OAKLAND -- When the A’s opted to enter a rebuilding phase this spring, the focus for the 2022 season shifted to identifying the next crop of talent that will eventually lead them back to playoff contention. High atop that list of young players expected to usher in the new generation is Nick Allen.
In what continues to be a frustrating season when it comes to wins and losses, Allen, Oakland’s No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline, represents a beacon of light, a hope for a better tomorrow. Called up earlier in the day from Triple-A Las Vegas, Allen provided a glimpse of that bright future in Tuesday’s 8-2 loss to the Mariners at the Coliseum, smashing his first Major League home run, a 378-foot two-run blast that landed just above the left-field scoreboard.
“It definitely was a good way to start,” Allen said. “I felt a couple of barrels tonight, which was really good. The home run, it’s Oakland, so I didn’t know if it was going out or not. I’m glad I knocked that one out.”
Long considered one of the elite defenders in Minor League Baseball with Gold Glove-caliber skills at shortstop, Allen has been hard at work trying to refine his offensive game to prepare for big league pitching.
Following his most recent demotion to Triple-A on May 22, he adjusted his focus at the plate to stay on top of the ball in order to hit line drives with more force. The new approach quickly brought impressive results. Through 16 games in June with Las Vegas, Allen slashed .365/.500/.538 with a homer, six doubles, 11 RBIs and 14 walks.
One game back, that line-drive focus carried over. Even Allen’s groundout to first in the fifth was struck well, at an exit velocity of 94.9 mph off the bat. Listed at 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds, Allen is likely never going to be known as a slugger. However, his emphasis on making offensive improvements shows a desire to maximize his potential.
“He’s amazing,” said A’s starter James Kaprielian, who bounced back from a rough outing in Boston last week by limiting Seattle to two runs on five hits and two walks with seven strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings. “You can see the talent that Nick has on defense. That’s the thing that people probably talk about most with him. But I know how hard he’s worked at the plate. To be productive at the plate and show he is a Major League baseball player, it is cool to see him get his first one, and I have no doubt there’s going to be many more to come.”
Allen isn’t the only recently promoted A’s prospect generating buzz. There’s also Jonah Bride, Oakland’s No. 26 prospect, who after collecting another two hits on Tuesday night is now 8-for-24 (.333) with a double through the first seven Major League games of his career. Extending his hitting streak to six games, his hot start has seen him quickly ascend from the bottom of the order to Oakland’s No. 2 hitter over the past few days.
“He’s a big positive in our lineup right now,” manager Mark Kotsay said of Bride. “You think of young players when they get here and you don’t know what to expect. But he’s been talked about in our organization as a hitter, and he continues to show us why.”
It’s fitting that both Allen and Bride are making an impact at the same time. The two have formed a close friendship over the past few years, formed in 2019 when they were roommates while playing for the Stockton Ports, Oakland’s High-A affiliate at the time. So when Bride received news of his first big league callup last week, Allen was naturally among those he called to share the excitement.
“When I got that call, we talked that night about seeing each other soon,” Bride said. “It just makes it special that he hit that first homer tonight and I was here for it. We’re pretty close. We talk a lot. We hang out in the offseason. Getting to be out on that field together is very cool.”
It’s not a full-on youth movement in Oakland just yet, but Tuesday certainly felt like the first step. Prior to the game, Kotsay indicated that Allen is likely to receive ample playing time at both shortstop and second base, unlike the limited at-bats he got in his previous two stints with Oakland.
Between Allen and Bride getting good looks and top-rated prospect Shea Langeliers in line for a Major League debut later this season if his current tear at Triple-A continues, the A’s are inching closer to discovering what that next wave of future talent holds.
“In terms of Nick, Jonah and the younger guys, this is the time to evaluate them for the long term,” Kotsay said. “These guys are getting an opportunity here.”