On Stetson Allie’s bulky upper left arm is a tattoo that reads, “You build walls and boundaries when you give into your mind. Fear nothing and take control of who you are and who you are meant to be.”
After being drafted out of high school as a hard-throwing pitcher in the second round of the 2010 MLB Draft, Allie certainly has taken control of who he says he is meant to be. He got the tattoo in 2012, when he left the mound because of control problems and returned to where he feels most at home: the batter’s box. Now, he’s playing first base and batting cleanup for the Pirates AA club, the Altoona Curve.
“At first, when I came [to the pros], I feared a lot of things, like ‘I’m not gonna make it,’ this and that,” he said.
Now, he has total confidence. After all, he’s back to being himself.
Growing up, Allie never stepped foot on the mound. He was a small, quick player with a good arm but a great bat, playing shortstop until his junior year of high school.
That’s when he hit a growth spurt and added some weight. He moved to the corner infield spots before scouts wanted to see his arm on the mound. He threw 62 innings his senior year of high school and, when his fastball topped at 100 mph, it seemed his hitting days were over.
The problem was, pitching wasn’t his thing.
“I’ve always been a hitter,” Allie said.
And a good one.
“He has the capability to hit for average because he can hit the ball the other way,” Curve manager Carlos Garcia said. “And also, he is a true power hitter. He can hit the ball out of the yard in any part of the ball field. So he doesn’t feel like he has to pull the ball to show the power.”
He might not feel like he has to, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t do it. Monday night in Altoona against the Erie SeaWolves, the right-handed slugger crushed a 1-0 first-inning pitch for a homer to left, two dozen feet beyond the bleachers.
“That’s what we call a Stetson smash,” one reporter said.
There have been several this year — 15 to be exact, the most on the Curve — as well as plenty of walks. He’s sixth in the Eastern League in walks and after leading the state of Ohio in walks as a senior in high school, is accustomed to teams throwing around his big bat. But, when pitchers give him something to hit, he makes the most of it.
“You can hear the difference when he hits the ball and when another guy hits the ball,” Garcia said. “It’s loud, it’s solid. When he gets to the plate, you know if he connects [with] the ball real well, you know something is going to happen.”
His power numbers are good and his on-base-percentage is solid, but this year, his .239 batting average leaves something to be desired. Both he and Garcia, however, feel the average will go up, especially given more at-bats.
As a pitcher, he could throw hard, but he couldn’t pitch accurately. Between two minor league seasons, he walked 37 in 26⅔ innings.
“It’s no secret that I struggled as a pitcher, so, in the back of my mind when I was pitching … I was like ‘if pitching doesn’t work out, I think I could hit,’ ” Allie said.
Even now, his throwing trouble sometimes catches up to him in the field.
In Monday’s game, Allie fielded a routine grounder in the second and fired to second to stop the lead runner. The shortstop could only watch as the ball rifled over his head and bounced to the left fielder, allowing a run to score.
Between getting his average up and his throws down, Allie still has plenty to learn, but he has already come pretty far.
“What I’ve gone through I feel like has made me the person who I am today,” he said, citing his maturity since high school.
The former small-town shortstop certainly grew up. At 6 feet 2, 238 pounds, Allie has the body of a power hitter. If baseball doesn’t pan out for him, he would likely become a strength coach, which is no surprise.
Allie loves making use of his athleticism, something he couldn’t do when limited to pitching every few games.
“I can’t do the once every fifth day. It’s not my personality,” he said.
Allie did admit he misses being able to show off his arm sometimes, “But, at the same time, there’s not a better feeling than hitting a baseball far,” he said.
Allie enjoyed such a feeling Monday when he tattooed the long ball before knocking a single up the middle to drive in the winning run in a 4-3 victory. He finished his day with one run and a team-high two hits and three RBIs. He did just about everything for the team.
Everything, that is, but pitch.
Hayes Gardner: email@example.com and Twitter @HayesGardner.