BRADENTON -- Hitters ribbing pitchers is a baseball tradition.
Pitchers -- the starters, anyway -- work only once every five days, hitters say. They don't have to field much of a position.
Heck, most of them don't even bat!
But don't expect Stetson Allie to make jokes at a hurler's expense, especially now that he has seen how the game is played 60 feet, six inches from home plate.
"What they do is unbelievable," Allie said. "I couldn't do it."
The Pittsburgh Pirates thought differently in 2010, when they drafted Allie as a pitcher during the second round and forked over $2.25 million to woo him away from the University of North Carolina.
They liked his arm, which accounted for 134 strikeouts in 60 innings during Allie's senior season at St. Edward High in Lakewood, Ohio.
Yes, it was the only time Allie pitched with any regularity during his prep career. And yes, he was career .414 hitter with 116 RBIs in 326 at-bats.
But the Pirates looked
at Allie and saw a potential ace.
While that never materialized, it appears that both the organization and the player are better for it.
Allie is back to being an everyday position and is the Bradenton Marauders' starting first baseman. Most importantly, he is more comfortable now than he ever was on a mound.
"I was always a hitter. It's something that feels more natural to me," he said following Wednesday's 8-1 loss to the Lakeland Flying Tigers. "I only pitched for one year, so when they told me to go back as a hitter, it was kind of like a breath of fresh air."
Bedeviled by control issues -- he walked 37 in 26 2/3 professional innings -- Allie never came close to duplicating his stellar senior season, which included being named MaxPreps' National Baseball Player of the Year.
So in June 2012, after watching Allie take batting practice with the Gulf Coast League team in Bradenton, the Pirates announced Allie would be converted back to a hitter.
The transition wasn't exactly seamless. Allie hit .213 in 42 games last summer in the GCL and made eight errors in nine games as a third baseman.
Of course, the caliber of pitching he was facing was better than during his days as a prep star in Ohio.
"It took some time to get used to, to recognize the breaking ball and stuff like that," he said. "But it was fun, and I enjoyed it and never looked back."
The real fun, however, began this year in low Single-A West Virginia. Allie clubbed 17 home runs, hit .324 and drove in 61 runs in 66 games with the Power, looking more like a guy who can anchor a lineup rather than one who can anchor a rotation.
The Pirates also decided to move Allie back to first base, and he responded by committing just three errors in 369 chances at West Virginia.
"The Pirates wanted me as a pitcher and at the time I was like, 'I can do this, I can do this,'" Allie said. "I was just young and immature, and it got the best of me. I think it made me stronger, and I think that's why I'm where I am today."
The hardest part of pitching, Allie said, was the gap between starts.
"I like doing the everyday work. And mentality wise, if I go 0-for-4, I've got another day," he said. "As a pitcher, if I struggle, I've got five days to think about it. So the aspect of hitting and doing something every day helped me out."
Kyle Stark, the Pirates' assistant general manager, agreed.
"Stetson would be the first person to tell you he wasn't the most mature person coming in," Stark told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in May. "But he's grown up a ton. ... The only way that we were going to do this is if Stetson was ready to hit. Stetson was ready to hit."
He has started to hit in Bradenton, too. After batting .205 in June, Allie has raised his average to .252 with 12 RBIs and a pair of home runs.
"I came here, got called up and I just tried to do too much instead of just sticking with my approach," he said. "That's just the immaturity in me, the getting away from it. But for the most part, when I stick with it, I have a lot of success. I just need to do that more often to stay consistent."
The experiment to turn Allie into a big-league pitcher may not have worked, but both he and the organization have rebounded nicely.
And while Allie admits he didn't handle being a pro pitcher as well he could have, he has no qualms with how things have gone.
"I don't even really think about it, honestly," he said. "It's over, I've moved on, and I enjoy what I'm doing now."