2014 Baseball America Top 100 Prospects: The 25th Edition
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GREENSBORO, N.C.--Jeff Allison began a long road back to professional baseball Thursday night, but he is far from alone. His teammates welcomed him back with open arms when he arrived in Greensboro several weeks ago, and team unity is the concept the Marlins are spinning in his long anticipated return.
In fact, it was rumored during the game that when Allison addressed the media afterwards, it would be a team press conference. While that didn't happen--Allison sat with Grasshoppers manager Brandon Hyde and pitching coach Steve Foster--it wasn't surprising to lefthander Adam Brandenburg.
"I've never heard of one of those, but with (Allison's) situation it wouldn't surprise me," Brandenburg said. "We're definitely all behind him, all in his corner. You can see how focused he is on just playing the game."
Allison's attitude since arriving in Greensboro has been simple--not to rush things and to take each day one at a time.
"It took me a while," Allison said. "I hadn't pitched in a while, so I wasn't expecting to be like every one of the other guys on the pitching staff. It's good that it took longer, more than a short time. I think I needed to adapt to the whole situation of being on the field again, being on the mound again and pitching again."
Allison was the 16th overall pick in 2003 after being Baseball America’s High School Player of the Year out of Veterans Memorial High in Peabody, Mass. He had just nine prior innings of pro experience in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League that year after signing, until Thursday night.
"He joined us about three weeks ago and (his throwing program) has been a progressive one where he started (long tossing), and he threw a bullpen about a week and a half into it," Hyde said. "It's been a progression from there--he threw a (simulated) game a couple of times to hitters and looked great. He was anxious to pitch.
"It was awesome to watch him out there. I know guys were excited to see him throw."
Allison’s career had been in limbo ever since he fell into prescription drug addiction and had a near-fatal heroin overdose. Infielder Jonathan Fulton and outfielder J.T. Resko were with Allison on the GCL club in 2003, and Resko especially noticed a change in the 20-year-old righthander since he joined the team.
“He's a lot more focused this year,” Resko said. “It's awesome; it's good. It's definitely a positive to have him back. Not that there's a huge thing that you notice, but he's more outgoing, more wanting to be more part of the team, more part of the family."
Allison called Resko and Fulton before he got to Greensboro and then addressed the team upon his arrival.
"I just told them that I was really, really excited to be a part of a team again," Allison said. "And that's basically how I feel right now--I'm part of the team again. As part of growing up, I had to take initiative to call them to show that I still cared, because they still did. They cared. But I had to show them that I still cared and I still wanted to play. I just want to win or lose with the team.
"It's emotional and unbelievable that I can play again with these guys. This is a great group of guys who feel real positive about my situation, and I couldn't ask for anything more."
While they are far from one big happy family because of all the hype surrounding his presence, the team is behind him and helping him deal with things on and off the field.
"I think my situation is going to help other people knowing they can get through this," Allison said. "I'm still getting through this right now. It's really tough, but I gotta deal with it. I became a man. I had to grow up--quick. So now it's just time to move on.
"Basically I had a stamp on my forehead saying, 'Whatever it takes.' I'll do whatever it takes to get to this point and I did and I took it in stride. I'm lucky to be at this point in my life."
• B.J. Upton had a tough night, going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts, then got tossed after the fourth time he was called out on strikes. The Triple-A Durham shortstop argued with home plate umpire Kevin Causey after he was called out in the fifth inning, and when he was called out in the eighth, he went back at Causey again before being ejected. On the season, Upton is hitting .289/.344/.439 with two homers and 12 RBIs in 114 at-bats.
• Triple-A Charlotte righthander Brandon McCarthy hit the 50-strikeout plateau last night, whiffing 10 in a 1-0 win against Norfolk. Just two weeks ago, Norfolk hit a franchise-record seven home runs in a 16-3 win at Charlotte. And that added a little fuel to McCarthy's fire. "I saw what they did at our place, and they went nuts basically," McCarthy told the Virginian-Pilot. "I don’t think about that. I look at each individual hitter and what I can do with him. I try to attack them that way." McCarthy is now 3-2, 3.35 with a 50-10 strikeout-walk ratio in 38 innings. He led the minors last year with 202 strikeouts.
