Ever since Stetson Allie arrived at Spring Training this year, the message from the West Virginia coaching staff, namely hitting coach Orlando Merced, has been clear: Hit the ball to right-center field.
On Saturday night, the converted pitcher made Merced and the Power proud, mashing a pair of opposite-field home runs in West Virginia's 14-9 road win over the Asheville Tourists.
"I think that you have a big, huge, strong guy out there who typically will try to pull the ball and try to hit it out of the park," West Virginia manager Michael Ryan said. "Our hitting coach, Orlando Merced, has been doing a great job getting him to hit the ball to right-center. He's really having belief in that approach and that's really working with him in the game."
Allie has fully bought in.
As a third baseman in high school, the two-way player overpowered pitchers with a classic slugger's approach. Entering his first full professional season as a hitter, he's managed to ditch that in favor of a more efficient, opposite-field focus.
"All my power is to center and right," the right-handed hitter said. "Orlando preaches that, staying with the same routine. That's what I'm doing, whether I'm 0-for-4 or 4-for-4."
So far, he's been true to his word. After going 0-for-8 in the Power's first two games, the 22-year-old has hit safely in eight straight, including six multi-hit efforts. He's hitting .356 for the season with five homers and 15 RBIs, numbers that are a long way from the three homers and 19 RBIs he totaled in 42 Gulf Coast League games last summer.
The Pirates selected Allie in the second round of the 2010 Draft and handed him a hefty $2.25 million signing bonus as a pitcher. He made seven starts and 15 appearances in the short-season New York-Penn League in 2011 and produced a 6.58 ERA with 29 walks and 28 strikeouts over 26 innings. His stuff was electric, but his control was not. And after he retired only two batters last season, the Pirates decided to remake Allie as a hitter.
They assigned him to the Rookie-level GCL, where he experienced expected struggles. He finished the year with a .213 average, .314 on-base percentage and .340 slugging percentage, striking out 50 times in 150 at-bats while splitting time between third base and first.
"For me, the biggest thing was just getting reps in every day," Allie said. "I hit every day with [GCL Pirates coach] Mike Lum, who has been one of my biggest mentors ever. He taught me so many things. He preached the same thing Orlando has preached."
"I think when [Allie] got to Spring Training," Ryan said, "he felt more comfortable with his timing and letting the ball get deeper. He has a strong belief in the way he feels at the plate with that approach and he's being hard-headed about it and sticking with it."
It showed Saturday. Allie's first blast came in the fifth inning off Asheville starter Shane Broyles. After swinging and missing for strike one, he drilled a two-run homer to right-center on a fastball away. The second longball also was on an 0-1 pitch, this one a fastball from reliever Joshua Slaats that the first baseman sent over the right-field wall.
"I think pitchers don't like to throw the ball in that much," said Allie, who knows a little something about strategy on the mound. "When I first started, I just wanted to crush balls, but as you move up, I've learned you have to have a hard-headed approach and stick with it."
Ryan also sees Allie making strides defensively. A third baseman at St. Edward High School in Lakewood, Ohio, he played a few games at the hot corner last year in the GCL. But the Pirates have decided to develop him as a full-time first baseman.
"I think the most impressive thing about him so far is the pride he's taking in his defense," Ryan said. "He has a bright future as an offensive-type player, but the pride he's taking in his defense, the work he's putting into it during the day, that shows that this is what he wants to do."
Pirates No. 20 prospect Dilson Herrera finished a triple shy of the cycle for the Power, driving in three runs and walking twice. Center fielder Raul Fortunato also homered, but No. 19 prospect Tyler Glasnow lasted only 2 2/3 innings and was charged with three runs -- two earned -- on one hit and five walks.