Allie’s power will be worth watching

BRADENTON, Fla. – I’ll never forget sitting at Blair County Ballpark on April 19, 2005 and telling Scott Franco back in the Mirror office what I’d be writing about that night’s Curve game. The plan instantly changed during that call, and my jaw dropped when I yelled into the phone, “Oh my gosh, Brad Eldred just hit a ball 500 feet.”

Chicks aren’t the only ones who dig the long ball.

And when it’s a looooong ball like the legendary one Eldred hit that night, we still talk about it years later.

There will never be another Brad Eldred in Curve history. Not ever.

But this year, we could be seeing some massive home runs launched off the bat of another incredibly powerful young hitter.

That’s the good news about Stetson Allie, the former pitcher turned first baseman who is projected to start the season with the Curve.

Allie has what has been described time and again as prodigious power, and when he connects with one, it’s quite the sight.

“I’ve only seen a few guys who have had that kind of power when they get ahold of one. Allie is one of them,” said Mike Baggerman, who called Allie’s games on the radio last year for the low-A West Virginia Power and is now the Curve’s No. 2 broadcaster.

There is a catch with Allie, though. There often is for guys with that kind of power.

He swings and misses. A lot.

That derailed the powerful Eldred’s career after Altoona, as it has done with so many sluggers.

And if the 23-year-old Allie is going to make his mark as a hitter after failing famously and quickly as a pitcher, he will have to make a lot of big strides so that his big power stroke isn’t the only thing he’s good at.

It’s more than a little surprise that the Pirates would opt to start Allie with the Curve after he played only 66 games and hit just .229 for high-A Bradenton to finish 2013. He also struck out 82 times in only 236 at-bats (34.7 percent), hit just four homers with 25 RBIs and had a disappointing .698 OPS.

Allie had a monster first half at West Virginia, though, hitting .324 with 17 homers, 61 RBIs and a 1.021 OPS in 66 games. That kind of power potential hasn’t come along often for the Pirates, so they’d love to see him repeat it at the higher levels.

But can he? That will be one of the biggest story lines of the season for the Curve, who are in their final week of spring training.

“For him to improve, though, he needs to be able to recognize pitches better,” Baggerman said. “He had a high strikeout rate, but once he learns to adjust to pitches better, he can continue to hit for power.”

A lot of eyes will be on Allie this season, and from a pitching standpoint, Nick Kingham figures to be the Curve’s ace after an impressive showing late last season. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound right-hander went 3-3 with a 2.70 ERA and struck out 69 in 73 1/3 innings.

Kingham has major league stuff and makeup, and if he repeats that kind of performance this year, he won’t be with the Curve long.

Two guys who have been in Altoona a long time, second baseman Jarek Cunningham and outfielder Quincy Latimore, also are expected to be back this season.

Cunningham hit 19 homers with 49 RBIs in 2013, his second year in Double-A, but he also batted just .216 and struck out 127 times. He hit only .217 and fanned 111 times in 2012, so this could be the make-or-break year for his career.

Latimore was a fan favorite for the Curve in 2011 and ’12 and was one of the team’s better offensive players, hitting 15 homers each year. He was traded last year to the Indians for reliever Jeanmar Gomez, who wound up being a big surprise for the Pirates.

Latimore didn’t enjoy much success with Akron, hitting only .231 with six homers in 81 games, and the Indians released him. He finished up the season in independent ball with the Washington Wild Things.

One of the most promising prospects on the Curve roster will be shortstop Alen Hanson, who finished last season in Altoona and hit .255 in 35 games. He’s a slick fielder with power potential as he hit 16 homers at West Virginia in 2012.

One of the best hitters in all of Double-A the second half of last season, first baseman Justin Howard, also is expected to be back with the Curve. Howard hit .314 with eight homers, 38 RBIs and an .864 OPS in 98 games, and he was always a very tough out the final few months of the season.

Mel Rojas Jr. was another one of the top offensive players on last year’s disappointing Curve team and is expected to return this season Rojas hit .274 with 28 doubles and 41 RBIs a year ago.

I’ll have more details on the Curve roster as the week goes on, but at first glance it appears the team will rely heavily on players who either already have shown to be inconsistent in Double-A and youngsters getting their first extended glimpse at this level.

There probably will be a lot of growing pains for numerous players, so just like last year, manager Carlos Garcia will have to have a lot of patience with what figures to be an inconsistent team.

Cory Giger will have Pirates and Curve updates from Bradenton all this week.