Each year since his arrival, Cody Allen has assumed a larger role for the Cleveland Indians.
While the role may not have much more room to grow, the level of importance could. Now Cleveland’s closer, Allen will be expected to close down games for the Tribe with hopes of progressing to the Indians’ first division crown since 2007.
Allen was selected by the Indians in the 23rd round of the 2011 First Year Player Draft. Originally a starter in college, the Indians transformed Allen to a relief pitcher. Using his plus-fastball, Allen progressed through the minor leagues quickly. After 23 appearances at four different levels during the second half of 2011, Allen opened the season at High-A Carolina in 2012. By the end of April he had progressed through Double-A Akron and was a fixture in the Triple-A Columbus bullpen. On July 20, Allen made his major league debut and has never returned to the minor leagues. He was just the second player from his draft class to make his major league debut, behind just Trevor Bauer.
In 2013, Allen was one of the last relievers to make manager Terry Francona’s bullpen out of spring training. Once making the team, he quickly solidified himself as a high-leverage arm from the right side. As the Indians made their late season push to the playoffs, Allen and Bryan Shaw became two of their most reliable arms. Allen appeared in 16 games during the September push.
Last season, Allen opened the year as the clear, 8th-inning pitcher, facing both right and left handed hitters. His 8th-inning role was originally to set up closer John Axford. But Axford struggled in the first six weeks of the season and after a near-disaster on May 9 at Tampa Bay, Axford was removed from the closer’s role. Francona never named a definitive closer, instead choosing to use his relievers as necessary in high-leverage situations, but Allen clearly emerged as the ninth inning man through the summer. At season’s end, Allen closed 24 games and was the assumed ninth inning man.
Allen opens this season as the team’s closer. Now, Shaw and left-handers Marc Rzepczynski and Nick Hagadone will open the season as the Indians’ primary set up men for Allen. Allen’s success in 2015 could be as dependent upon his set up men, as it is upon himself. If Shaw and the others cannot get the game to the ninth inning, Allen won’t have a chance to close out a victory. If Shaw, Rzepczynski and Hagadone take over the seventh and eighth innings, Allen could again rival the 77 and 76 games he’s appeared in the last two seasons.
The role of the bullpen is an ever-changing situation, but when the Indians have been division or pennant contenders, they’ve always had a strong bullpen with quality closer. This season, Allen finds himself as the kingpin to the bullpen’s success—closing down victories—and one of the core members of the 25-man roster.
Allen’s role has grown each season, but his ability to settle in as a core member of the roster, with other young players like Corey Kluber, Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes will be a big indication of the team’s success this year. It may be the difference as to whether Allen is on the mound closing out a division title in late September.
Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer