From the moment Nick Allen walked into spring training this year, it was clear he was ready for a new start.
“He has put on about 10 pounds,” farm director Keith Lieppman said. “It’s very noticeable.”
The diminutive 20-year-old shortstop spent his offseason in the weight room, working to add muscle to his 5-foot-9 frame as he closes in on 170 pounds. The impact was clear.
“He’s been able to get his legs in a better base and foundation,” said Lieppman, who also noted that Allen had been a front-foot hitter, routinely reaching for pitches. “Having a little more weight allows him to stay in his stance longer and lets the ball travel farther. He’s starting to drive the ball. His exit velocity has been outstanding—95 (mph) plus.”
The San Diego high school product hit just .239 for low Class A Beloit last year, his first full season after being drafted in the third round in 2017. The Athletics see it as just the beginning of the process for Allen.
“He has tremendous hands, quickness and a quick release,” Lieppman said. “He has all the ingredients of an above-average defensive shortstop, and he takes pride in everything that he does.
“He’s a very quick study of the game, and he’s passionate about it . . . He has an interesting imagination on how to make certain plays, and he’s creative in how he goes about things.”
Defense is Allen’s strength, with his arm grading out as plus and excellent range. He is working to develop more consistency on defense while also improving his approach at the plate.
“He’s learning,” Lieppman said. “. . . It is a big jump to come out of high school and go to (the Midwest League).”
Part of what makes Allen’s package so appealing is that he plays with a passion for the game, Lieppman said. Though he is not a speedster, he is an excellent baserunner who can steal and take an extra base when needed.
Allen is just now learning how to drive the ball to the gaps, though home run power is not expected to be a strong future asset.
— Austin Beck has created a lot of excitement this spring, since it appears that his power has started to develop. The 20-year-old showed excellent skills last year at low Class A Beloit in his first full season but hit only two homer runs. He hit two homers in the early spring games, and if the center fielder adds power, he could become an offensive threat.
— Top prospect Jesus Luzardo was shut down for four to six weeks after shoulder discomfort at the end of spring training. The lefthander spent the spring in big league camp and challenged for a rotation spot before the injury.
— Lefthander A.J. Puk has had no setbacks in his Tommy John surgery recovery and he has made consistent progress during spring training.