of them.

If Allie, Lakind or Barrios eventually do make it to Pittsburgh, the Pirates will have a success story to look back on for future players that are asked to make the move. At least they will have a recent one, so they don’t have to go back to the days of Tim Wakefield, who was a no-bat corner infielder in the minors before he turned into a 200 game winner in the big leagues.

Pirates Game Graph

Source: FanGraphs

Today’s Schedule

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates lost 3-2 to the Phillies on Wednesday night. They wrap up the four-game series this afternoon against Aaron Harang. The Pirates will be sending former Phillie Vance Worley to the mound to make his seventh start of the season. He has been solid in three starts and roughed up in his other three outings. In his last start, he went five innings, allowing five runs on nine hits and three walks, with no strikeouts.

In the minors, Charlie Morton makes his second rehab start, moving up to Indianapolis after pitching great for Altoona last week. He threw seven shutout innings in that first game, allowing two hits(one was generously scored a hit) and two walks, with five strikeouts. Bradenton will send Steven Brault to the mound to go up against Wei-Chung Wang, who was a Rule 5 draft pick by the Brewers from the Pirates in December, 2013. After pitching in the Majors last year, they sent him to High-A to get stretched out as a starter and the results have been awful. He has a 5.93 ERA and a 1.83 WHIP in six starts. West Virginia has a doubleheader today, with Yeudy Garcia getting his first start of the season in one of the games. You can view last night’s prospect watch here.

MLB: Pittsburgh (17-17) @ Phillies (12-23) 1:05 PM
Probable starter: Vance Worley (4.63 ERA, 13:23 BB/SO, 35.0 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (19-15) vs Norfolk (19-14) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Charlie Morton (NR)

AA: Altoona (20-11) vs Akron (14-19) 6:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Jason Creasy (2.53 ERA, 11:18 BB/SO, 32.0 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (17-16) @ Brevard County (15-17) 6:35 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Steven Brault (4.56 ERA, 9:17 BB/SO, 25.2 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (18-13) @ Hagerstown (14-17) 5:05 PM DH(season preview)
Probable starter: Yeudy Garcia (2.82 ERA, 5:23 BB/SO 22.1 IP) Jose Regalado (3.05 ERA, 1:15 BB/SO 20.2 IP)


Speaking of Stetson Allie, here is his fifth homer of the season from Tuesday’s game.

Recent Transactions

5/13: Hayden Hurst placed on Voluntarily Retired List.

5/12: Indianapolis placed John Holdzkom on disabled list.

5/11: Felipe Gonzalez added to Bradenton roster. Ryan Hafner assigned to Extended Spring Training.

5/11: Charlie Leesman added to Indianapolis roster.

5/11: Antonio Bastardo placed on Paternity List. Bobby LaFromboise recalled from Indianapolis.

5/11: Connor Joe added to WV Power roster. Trace Tam Sing transferred to WV Black Bears.

5/10: Pirates acquire Jayson Aquino from Toronto Blue Jays for cash. Aquino assigned to Bradenton.

5/9: Pirates released Justin Howard.

5/8: Charlie Morton assigned to Altoona on rehab.

5/8: Nick Kingham placed on disabled list. Adam Miller added to Indianapolis roster.

5/7: Clayton Richard assigned to Bradenton. Felipe Gonzalez assigned to Extended Spring Training.

5/7: Colten Brewer added to WV Power roster. Eric Dorsch assigned to WV Black Bears

5/7: Jeff Inman added to Altoona roster. Tyler Sample sent to WV Black Bears.

5/6: Andrew Lambo placed on 15-day disabled list. Steve Lombardozzi selected from Indianapolis.

5/6: Adam Frazier activated from Altoona disabled list. Andy Vasquez assigned to Indianapolis.

5/6: Brad Lincoln added to Indianapolis roster. Charlie Leesman assigned to WV Black Bears.

5/5: Josh Wall added to Indianapolis. Brad Lincoln assigned to WV Black Bears.

5/4: Barrett Barnes assigned to Bradenton. Junior Sosa assigned to Extended Spring Training.

5/1: Jerrick Suiter placed on disabled list. Austin Coley added to WV Power roster.

5/1: Pirates sign pitcher Robert Stock.

This Date in Pirates History

Only one former Pittsburgh Pirates player born on this date, and he played just one game. Drew Rader was a star pitcher at Syracuse that would have been the first overall draft pick if there was an amateur draft back in 1921. Known at the time as the best college pitcher, the Pirates paid extra to get Rader into camp in 1921 and ended up only using him once. He pitched two shutout innings on July 18,1921, coming into the game late with Pittsburgh down 12-1 to the Giants.

Also born on this date, manager Horace Phillips, who took over the team in 1884 and stuck around until 1889, making him the first manager for the Pirates(then called Alleghenys) after they moved to the National League.

On this date in 1896, Jake Stenzel collects six hits, as the Pirates defeat the Boston Beaneaters by a 20-4 score. Pittsburgh had 27 hits in the game. Stenzel had two hits the day before and four hits the day after his big game, making him 12-for-15 over a three game stretch. He ended up with a .361 batting average that season, which is one point higher than his .360 average with the Pirates over five seasons. That average puts him as the top hitter in franchise history.

Stenzel is a great player from the past that is often overlooked due to his short career and how long ago he played, but he has done something no one else in baseball history has done. He has four seasons in which he hit at least .350, stole 50 bases, scored 100 runs and drove in 80 runs. No one else has reached those minimum standards four times in their career and he did it four years in a row(1894-97).

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    May 14, 2015 1:17 pm

    I guess to summarize….when a player makes a switch from pitcher to position player or vice versa, the end is near. There are not too many success stories to point to, in or out of the Pirates organization.

    • John Dreker
      May 14, 2015 2:55 pm

      For the most part it is a last resort, but the case of Allie is different because he wasn’t far removed from being a power hitting 3B in HS when he made the switch. I’m sure if they kept him on the mound struggling for another 2-3 years, he wouldn’t be hitting like he has so far. If a position player has a strong arm and no bat, can’t hurt to try them there. You won’t find too many Rick Ankiel type stories around baseball.

      There is actually a real interesting story going on at AAA for the Phillies, where Adam Loewen is pitching well. He could go from a pitcher that made the Majors, to a hitter that got a cup of coffee with the Blue Jays in 2011, back to an MLB pitcher.

      • The Braves also famously drafted Andrelton Simmons as a pitcher before allowing him to try the bat first as a condition of him agreeing to sign.

        Still think we’ll see Allie on the mound again eventually, albeit wearing another uniform. Guys with 100 mph arms don’t just give up and settle for sweet gigs as insurance salesmen without trying to make it work.

      • BuccosFanStuckinMD
        May 14, 2015 9:52 pm

        I agree John. And I guess to further illustrate my point, Rick Ankiel is often cited as one of the rare success stories who made such a dramatic switch. However, how successful was he really? If I recall, his overall career batting numbers were just middle of the road, or below. Although he reached the majors after such a switch, and that was certainly a success in of itself, he ended up being just a journeyman outfielder who got kicked around a few teams before he called it quits.

  • Thanks john, a nice twist on a nice twist, heck I bet you make some mean lemonade.

  • Allie is the player that hurts. What could have been….