It’s fine — usually the pundits give up on the A’s during the pre-season even when they’re good. Because we don’t have Ohtani or Trout!!!! So maybe this time they will be right, as the A’s ponder the scope of their rebuilding, not whether to rebuild. Will they shoot for high-upside A-ball players, be terribad now but maybe really good later? Or will they go for “MLB ready” prospects a la Dan Haren and Dan Meyer (spoiler alert: one Dan turned out better than the other), in order to be good sooner but perhaps not as great?
Less difficult to predict was my Thanksgiving dinner, in which somehow Aunt Bertha showed up 8 pounds heavier and that was before consuming Cindi’s Twice Cooked Turducken. How was the Turducken? Let’s just say it was supposed to be cooked only once and was namely after the fact. It gave Uncle Perv more runs than the A’s will likely score all of April.
On to baseball, where Thanks giving up is in full swing...
The Nick Allen Era
Among the popular questions and debates is when we will see the first of Nick Allen, shortstop extraordinaire who has been playing some 2B of late and trying to rise above his “light hitting” reputation. Allen appears headed for a career somewhere between Andrelton Simmons and Brendan Ryan, and has currently logged 50 AA games (.319/.374/.471) and 39 games at AAA (.243/.302/.301).
It’s a bit hard to assess a hitter who mashes in pitcher-friendly AA and then slugs .301 in Las Vegas. Allen turned 23 in October and is the heir apparent to Elvis Andrus — if he doesn’t slide over to 2B first where the A’s have an opening.
First of all, I am very much against Allen playing 2B more than in a pinch. His value comes from being a “gold glove caliber SS,” which is what will carry him as a hitter unlikely to sniff 100 wRC+. A gold glove SS hitting .240/.320/.360 is valuable, but that line at 2B is far less appealing.
As for supplanting Andrus, there are really only two reasons to elevate a prospect early. One is that the prospect is simply ready and has nothing left to learn or prove in the minor leagues — he just needs the big league reps in order to settle in. The other is that the team is pushing for a post-season berth and even raw, the player is likely to out-perform alternative options.
Neither is the case here. Allen just turned 23, has precious few games above A-ball and scuffled big time in his first taste of AAA. He has plenty to prove, and much still to work on, at the plate. Meanwhile, the A’s are hardly guaranteed to be pushing for the post-season and as mediocre as Andrus may be (he finished 2021 with a slash line of .243/.294/.320) there is little reason to believe Allen would hit any better right now. Indeed, Fangraphs’ best guess at a projection has Allen hitting 239./288/.343 if here were to spend 2022 in the big leagues.
So for the loss in service time — and perhaps more importantly, confidence and development — you might get an upgrade in defense for a non-competitive team. There is just no way to justify promoting Allen any time soon even if you don’t pine, as a fan, for the “representative product” that Andrus offers.
More likely, you will get your first glimpse of Allen sometime after the All-Star break, conveniently in time to prevent Andrus’ option from vesting. No way are the A’s going to let themselves get stuck paying Andrus $15M, in 2023, to be a 35-year old shortstop who hasn’t sniffed 80 wRC+ since 2017 (though he did show “the spirit of 76” twice). This assumes, of course, that Allen acquits himself well at AAA and the A’s don’t need to dive into the dumpster to pull a Pete Kozma out of their arse as a stopgap.
But without a doubt, Allen is one of the A’s minor leaguers most worth following in 2022, along with Luis Barrera (if he’s not patrolling Oakland’s outfield), Jonah Bride (.265/.407/.424 in Midland, potential heir apparent to Matt Olson), Zack Gelof (.298/.393/.548 in Stockton, possible heir apparent to Matt Chapman), Jeff Criswell (22 year old SP with upside), and Tyler Soderstrom (.306 /.390/.568 in Stockton before injury curtailed his season after 57 games).
To be an A’s fan right now is to play the long game. Hopefully only for a relatively short time.