In January, MLB Pipeline released its annual All-Defense Prospect lineup, choosing the best individual defender at eight different positions from among the entire minor leagues. Two Oakland A’s prospects made the cut, shortstop Nick Allen and outfielder Buddy Reed, both of them making their second career appearance on the list.
Allen and Reed each played in the A’s Cactus League opener on Sunday against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and they wasted no time showing off their highly touted defensive talents.
First up was Reed, who started the game in right field. In the 2nd inning, the Dodgers had a runner on second and the batter lined a single to right. Reed fielded it cleanly and used his excellent 60-grade arm to deliver a perfect throw to home plate, in plenty of time to nab the runner trying to score.
Outfield cannons are back. pic.twitter.com/GbkCrluRad— MLB (@MLB) February 28, 2021
He nearly notched another assist later. Mookie Betts lofted a fly somewhat deep to right, and a runner tried to advance to third after the catch. Reed unleashed a throw directly to the bag that got there on just one perfectly placed hop, but this time the runner beat it by a hair. You can see just how close it was in the images below — the first shows how deep he caught it (and near the RF corner), the second is where the 3B caught the throw, and the third is the tag.
Reed’s bat has held him back so far on his journey toward the majors, and indeed he went 0-for-3 on the day. He struck out looking, then hit a grounder that was nearly a double play, and then struck out again chasing high out of the zone. On the bright side, he did remind us he’s a switch-hitter by batting from both sides of the plate, and the grounder wasn’t a double play partly because his spectacular 70-grade speed beat the throw to first.
But there’s no question about his glove, which is also reportedly a plus in center field, and now we’ve all seen his arm with our own eyes. Twice.
Meanwhile, Allen came in off the bench in the 5th inning to play shortstop, and in this abbreviated early spring contest that meant he only got to play three frames. That was still enough time for him to remind us why he’s No. 3 on our Community Prospect List.
This first play doesn’t look like much at first glance, but remember the infield was shifted over pretty far for righty slugger Matt Davidson. You can see second baseman Tony Kemp on the shortstop side of the bag before the pitch, and Allen was closer to a normal 3B position than SS. He had to range reasonably far to get that ball, and then he quickly set himself and delivered a dart.
@nickallen10_— Kim C (@Cu_As) February 28, 2021
That’s at least a somewhat tough play and he made it look absolutely routine. I don’t want to exaggerate, but seeing him move so far that he cut the ball off in front of a waiting teammate reminded me of Matt Chapman, and the throw was a good imitation too.
In the 6th, the Dodgers hit another grounder to Allen, this time with a runner on first. He charged the ball to pounce on it as quickly as possible and got off an immediate flip to the bag, giving the rest of the infield just enough time to complete the double play. It was more or less a routine deuce, but the batter was prospect Jacob Amaya who has above-average speed, so doubling him up on a slow chopper isn’t a total automatic.
Finally, in the 7th, Allen made a different kind of play. The wind was blowing at Hohokam Stadium, and he was all alone on the left side of the infield due to another shift. The lefty batter popped it up in the general vicinity of third base or maybe foul territory, which was already pretty far from Allen before factoring in the swirling effects of the weather. He sprinted from shortstop all the way past the 3B bag, then down the line halfway to the plate, keeping his eye on the ball the whole time, and reached down to squeeze it just inches off the ground.
Nick Allen does it again!!! #Athletics pic.twitter.com/9r8iqyjBlP— Kim C (@Cu_As) February 28, 2021
Again, that’s a Chapman-caliber play, like when the third baseman runs into the LF corner or the back of the dugout to catch a fly. If you were wondering whether Allen’s glove is ready for the bigs, it only took an hour into the 2021 Cactus League to provide the answer. He did strike out in his only at-bat, but it took nine pitches as he battled hard.
Sure, this is just spring training, but does that matter when it comes to defense?
Pitchers are stretching out their arms and tinkering with their arsenals, and hitters are getting back their timing in real games, and you need to take their results with an entire shaker of salt or even ignore them completely. But defense is what it is.
A grounder is a grounder, and you can either range over to get it or you can’t. You can either throw it 300 feet to the plate on a dime or you can’t. If you’re watching a player try a new position in the spring then of course there could be a learning curve, but seeing a top talent do top talented things doesn’t really require a cactus-shaped asterisk. Allen and Reed can do these things, and they can do them in live game action not just in practice.
The A’s already have a star-studded diamond in Oakland.
Third baseman Matt Chapman is arguably the best defender in the sport at any position, and he’s got two Platinum Gloves to prove it. First baseman Matt Olson won the last three Fielding Bibles and also a pair of Gold Gloves, and catcher Sean Murphy is expected to earn some hardware in his career after an impressive rookie year. Center fielder Ramon Laureano was a finalist for the Gold Glove last season, and the eyeball test agreed that he improved into an overall plus on that side of the field to go with the supernatural throwing arm we already knew about.
Adding Allen to the Matts in the infield would be downright unfair, and if Reed can hit enough to make the majors then he’d be a formidable partner alongside Laureano. To have all six on the team at the same time would be a sight to behold, and if you really want to dream you could imagine all kinds of creative opportunities to add to the A’s baseball science lab — perhaps a shift with four outfielders, or a zone with Chad Pinder as free safety?
OK, I’m getting ahead of myself, but only because the Matts showed us how impactful a truly elite defender can be, and how underrated that talent can be on the prospect charts. And now the A’s have several of them.
By all accounts Allen can field like a third Matt, but at an up-the-middle position, and now we’ve seen our latest brief glimpse of it. Reed is less sure of a bet to ever roam the turf in Oakland, but he already wowed us twice without even showing off his top defensive tool (which would have meant chasing down a fly 100 feet away from him). Now it’s just a matter of how long until we can see one or both wearing green and gold, and what bonus value they might be able to provide on the offensive side of the ball — even just average hitting from either could add up to multiple WAR.