In a professional career that has spanned parts of three seasons and a total of 194 games Greg Allen has stolen 89 bases while being caught just 21 times. This gives him a career stolen base percentage of 81%. In his short professional career this level of excellence compares favorably with well-known speedsters in the Hall of Fame, such as Lou Brock, who had a 75% rate, and Rickey Henderson, whose stolen base rate was just over 80%.
Allen was drafted by Cleveland in the sixth round of the 2014 First Year Player Draft. He attended college at San Diego State and was among the final class of players to benefit from the tutelage of “Mr. Padre” and Aztec head coach Tony Gwynn.
“I had enough time to get close to Coach Gwynn.” said Allen, “His insight, his love and passion for the game and being successful at it and his ability to share that with the players he coached was a great experience.”
As the leadoff hitter of the 2016 edition of the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats, Allen is developing his game to take advantage of his speed. This plus tool was on display in the team’s fourth game of the season as the Hill City team faced off in their final contest of four against the visiting Winston-Salem Dash.
The Hillcats would win the game by a 2-0 score and Allen’s speed was instrumental in that final tally. In his first two plate appearances that Sunday, Allen worked a base-on-balls off the Dash starter, Jordan Stephens. Following the first walk Allen stole second base and then advanced to third on a fly out by teammate Yu-Cheng Chang. With two outs in the inning, a difficult pitch from Stephens led to a passed ball by Dash catcher Chris O’Dowd and Allen sprinted home with Lynchburg’s first run of the game.
Lynchburg was able to turn their roster over in the second inning, allowing Allen to again leadoff the third inning. He worked a second walk off of Stephens and again promptly put his speed to use. With Chang again at-bat, he stole second. Chang was walked and without delay Allen stole third base on the next pitch. This set the table for the three-hole hitter, Anthony Santander who lofted a deep fly ball to center field that brought Allen in to score on a sacrifice fly. Strong pitching by the Hillcats staff scattered the hits by Dash batters and the 2-0 score held up as the Hillcats won their third game of the season.
When Allen was drafted he was compared favorably with current Washington Nationals center fielder Ben Revere. He has the speed to be a quality glove in center field, and his college experience under the watchful eye of Gwynn has set the tone for his career aspirations.
“Whenever you hear those projections, it is humbling,” said Allen. “He’s had some success at the big league level, and to be in that same conversation is great. Hopefully I continue to improve and show my skills on the field.”
He is again working with hitting coach Larry Day and has developed a strong rapport with the young coach.
“We are always trying to improve things at the plate. Having a chance to work with LD last year, which was his first year, was great. He’s phenomenal in his knowledge of the game, his ability as a coach to want to learn and get better. So transferring that over to this year and being able to work with him more allows us to continue what we started last year.”
Allen has continued to develop his skills as a switch-hitter as part of his game.
“I’m naturally right-handed, it was something I played around with as a kid,” said Allen about being a switch hitter. “I really took it on in high school and ever since have kept it up.”
Not a power hitter, the batting approach he uses is a slashing style that works to produce line drives in the gaps so that he can take advantage of his speed.
“The mindset of the organization as a whole is just being aggressive,” said Allen. “The primary way to win games is to score runs, so whatever I can do to get on base to aid that, a walk, hit by a pitch, or getting hits, just getting on base allows the guys behind you in the order to pick you up.”
So far this season through his first eleven games, Allen has used that aggressive approach to be successful. He has a .325 batting average, 13 walks, 13 stolen bases in 13 attempts, and has scored 14 runs in 54 trips to the batter’s box. Both his walk and stolen base totals currently lead the Carolina League.
The young protégé of Tony Gwynn is using what he was taught to develop mastery of the game the he enjoys.
“Coach Gwynn was big on slowing the game down,” said Allen. “Taking a deep breath and, regardless of the situation, having the self-control and body control to put your best foot forward.”
Though the season is almost two weeks old, Allen has put his best foot forward and is leading the 2016 edition of the Hillcats towards a successful season. As he matures his skills and tools he is just looking for opportunities on the field and to continue to be successful and advance up the organizational ladder.
Photo: Lathan Goumas/The News and Advance