Pirates' Alderson a 'changed' pitcher
BRADENTON, Fla. — Pirates farm director Kyle Stark knew the reaction he'd get last July when he demoted Tim Alderson from Double-A Altoona to High-A Bradenton.
"Shock, frustration, anger ... all those were expected," Stark recalled Tuesday, as Alderson worked out with many of the club's top minor leaguers at minicamp.
In that regard, Alderson did not let him down.
"I had a huge ego," Alderson admitted, "and it was crushed."
It wasn't the first time the Pirates pulled a stunner on Alderson.
Alderson was a stud pitcher in high school and was drafted in the first round by the San Francisco Giants in 2007. Going into the 2009 season, Baseball America rated the tall, lanky right-hander the 45th-best prospect in the game.
But at the end of July that season, the Giants swapped him to the Pirates for second baseman Freddy Sanchez.
"That was a crazy time," Alderson said. "I definitely wasn't expecting it. I thought I'd be with the Giants forever, because they were the team that drafted me. But, it doesn't work out that way."
Before the trade, Alderson was on a fast track up through the Giants' farm system. In 2009, he went 6-1 with a 3.47 ERA for their Double-A affiliate. The Pirates sent him to Altoona, where he finished the year with a 3-1 record and a 4.66 ERA in seven starts.
Instead of advancing to Triple-A, as he expected, Alderson began last season back at Altoona. By early July, he was 7-6 with a 5.62 ERA and was allowing 11 hits and three walks per nine innings.
It was the first time — ever, even going back to youth leagues — that Alderson had struggled. On his own, he desperately began changing his delivery, his mechanics, his preparation.
"I was thinking, 'I've got to do this or that,' instead of just trying to win for my team," Alderson said. "I was trying to help myself get to the big leagues."
"It was a selfish attitude. I think I've changed a lot since then."
The turnaround began July 12, when Stark went to Altoona and personally told Alderson of his demotion. It was a surprising move, but not unwarranted. Alderson, 22, needed to rebuild his confidence against less-advanced hitters and refine his mechanics.
"High school was light years ago and his body is different now," Stark said. "What worked in high school, I don't know if it's ever going to work for him again. He's trying to re-identify himself."
Alderson was miffed when he reported to Bradenton and continued to struggle. Eventually, his bruised ego gave way and Alderson embraced the message Stark was preaching.
In the fall, Alderson went to Instructional League and worked on positioning, arm speed and arm slot. This month's minicamp will help him build stamina and strength.
The next step is minor league spring training, where Alderson must prove to Stark he is ready for another shot at Double-A.
"We'll see how it plays out," Stark said, noncommittally.
"I have no idea where I'm going to start the season," Alderson said. "Probably, I'll go back to Altoona, but I'm not really looking to where I'm going to be. It's about how I'm going to react and be able to pitch. If I can pitch (well), no matter where I'm at, I'll have a good shot of getting back to where I used to be."
Pirates Minicamp 1⁄11/11
Day 2 of the Pittsburgh Pirates minicamp Tuesday January 11, 2011 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida.
Movin' on up?
Tim Alderson's career stats in the minor leagues:
2008: San Jose, A+ • 26 starts, 13-4 record, 2.79 ERA
2009: San Jose, A+ • 5, 1-1, 4.15
2009: Connecticut, AA • 13, 6-1, 3.47
2009: Altoona, AA ? 7, 3-1, 4.66
2010: Altoona, AA • 18, 7-6, 5.62
2010: Bradenton, A+ ? 9, 4-3, 6.98