It was during an instructional week at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla., last summer that Stetson Allie finally felt something new after nearly two years as a pro baseball player: comfort.

Allie and the rest of the minor league pitchers got a chance to step into the cage for a bit of batting practice.

"I had 2 1/2 years off hitting, but I was smacking balls around the ballpark and hitting them out," Allie said. "I was like, 'Man, this feels way more natural to me than pitching.' "

Signed for $2.25 million as a hard-throwing pitcher out of high school, Allie was a gamble by the front office. He started pitching just before his senior year of high school, but his ability to hit the high-90s on the radar gun made scouts salivate. He fell to the Pirates in the second round of the 2010 draft, and they lured him away from a scholarship to the University of North Carolina.

But it is as a hitter that Allie is showing some promise. With low-Class A West Virginia, he has 12 home runs, tied for second most in the South Atlantic League. He leads the league with 40 RBIs and is second in hits (56) and slugging percentage (.627). His on-base plus slugging (OPS) is 1.037, which would make him an MVP candidate in any league that doesn't involve slow pitch softballs.

"You couldn't be more proud of a guy for what Stetson has endured and the adversity he's faced and where he's at," said Pirates assistant general manager Kyle Stark, who was among a group of people who met with Allie individually last summer to gauge his interest in switching from pitching to hitting.

As a pitcher, Allie was erratic. He spent a lot of time in extended spring training working on control issues. In starts with short-season Class A State College in 2011 and West Virginia in 2012, he struggled to command that power arm.

And in the four days between starts, he brooded over what went wrong.

"I really didn't handle adversity well as a pitcher," he said. "I beat myself up after every start. I really wasn't comfortable. I changed my mechanics every day, trying to find something that worked. I never did find anything that worked."

So, when Stark and others in the organization offered a chance to move from the mound, he jumped at it.

"It was a blessing for them to give me a chance and believe in me," he said. "I ran with it."

It wasn't a crazy idea. As a power-hitting prospect, Allie had the potential to be a third-round pick out of high school.

He struggled last year while playing for the rookie-level Gulf Coast League (GCL) team as he tried to get re-acclimated to hitting. He hit .213 with a .314 on-base percentage and did not play when the team advanced to the playoffs. He focused on bulking up this offseason, lifting weights to "be as big as possible."

"It's a long season, and I wanted to have the power that everyone thinks I have," he said.