• Triple-A Indianapolis righthander Ian Snell started off a little shaky, but when he settled in, there was no stopping him. After he allowed a double and a two-run homer in the first inning, Snell retired 18 in a row and his fastball topped out at 96. "I got into a groove by mixing my pitches," Snell told the Indianapolis Star. "I think that was the key. I had the curveball and slider working tonight. I tried to make something off both of those pitches to mess up their hitters." Snell is 5-0, 3.55 in 38 innings overall.
• Always known more for tools and size, Jason Botts is displaying some skills to go with them. The Rangers No. 11 prospect went 3-for-4 with a homer last night at Triple-A Oklahoma. The 6-foot-5 253 pound switch-hitter now has seven homers on the season and is hitting .278/.375/.598.
• Dan Meyer was supposedly the gem of the Tim Hudson trade, and was expected to help the A's rotation out this season. It is looking less likely with each start. The lefthander lasted only 4 2/3 innings against Tucson while surrendering nine earned runs. He struck out only two and walked four. He is now 1-3, 6.98 on the season.
• Athletics outfielder Andre Ethier enjoyed a perfect night at the plate, going 4-for-4 with a pair of doubles in Double-A Midland's 4-3 win over Wichita to lift his season totals to an eye-popping .414-6-27 in 25 games. Ethier, a 2003 second-round pick out of Arizona State, leads the Texas League in batting, slugging (.697), runs (25) and hits (41).
• Drafted in the third round in 2003 out of South Granville (N.C.) High, Braves lefthander Matt Harrison was unspectacular in his first two seasons, with a 3.94 ERA in 105 Rookie-ball innings. This year, he has just been spectacular. Harrison threw a complete-game shutout for Rome last night against Greenville while fanning eight, walking none and yielding five hits. He is now 3-1, 0.49 and has not allowed a run in five of his six starts.
• It was a double dose of dominance for Braves SAL pitching prospects last night. In the second game of the doubleheader against Greenville, Kelvin Villa threw a seven-inning complete-game shutout. The southpaw allowed only one hit, struck out six and walked none. He is now 2-1, 0.75 with 25 punchouts in 24 innings. For his minor league career he has 144 strikeouts in just 132 innings. To recap Harrison and Villa's dominance over Greenville: sixteen innings, no runs, 14 strikeouts, six hits and no walks.
• High Class A St. Lucie dropped both games of a doubleheader to Jupiter, but don't blame Mets first baseman Brett Harper, who homered in both games, raising his Florida State League-leading total to 12. He trails only Pirates first baseman Brad Eldred (13) for the overall minor league lead.
• Class A Vero Beach played a doubleheader of its own in the FSL, with mixed results on the mound, and some additional bad news for their pitching staff. Righthander Julio Pimentel, a 19-year-old righty from the Dominican Republic, fired a seven-inning complete game four-hitter as the Dodgers topped Brevard County 4-1 in the opener. The nightcap went in the opposite direction however, as righty Justin Orenduff, a first-round pick last June out of Virginia Commonwealth, failed to get out of the first inning, giving up six runs on four hits and three walks in a 15-1 blowout. Meanwhile, lefthander Chuck Tiffany, who went 4-2, 2.59 in his first six starts, was placed on the disabled list and is expected to miss two-to-three weeks with minor back surgery.
• The password is . . . sloppy. Low Class A Burlington topped West Michigan 11-10 in the game that featured 14 walks and nine errors. West Michigan rallied for three runs in the top of the ninth inning to the tie the game at 10-10, but the Bees scored the winning run on (what else?) an error by Whitecaps second baseman Brooks Colvin, the team's seventh miscue of the game.
• Looks like Ambiorix Concepcion is finally figuring out the Sally League. The Mets outfield prospect now has four straight two-hit games and has raised his season line to .223/.282./.404 at low Class A Hagerstown.