We can start by saying the 25-year-old is a talented defender with elite speed who requires development at the plate in order to stick long-term. I think if we start to peel back the layers a little bit, there are reasons why his 2018 should give us hope that he will continue to develop into a solid everyday player.
I think it is important to take a look at Allen’s full resume before we begin. In 2017, the Indians recalled Allen from Double-A toward the end of the season. He did not have any at-bats in Triple-A until this year, and even then he only logged 205 total plate appearances in Columbus. It is a tall order to ask any player but the monumentally gifted to essentially skip their last developmental step before the majors.
Allen spent so little time in Columbus in part due to his .298/.395/.409 slash line. He did this with some assistance from a BABIP of .389, but the patience at the plate stands out as the most beneficial thing to me. Allen will be most valuable as a player that consistently reaches base. He does not need to hit for much power or average if he’s among the team leaders in on-base percentage.
Part of the reason for this is that pretty much any single or walk by Allen immediately threatens to become a double. In 496 plate appearances between the minors and majors this season he stole 33 bases against 10 caught-stealing. The ratio at the major league level was much better: 21 to 4. With that speed, any extra base hit is a run scored regardless of where he is on the diamond, and any single is a run scored if he’s beyond first base. The numbers bear this out, as well.
If we extrapolate Allen’s value on the basepath using Fangraphs’ BSR to an entire season’s worth of plate appearances, he would be one of the ten best players in baseball by that metric, joining the likes of Mookie Betts, Whit Merrifield, and Billy Hamilton. Extrapolating is dangerous and not a guarantee of future performance (thanks, Dr. Brenneman — I learned something in statistics after all), but his speed and instincts on the basepath suggest that he’ll continue to wreak havoc.
What that left us in 2018 is a speedy, slick fielder whose contributions balance out to roughly replacement level according to Fangraphs and Baseball Reference. So, why do I think he has a chance to become an everyday player?
First, as I already mentioned — he pretty much skipped Triple-A, and he showed competency there when he briefly visited. We all know that the adjustment to the majors is the biggest one, however, and we have the label “AAAA player” for good reason. Will he be able to make those adjustments and contribute at the plate?
He was a completely different player in the second half of the season, driven mostly by his patience at the plate beginning to shine through. In the first half, Allen walked only 4% of the time, and struck out 24% of the time. In the second half, he bumped the walk rate up to 5.7% and nudged the strikeout rate down to 15.6%. The walk rate still isn’t phenomenal, but in September and October he managed a 10.7 walk rate. That all added up to a wRC+ of 114 in the second half. This is quite a bit better than his 39 in the first half.
I present these second half numbers with the standard “small sample size” warning, but these feel more indicative of what his true talent might be when you consider it alongside the larger sampling of minor league at-bats that we have to review.
And remember, Allen is an excellent defender at a premium position. The best center fielders in baseball can all mash, but there are plenty of good players — Kevin Pillar, Jackie Bradley Jr, and Ender Enciarte to name a couple — who offer plenty of value in the middle of the outfield while being below league average at the plate. The offensive requirements for a center fielder are frankly lower, and Allen’s future role on the Indians needs to be considered with that in mind.
It is possible that Allen’s on-base skills won’t permanently translate to the major league level. I’m looking forward to seeing how he plays in the spring. I don’t think we should all bank on it, but he, Leonys Martin, and Oscar Mercado are all players we should keep an eye on as the 2019 season is getting ready to begin. The years of a mostly-barren outfield in Cleveland may be coming to an end.