Kolby Allard Makes Braves Debut
DURHAM, N.C. — Braves lefthander Kolby Allard is one of the most interesting pitching prospects in baseball.
He opened the season with Triple-A Gwinnett as the youngest pitcher in the International League and the second youngest player, behind only teammate Ronald Acuna Jr. It was the same situation he was in during the 2017 season, when he and teammate Mike Soroka dominated the Double-A Southern League as two if the league's youngest pitchers.
So, how did Allard take to Triple-A, where the competition was even more advanced, facing some hitters with years of experience in the major leagues?
Through the first two months of the season, Allard, who will make his major league debut Tuesday against the Marlins, put forth a 2.09 ERA, which ranked among the best in the minors. He’s cooled down a little bit since then, but his 2.80 ERA still stands as the best in the league, behind only Lehigh Valley’s Enyel De Los Santos (Phillies) and Charlotte’s Donn Roach, who has since been released by the White Sox to pursue other opportunities overseas.
The most impressive thing about Allard, perhaps, is how he gets his outs. During a time in the game when velocity reigns supreme, he’s a throwback. His fastball peaks in the low 90s and neither his changeup nor his curveball could truly be graded as plus. So, how does he do it?
He just pitches.
“There’s so many guys with such good stuff these days that it’s not the guys with the best stuff who are going to hang around and have 10- to 15-year big league careers,” Allard said during a recent series in Durham. “Obviously that helps, but just learning how to pitch and how to attack hitters and how to work your way through lineups one, two and three times (per game). And you’re facing teams four times in a season and you’re facing guys four times in a game if you’re going deep into ballgames.”
A big part of Allard’s development over the past two seasons involved the refinement of his changeup. Like most high school standouts, he didn’t need much more than two pitches during his amateur career. The fastball and curveball got the job done and then some.
That obviously changed in pro ball, where three pitches are required to have a future in the big league rotation. So over the last year and a half, he’s worked hard to get his changeup to the same level as his other two offerings.
“Midway through the year last year is when I really started focusing on it. A couple of guys (with the Braves) sat down with me and said, ‘We think this could be a huge weapon for you,” and I ended up just kind of putting my head to it and I’m very happy I did,” Allard said. “Now it’s one of my strengths.”
Allard tweaked the grip on the pitch a little bit in pro ball, but for the most part the key to its development has simply been throwing it over and over in order to build conviction.
“Overall, it’s the same thing. It’s just having the confidence to throw it and knowing when to throw it—what counts, what situations,” he said. “It’s just getting repetitions. I’ve been throwing it a lot more and have gotten a lot more confidence with it. I can try to tweak it and try to make it run a little bit more, sink a little bit more, maybe cut it a little bit. There’s a lot of different variations you can do with it. It’s something that is obviously still a work in progress, but I think with the way I command my fastball, it’s something that will be a big weapon down the road.”
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That experience against older competition throughout his amateur and pro careers has helped harden him as well. Because Acuna didn’t enter the Southern League until midway through the year, Allard began the season, after skipping high Class A entirely, as the youngest player on the circuit. He won’t be the youngest when he reaches the major leagues, but he’ll still arrive in Atlanta two weeks shy of his 21st birthday.
To put that in perspective, there are 18 players on the Braves’ affiliate in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League who are older than Allard.
“It’s cool to play with (older guys) because you play with a lot of guys who have been around the game a lot and can help you in that way,” Allard said. “I go out there and have a pretty good mind set on executing pitches—it’s just me and the catcher—so I don’t usually think about it too much, but obviously when that call hopefully does come, you know that you’ve been facing older guys your whole career, so I guess it gives you more confidence.”
That call has arrived, and Allard’s time is now.