Allen Succeeds in Any Role He’s Given
Mike B. | On 12, Mar 2014
The Cleveland Indians open the 2014 season with new expectations despite many questions. The Indians’ 25-man roster will look different than the group that won 92 games and lost the American League Wild Card game to the Tampa Bay Rays. While the roster may change and the expectations grow, Cleveland will need answer many questions this spring before opening the season in Oakland on March 31. Today, we look at one of the Indians’ players who will be in a new role this season than they were in 2013.
Cody Allen has made it look so easy, most big leaguers are likely envious of his success.
Allen made a quick catapult through the Cleveland Indians farm system, and once hitting the Tribe’s bullpen has done nothing but shine in his year and a half at the big league level. This season Allen will likely open the season in a key set-up role in front of new closer John Axford. Allen’s new role this season is just one of the many moves in the Indians’ new look bullpen.
Drafted in the 23rd round of the 2011 First Year Player Draft, Allen made a quick climb through the minor league system. He spent most of his first season at Short Season-A Mahoning Valley before finishing the season as high as Double-A Akron. After opening 2012 at High-A Carolina and making two appearances, pitching coach Scott Erickson told play-by-play man Darren Headrick to have Allen on the pregame show quickly or else he would miss him. Headrick had Allen on the show and the next day he was promoted. By the end of April 2012, Allen was at Triple-A Columbus, just nine months after being drafted.
The Indians purchased Allen’s contract on July 20, 2012 and he made his big league debut the same day. He was just the second player from the 2011 draft to make a big league appearance. However, Trevor Bauer—the first player to appear from the 2011 draft in the big leagues—has made several returns to the minor leagues. Allen has never looked back.
Allen appeared in 27 games in 2012, compiling a 3.72 ERA in his first big league stint. After manager Manny Acta was replaced by Terry Francona, Allen came to 2013 spring training competing for a job in the Tribe’s bullpen. Allen’s intensity was so much that Francona had to tell Allen early that he had made the Opening Day roster and should just relax and prepare himself for the season.
His preparation paid off, pitching in 77 games and firing 70.1 innings while striking out 88 hitters and earning a 2.43 ERA in 2013. When closer Chris Perez and set-up man Vinnie Pestano faltered throughout the season, Francona became more reliant on the young Allen in the bullpen. As the Indians needed every game in September, Allen became one of the go-to pitchers in the bullpen. He appeared in 16 games during the September surge to the postseason.
Now, the 2014 bullpen has a new look compared to season’s previous. Gone are Perez and Joe Smith. Pestano is trying to just earn a spot in the bullpen after a subpar 2013, so many relievers will have new roles this season. It’s expected that Allen will move from a middle relief role—pitching in the sixth or seventh inning—to being Axford’s main set-up man in the eighth inning. It’s a role with greater pressure and intensity, but Allen has handled each role in stride. How he handles his new role in 2014 will go a long way to stabilizing the new bullpen.
Allen makes an excellent choice to be the eighth inning set-up man for Axford’s ninth inning because of his success against both right-handed and left-handed hitters. A year ago lefty hitters hit only .228 against Allen, while righties were just slightly more successful at .238. Being a pitcher who can get hitters out from both sides of the plate creates a situation where Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway do not need to match up with different pitchers. Allen’s big fastball also creates the increased possibility of earning a key strikeout with runners on base. Getting outs in late innings without the runners moving is key.
A quick climb through the minor league system and continued increase in role makes Allen a clear choice for a set-up role in 2014. His ability to help bridge the gap from the middle innings to Axford in the ninth will go a long way to stabilizing the new bullpen. Long term, it could just be the next step in Allen’s progression to the back of the bullpen. With Axford just on a one-year contract, Allen could be a step away from yet another new role, the closer in waiting for 2015.
Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer