Slugger Allie arrives in Altoona, ready to join lineup

As a pitcher, Stetson Allie had something eye-popping – a 98 mile-per hour fastball – that compelled the Pittsburgh Pirates to draft him in the second round and give him a more than $2 million signing bonus.

But after just 26 2/3 professional innings pitched, the organization decided to give him a shot as a hitter instead.

It’s probably because Allie has that same fascination as a slugger.

“We’re happy to have him, and he’s got a lot of power,” said Altoona Curve shortstop Gift Ngoepe, who played with Allie in Class A ball. “I’ve seen him hit balls out in [batting practice] and I’ve been like ‘where does he get all that power from?’

“In Bradenton, he’s hitting balls to areas not many people hit. It’s just a total different kind of power that he has, and that’s in Florida where the ball doesn’t travel much.”

After not being a part of Altoona’s initial opening-day roster, Allie was added to the squad Friday after completing extended spring training in Florida. Junior Sosa was sent to Jamestown to make room on the roster.

“I stayed back to get some more at bats, and it went great down there,” Allie said. “I’m very excited. We have a great group of guys and coaching staff, and it’s a blessing to be here.”

Allie was scheduled to start at first base against Erie in the Curve’s opener, but Friday’s game was rained out and will be made up as part of a doubleheader today that will begin at Peoples Natural Gas Field at 4:30 p.m.

Between West Virginia and Bradenton last year, Allie hit 21 home runs as a 22-year old, but just four of them came after his promotion to High-A ball midway through his season.

“This is a guy who will be a true power hitter for me,” Curve manager Carlos Garcia said. “He can hit the ball out of the ballpark on any side – right field, left field or center – and for him it’s all going to be able controlling the strike zone and putting a good swing in on good pitches.

“He showed a lot of patience in training camp, and the sky could be the limit for him. We expect a lot from him.”

Despite the initial hype Allie got as a pitcher, he said he feels more comfortable as a hitter.

“It’s been a long process, but the Pirates have done a great job with the transition,” Allie said. “I just stuck with it and rolled with it. When they told me [about the switch], I was excited and went with it, and here I am now.

“I just try to go out there every day and learn something new. I stick with one approach and don’t think about the power or the strikeouts or anything else.”

Altoona has seen some power hitters come through over the years, and hitting coach Ryan Long thinks Allie could be the latest.

“I’ve only seen it in instructional leagues and [batting practice], but yeah, it’s a special power,” Altoona Curve hitting coach Ryan Long said. “That’s his strength. The challenge is to solidify the approach and make sure he’s swinging at pitches in his zone.

“If the effort level is smooth, and he’s not trying to do too much, he’s going to hit balls out without really trying.”

After hitting .324 with 17 home runs at West Virginia in 244 at bats last season, Allie hit just .229 with four homers in 236 at bats in Bradenton.

“To go from a pitcher to a hitter in one year, I mean, you have to learn so many things as a hitter,” Ngoepe said. “You have sinking balls, cutting balls, curve balls and different things and he’s been going through all that.”

Long thinks Allie has made progress and it will simply be a matter of time.

“He was maybe more of a hitter all along,” Long said. “He has a great arm, but he got back into hitting early enough that he’s already made a lot of adjustments. He’s had success in A-ball in the lower levels.”