Name: Nick Allen
Height/Weight: 5’9’’, 155
How Acquired: Selected in the 3rd round of the 2017 MLB Draft.
Rated the top defensive prep prospect in the 2017 MLB Draft, Nick Allen landed in the Oakland A’s lap in round 3. After a solid showing in his pro debut, what’s on tap for the defensive wiz?
Several times since the advent of the new draft pool system, the A’s have used their first pick on Day Two of the MLB Draft on one of the top remaining high school players on the board. The 2017 draft was one of those instances, as the A’s selected Allen, who many pundits pegged as a Day One pick, with the 81st overall selection.
The San Diego native was a high school showcase darling, wowing scouts with his defense and athleticism as an amateur. He slipped out of the first two rounds because he had a strong commitment to USC and because of his size (listed at 5’9’’). The A’s were happy to grab him in the third round and signed him quickly to an over-slot bonus of $2 million.
Allen made his professional debut in the Arizona Rookie League, logging a .254/.322/.326 line in 35 games. Allen battled a bruised thumb during the middle of the summer season that hurt his ability to swing the bat with authority, but he demonstrated good plate discipline throughout his first pro go-around. He also showed solid contact skills and above-average speed on the bases.
Defensively, Allen came as advertised. Considered easily the best defender among high school infielders in the 2017 draft, Allen played exclusively at shortstop and showed above-average hands and range, as well as a strong arm.
“You watch Allen in the field and he’s everything the scouts had talked about as far as his energy, his hands, his quickness,” A’s Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman said in a late-season interview. “He’s a pleasure to watch. He’s a great defender.”
A’s Triple-A hitting coach Eric Martins worked with Allen during the A’s fall Instructional League, and Martins has known Allen dating back to Allen’s freshman year of high school, when Allen participated in the Area Code Games. Martins says Allen’s instincts defensively compare favorably to former A’s prospect Daniel Robertson, who Martins scouted and signed for the A’s.
“I think with Allen, he’s a little bit more explosive in terms of foot speed and quickness, whereas D-Rob is more instinctual where he was probably taking a couple of steps prior to where the ball was going to end up,” Martins said in an offseason interview. “Nick Allen has those instincts, as well, but he has the foot speed and the quickness to make some highlight reel plays.”
With his thumb healthy at the A’s fall Instructional League, Allen got to work more on his offense during the A’s fall camp with Martins and with A’s minor league hitting coordinator Jim Eppard. Both came away feeling Allen has the potential to be a top-of-the-order presence in the line-up.
“Nick is stronger than people think. There is a little bit of thump in there. I don’t really want to call it power, but he has the ability to drive balls into the gaps and hit some doubles and some triples,” Martins said. “He’s an above-average runner. His instincts for the game are just phenomenal. He’s a good little baseball player. He’s going to put the ball into play. I could see him as a leadoff or two-hole type hitter, depending on what we need from him.
“He’s one of those kids who is really smart and knows his craft. He knows what he wants to do and takes instruction well. He was one part of the group of guys I was looking after for the entire Instructional League. He talked about the angle with me and I made some adjustments with him. You have to kind of be careful with these kids and not try to give them too much, especially if they are trying to work on something.
“I asked what he was working on prior to Instructional League, and we made some tweaks and adjustments of what he was trying to do that I think might benefit him in the long run. He was working on a consistent load and some separation with his hands. He did a really good job. It clicked on certain days and on other days he would say, ‘it feels a little off’ and I told him, ‘it’s going to be that way. This is something new that you are doing. At least we are giving you a program in the off-season of what you need to work on. It will eventually click.’”
Eppard says Allen “has really good bat-to-ball skills.”
“Good hand-eye coordination. Hits the ball square a lot,” Eppard said of Allen in a post-Instructs interview. “The only issue that I had with him was that he would square the ball up and lift it into the air and it would be a flyout. We talked about maybe one day down-the-road, when he is stronger, maybe those balls will jump over the outfielder’s head, but, for now, let’s work on being a really good line-drive hitter and focus on smashing line-drives. That way, he’ll be able to have success and he’ll be able to play well and enjoy the game. It’s no fun making outs. We know that. Then when he does get a couple, three years of experience and he’s got more added weight and strength, then we’ll see what we have.”
Martins envisions Allen taking on a leadership role within the A’s system as he progresses.
“Nick Allen is going to be a kid that players are just going to look up to because of the way he plays the game and his focus and intangibles and stuff like that,” Martins said.
Allen’s defensive skills make him a strong bet to reach the big leagues even if he never develops into an above-average offensive threat. He has a chance to be a special major league defender, and players like that find ways to land on big league benches regardless of their offensive contributions. Allen also brings above-average speed and good base-running instincts. Whether he develops into a major-league starter will come down to his offensive progression. If he can prove he can reach the gaps, defenses won’t be able to crowd him in the outfield and his line-drives will fall in for hits. He already has a solid approach at the plate and he handles the bat well.
Allen’s history of playing against high-level competition in high school and his successful pro debut should be enough for the A’s to send him to Low-A Beloit in 2018.
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