By Eriq Gardner //
Brandon Allen had quite the debut with the Arizona Diamondbacks last week, hitting a go-ahead grand slam homer.
Might the great game be a sign that Allen is ready to be contributor in the final month of the season?
Allen was picked in the fifth round of the 2004 amateur draft by the Chicago White Sox. His big breakthrough as a prospect came in 2008, when as a member of the Birmingham Barons, he led the Carolina league with a .527 slugging percentage.
Going into the following season, he was ranked as the team’s fourth-best prospect by Baseball America
, which remarked at the time that “the last hitter to show this much power at Birmingham was Chris Young
,” who coincidentally is now Allen’s teammate and tied for 13th in the major leagues in homers.
In July, 2009, Allen was sent to Arizona in a deal for reliever Tony Pena. For a moment, the trade looked to be the ultimate steal for Arizona. Playing for the Reno Aces, Allen had a .641 slugging percentage. He was first called up to the majors last September, but didn’t fare so well. Allen hit four home runs in 104 AB, but struck out 40 times and suffered a .202 batting average.
The struggles probably cost him an opportunity to open the season as a starter for the Diamondbacks. Instead, the team signed Adam LaRoche and sent Allen back to the minors to work on his plate patience.
No one doubts that Allen has tremendous power, but the question has always been whether he would make enough contact. Scouts looking at his swing noticed some inefficiencies
that prevented him from committing too soon to off-speed pitches.
Judging by Allen’s statistics at Reno this season
, it appears that he made changes. Most noticeably, his walk rate hit a career-high level of 17.7%, which has paved the way to an on-base percentage over .400. Allen continued to hit for power, with 25 minor league HR this season, and even chipped in some speed with 14 steals. But growth in plate discipline is the best sign he may turn into a well-rounded contributor.
The most notable aspect of Allen’s major league debut this season for Arizona was not the grand slam, but rather the fact he got a start as a left fielder. Allen moved over from his natural first base position, and the start indicates the team may be comfortable enough with his fielding in the outfield. He’s received 11 plate appearances over five games so far.
With Justin Upton continuing to nurse a shoulder injury and with the below-average Gerardo Parra manning the other outfield corner spot, Allen looks primed to get plenty of playing time for the out-of-contention Diamondbacks. He’ll be hitting in a very hitter-friendly ballpark, so it’s easy to envision Allen having a hot month as he campaigns to be a team regular in future seasons. If you’re in an NL-only or deep mixed league, pick him up.