All-Star Game has Bucs on right track

Trio of Power hitting prospects excited for different reasons

Stetson Allie says he's having much more fun as a hitter. (Matt Burton/

By Ashley Marshall / Special to | June 18, 2013 2:35 PM ET

For Pirates prospects Stetson Allie, Josh Bell and Walker Gourley, being named to the South Atlantic League's All-Star squad is something special.

Though the trio will be forever linked by this game and as teammates on the West Virginia Power, the journeys each have taken to get to this point are vastly different. Being an All-Star represents something different for each of them.

Allie was the Pirates No. 2 prospect entering the 2011 season, but he was never able to fully translate a 100 mph fastball into success on the mound. Bell was considered one of the best high school bats in the 2011 Draft, but an injury cut his rookie year short before April had come to a close. And Gourley entered this season with a career .204 average and two homers in his first four seasons of pro ball.

Few people would have slated them to be here today -- in their current roles, at least -- 12 months ago.

Allie inked a $2.25 million signing bonus when the Pirates selected him as a hard-throwing power pitcher in the second round of the 2010 Draft.

His career on the mound did not play out as he hoped, and after going 0-3 with a 7.76 ERA, 29 strikeouts and 37 walks over 26 2/3 innings, the organization moved him to first base.

"I feel a lot more comfortable with what I'm doing now, and I'm having a lot more fun and that's huge," said Allie of his move to the infield. "I know I have the tools -- it's just about having fun and remembering that it's the same game I've played since I was two years old.

"[Being selected to the All-Star game] was one of the most exciting moments, telling my parents that after two years of struggling, I made this huge adjustment and I'm starting to trust myself."

Likewise, Bell is getting his first real chance at the plate, but for a different reason. He was limited to just 62 at-bats in the South Atlantic League in 2012, his rookie year.

He earned a record $5 million bonus as a second-round pick in the 2011 Draft, but he suffered a partial tear of a tissue in his knee running the bases in his 15th professional game. He was selected to the Northern Division's team, but chose to sit out to rest his knee, which he said has been sore for the past week.

"Coming off last year, I put in a lot of work in the offseason and I'm pretty excited to see what the next half holds," said Bell, a second-rounder from the 2011 Draft. "I put in a lot of hard work and worked out a ton. I worked hard with Jeremiah Randall of the Pirates and I got stronger and got ready for the season."

Then at the other end of the spectrum is Gourley. Selected in the 13th round of the 2009 Draft, the 21-year-old utility player had appeared in plenty of games, but he had struggled to find a role or his swing until this season.

He spent three consecutive years in the short-season New York Penn League before embracing his versatility in the South Atlantic League with the Power.

"I've settled in to this defined role as a utility player. Throughout my year I've had a lot of position changes and got reps at a lot of different spots on the field. This year I've worked my way into that utility position role, and it's a lot of fun and it's something I want to work on every day and be that position in the big leagues.

"I wouldn't exactly [say] that I need to prove myself to anybody. I try to stay concentrated on getting better and working to be a key part of a championship team and a championship organization. I've been given a lot of chances to improve by the Pirates as a player and I'm very thankful for that."

In Brief:

Need for speed: Kannapolis speedster Micah Johnson leads all players -- both at the Minor League level and in the Majors -- in stolen bases (54) and unsuccessful attempts (16). He's learning more from his failures than his successes.

"After you get caught a few times it messes with your head. You get hesitant," said Johnson, who has 19 more steals than Jesus Galindo, who ranks second in the South Atlantic League. "There was a streak where I hadn't stolen a base in a while because I'd been thrown out a couple times, but you can't think like that. But now I know that if I get thrown out, I will learn from it. You won't learn from staying stationary.

"Augusta has always been good at holding me on and messing things up," added Johnson of the Giants affiliate. "Chris Stratton picked me off one time, and it was a nasty move. [Kevin] Plawecki down at Savannah is a really good catcher and he has a strong arm. I'm starting to know the guys with the strong arms and the guys that are quicker to the plate."

Bash brothers: Hickory teammates Ryan Rua and Joey Gallo share the Minors lead with 22 homers apiece.

But Rua, three years older than the left-handed slugger, says he's continually impressed by the balls Gallo hits.

"It's something I've never seen before," Rua said. "I'm in his BP group every day, so it's a lot of fun to watch. For someone his age, being that young with that skill level, it's unbelievable."

An All-Star game 24 years in the making: Lakewood skipper Mickey Morandini was selected to the 1989 South Atlantic All-Star game after hitting .338 with 30 RBIs in 63 games for the Spartanburg Phillies. The second baseman, however, was promoted to Clearwater before the showcase, meaning he missed out on the game in his first year out of Indiani University.

"I got voted in to it and I got called up to High-A ball a couple weeks before the game, so I never got a chance to play in it," said Morandini, who will serve as the Northern Division's hitting coach Tuesday. "But it was an honor, absolutely. It was my first year of pro ball, so to be able to make an All-Star team was a big honor for me back then."

In memory of a friend: Lakewood catcher Chace Numata starts every inning behind the plate by marking the initials of Zach Manago, a close friend who passed away in 2010 while biking in Hawaii.

"Yesterday was his 21st birthday, so it's heartfelt," he said. "It was good to know he's watching over me. I really want this game to be for him."

Ashley Marshall is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter <@AshMarshallMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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