Spring training is here, the trade rumors have quieted a bit, and it seems as if Cleveland’s 40-man roster will be comprised of players already in Goodyear, Arizona.
Many fans have voiced their displeasure with the Indians’ lack of willingness to spend money on upgrades. The front office believes that with the way the division is set up, and with the current mix of young players and recent acquisitions, the Indians are in a position to continue winning into September and beyond, depending on if and when some of the young players breakout. President of Baseball Operations Chris Antonetti also suggested that they would be willing to make midseason adjustments depending on roster needs and the market at that time.
Nevertheless, that has not sat well with the Indians fan base. It is easy to be upset when the free agent market has been as glacially slow as it has been. Let’s not forget though, prior to the team’s World Series run in 2016, the Indians opened the season with Marlon Byrd, Rajai Davis, and Collin Cowgill starting in the outfield. It is a long season and one that is full of surprises.
One of the young Indians outfielders who may be poised for a breakout season is Greg Allen. Allen was a sixth-round pick in the 2014 draft from San Diego State University. Although his 2018 slash line of .257/.310/.343 may not raise too many eyebrows, there is much more than meets the eye.
Allen played in 91 games for the Tribe last year as well as 47 for the Triple-A Columbus Clippers. He had a difficult transition to the majors partly due to the fact that from the end of spring training, he was optioned and recalled five times.
That type of uncertainty would be difficult for any player to have in the back of their head, let alone a rookie trying to find a spot on a playoff contender. Last season, Allen was twice called up for as few as two games until being optioned back to Columbus.
His first long stint with the Tribe lasted 31 games from May to June. In those contests, Allen slashed .206/.248/.304, all well below league average. After that less-than-ideal stint, he immediately followed it up by hitting an extremely impressive .411/.468/.518 in Columbus over 14 games.
Allen did not spend more than 17 days at one level for the next six weeks of June and July, bouncing up and down four times. His longest stint in that time was 14 games in Columbus, with his shortest being only two games for Cleveland. By the end of the season, Allen played in 44 games in August and September with dramatically different results.
Allen slashed .297/.376/.398 in those final games, complementing that with 15 stolen bases (21 on the year in MLB), good for a 79% stolen-base percentage (84% on the year in MLB).
So how did Allen learn to be successful despite the growing pains of bouncing between levels? The following is Allen’s response to that question in a phone conversation him and I had:
“For me, it was definitely an adjustment of getting used to that process and that sequence of potentially [being] in different places within a matter of a few days. So I think just over the course of the season and having a chance to experience that, getting better at responding to your situation, trying to find ways to just keep myself for the moment on day-to-day basis. Not worrying about where I’d be a week from now, two weeks, or a month down the road. Just to help the team win and put myself in a position to be able to have success whether it be at the Triple-A level or at the major league level.”
During one of the down parts of Allen’s season, he had a conversation with Indians manager Terry Francona on how he can add value to the team despite his struggles at the plate:
“There’s one thing I did learn this year and it came through having a conversation with Tito, our manager. A part of it was that there are multiple ways to impact the game. And that point, I was kind of struggling a little bit. And when he brought me in his office, the point of that was not to live or die just by what I do at the plate. There’s plenty of ways to affect the game when I’m coming off the bench, like making a play defensively, or running the bases. There’s so many opportunities and avenues in which a person can be of value. It’s not just what they do at the plate or what those numbers are saying at the time, but there’s other ways that you can affect the game and continue to still help your team win.”
When asked specifically about August and September, Allen attributed the drastic change of success to a combination of a few mechanical changes, his mental approach at the plate, and just overall getting used to being an everyday player on a major league team.
With the plot above, one would be able to see every pitch Allen saw in his first long stint with the Indians (May 6, 2018 – June 16, 2018) broken down by pitch type and outcome. In that time, he took 82 pitches as a right-handed batter and 375 as a lefty. On the surface, it is easy to notice that Allen had a hard time making contact with breaking balls down in the zone and laying off breaking balls that were outside of the zone when batting left-handed. He also let a significant number of fastballs pass for strikes that were in the middle part of the plate, as indicated by red circles.
The plot above depicts every pitch Allen saw in his second major stint (August 9, 2018 – September 30, 2018) also broken down by pitch type and outcome. Allen saw 404 pitches as a left-handed batter and 112 as a righty during that time. In comparison to the first stint, this plot shows that Allen was able to lay off a greater amount of breaking balls down and out of the zone when batting left-handed. He also was able to make more contact with pitches that were over the middle of the plate, especially breaking balls.
Allen has struggled to translate his walk rate to the majors. In 47 games with Columbus, Allen had a walk rate of 9.8%, while in his 91 games with the Indians, his walk rate was nearly halved at 5.15%.
Allen did show improvement here throughout the season, going from a 3.8% walk rate in his first major long stint to 6.77% in his second. There could be a direct correlation between Allen’s comfort at the plate at the major league level and being able to see more pitches, and in return, more walks.
Defensively, although Allen has only played left field about a dozen times throughout his professional career, he offers depth at all three outfield positions. Allen has played the vast majority of his career in center, where he won a gold glove in 2016 with Double-A Akron.
Allen is an average defender, with a 1 OAA according to Baseball Savant, but he has had moments of absolute brilliance. Most notably, he robbed Astros third baseman Alex Bregman of a home run in May and made two sensational catches in center to help maintain a lead in early August at Fenway. He offered a .995 fielding percentage in 2018 with the Indians, .008 points higher than league average.
When asked how he is preparing for a full season this year, Allen commented on a meeting with a new personal trainer and changing to a workout routine to better prepare his body for 162 games:
“Obviously guys are trying to get bigger, better, stronger, but also looking at ways to make the body more durable. Looking at things such as posture and the way that your body moves… Your range of motion and flexibility and things like that. Things that may get overlooked at times but that can make a big impact as far as the way your body feels … throughout the course of the year. So again, I was fortunate to get in contact with him and kind of take things from there.”
If Allen is able to break camp on the big league roster and is able to continue the success he had at the end of last year, he has the potential to turn himself into an everyday player for the Tribe. With the right combination of athleticism and speed, he would fit right into the Indians’ plan of being younger in the field and more aggressive on the basepaths. The only thing left for Allen to do is prove the front office is right.