Allen’s Arm a Draft Steal
Bob Toth | On 02, Jun 2013
The 2013 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft will occur this week. The Cleveland Indians will draft fifth overall.
In two of the big three sports in Cleveland, draft days are treated like a city-wide holiday. The difference for those watching and waiting for the results of the MLB draft is that only in rare cases do you see the players picked actually pay dividends within the next few seasons.
Players typically toil for years in the minor league system employed by the MLB, as teams work players through several tiers of the farm system, honing their skills and developing the young prospects into productive big league contributors, if all goes right. But every now and then, there are exceptions to the usual order of things. The Indians’ Cody Allen is one of these exceptions.
Allen was drafted in the 16th round of the 2010 draft by the Cleveland Indians from St. Petersburg College in Florida. The Florida native did not sign with the organization after the draft and returned to the collegiate game.
One year later, the Indians again came calling to the young right-hander, drafting Allen in the 23rd round of the 2011 draft from High Point University in North Carolina. Picked 218 spots later than the previous season, Allen signed on with the Tribe and jumped into the team’s minor league system.
In his half-season of work, Allen spent the majority of the time at short-season Mahoning Valley. He appeared in 14 games and logged just under 34 innings, posting a 3-1 record with a 2.14 ERA. He averaged 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings and 4.7 strikeouts per walk.
He also split time in Low-A at Lake County, appearing in seven games and earning a 2-0 record. He did not allow a run in 17 innings of work and built on his solid showing at Mahoning Valley. He averaged 14.8 strikeouts per nine innings and 5.6 strikeouts per walk.
In addition to the work in the lower levels of the farm system, he appeared in a game at Double-A Akron and another game at High-A Kinston. He allowed a pair of runs on three hits in an inning in Akron. He threw three scoreless innings in Kinston, striking out three and allowing just one hit.
The end of the season numbers across the four levels he appeared in were quite intriguing for a ball player in his first half season of professional work. He finished with a 5-1 record with a 1.65 ERA and a 0.896 WHIP. He averaged 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings and 5.36 strikeouts per walk.
The solid showing for Allen earned him a spot with Carolina (formerly Kinston) to start the 2012 season. His stay was short as he appeared in just two games, threw four scoreless innings, and allowed one hit while striking out eight of the 13 batters he faced.
Advanced to Akron, Allen spent less than two weeks at the Double-A level. His numbers again were outstanding.
The 23-year old reliever made five appearances for the Aeros and finished two games. He earned his first professional save. He totaled seven and two-thirds innings of work and gave up just two hits. The only run he allowed in his stay in April with Akron came off of a home run. After striking out ten of the 25 batters he faced at the Double-A level, he was again promoted, less than two weeks after arriving on the scene at Canal Park.
Allen’s meteoric accent through the farm system was not quite done. He spent two and a half months with Columbus of the Triple-A level, appearing in 24 games for the Clippers. He earned a 3-2 record while posting a 2.27 ERA and earning a pair of saves in his longest stay at any level in his minor league career. He accumulated just two innings fewer than his effort at Mahoning Valley, his previous professional high.
Even at the AAA level, his stuff was still effective and striking out batters. While slightly off of his minor league pace, he struck out 28% of the batters he faced, lowering his 2013 season percentage to 32.5%. The previous season, he K’d 34.9%.
With a combined 3-2 record, three saves, 1.87 ERA, and 0.785 WHIP, and after playing just one year and one month professionally, Allen received his call up to the Major Leagues.
On July 20th, 2012, Allen made his Major League debut in Cleveland against the Baltimore Orioles in a blowout. Derek Lowe was finished after three-plus innings after allowing an earned run in the first, six in the third, and two more in the fourth.
Allen was uncharacteristically wild, maybe affected by the nerves of being in the show after such a short professional career. He walked a pair of batters on full count pitches to load the bases after inheriting one of Lowe’s base runners. Chris Davis grounded into a fielder’s choice, scoring the ninth and final earned run charged to Lowe. Up against another big slugger (and unbeknownst at the time, a future teammate, Mark Reynolds), he earned his first big league strikeout, getting Reynolds to swing and miss on a 1-2 pitch for the second out. A groundout ended the inning and his debut. The Indians lost by a 10-2 final.
Allen’s quick rise to the Majors made him the first player in the American League from his 2011 draft class. He was the second in all of baseball, as only the third overall pick from that draft, future teammate Trevor Bauer, would reach the Bigs before he did. Bauer debuted less than one month before Allen, on June 28th.
Allen went a full month (twelve appearances) for the Indians before relinquishing his first earned runs. With the score tied, 1-1, in the seventh inning, Allen came on in relief and gave up a single to Derek Jeter. The next batter up, another future teammate in Nick Swisher drove a two-run home run over the wall in right-center field. The runs proved to be the deciding factor in the game, a 3-1 final, earning Allen his first loss of his Major League career.
Beginning with that loss, Allen was not quite as effective, as in 15 games and 15 1/3 innings to end the season, he allowed 12 earned runs and had a 7.04 ERA. The opposition batted .348 against him in this stretch that coincidentally enough occurred in the innings that exceeded his innings total from the 2011 season.
The final numbers on Allen at Cleveland on the 2012 season, even with the rough end to his rookie year, still amounted to a lot of optimism for Indians fans and nearly locked him in to a bullpen spot for the 2013 season. He ended 0-1 with one hold, allowed a 3.72 ERA, and averaged just less than one strikeout per inning.
This year, the Indians bullpen has had periods of dominance mixed in with frustrating moments of ineffectiveness. Allen, however, has remained one of the reliable arms throughout, posting a 1-0 record with a 2.16 ERA through the season’s first two months. He has struck out 33 batters in 25 innings, good for an 11.9 strikeout per nine ratio. With just seven walks, he is averaging 4.71 strikeouts per walk. On May 12th, he earned his first Major League save, retiring the final out in the tenth inning of a 4-3 Indians win against the Detroit Tigers.
After allowing four runs, three earned, in his first two outings of the season, Allen has settled into a nice groove. In the 20 appearances since, he has struck out 30 batters and walked just four in 22 innings, has a 1.23 ERA during that time, and has limited the opponents to a .137 batting average, making his efforts this season look even more impressive after the brief struggles out of the gate.
Much has been made this season about Allen having the potential makeup to be a future closer in the game. While he has a small sample size to consider, his overall numbers have been impressive and his splits have shown him to be more than just a matchup type of reliever.
He has been able to handle right-handed hitters almost as effectively as left-handers. Righties are hitting .178 on the year with eight hits; lefties are batting .182 with eight hits of their own. All seven walks he has allowed on the season have been to right-handers.
He has been lights out at home, averaging 64% strikes on the mound and striking out 17 batters to three walks. With just one earned run in eleven and one-third innings of work, he has a Progressive Field ERA of 0.79.
The bullpen has had its struggles this season, but for manager Terry Francona, he knows that he has had a few reliable guys, like Allen, who he has been able to trust to hand the ball off to when he has needed it this season.
Allen brings an arsenal of a mid-90’s fastball and two offspeed pitches, the curveball and the slider, that hover in the low- to mid-80’s. He has already seen higher stress situations, as he saw in his save situation in Detroit, and has been used extensively as a sixth and seventh inning guy.
All of this early success is pretty remarkable for the 698th pick of a draft from just two years ago.
While so much of the attention goes to the players drafted at the top of the draft, remember too that, every now and then, a diamond in the rough can be found anywhere throughout the class.
Allen has proven already to be a gem.
Photo: Hunter Martin/Getty Images