Hey, Bob Melvin’s Padres now just have to win a potential clinching game, and how hard could that be? But while waiting to root for the Padres and Guardians later today, let’s continue our look at the young players the A’s are counting on to whisk them out of the abyss and into greatness.
It’s a long off-season so this series is broken down into several parts, with just 3 players under the microscope this weekend. The first is perhaps the one you’ve been waiting for with most intrigue: what does the Blogfather/Eyeball Scout make of Nick Allen?
After a wobbly start in the field marred by a few “rookie mistakes,” the last month we saw what scouts have seen since Allen’s early pro days and that is a potential gold glove shortstop. Nick Allen can really field at the game’s hardest defensive position.
Combine an elite defensive shortstop with a league average 100 wRC+ and you have an All-Star. Combine it with a 61 wRC (Allen’s final 2022 number with a slightly painful .207/.256/.291 slash line) and you have a useful utility player. Allen’s true offensive future very likely lies somewhere in between, and so the question becomes, “Where will he land?” 90 is wheat, 70 is chaff...
What we saw in 2022, as Allen faced big league pitching for the first time, is that he struggled to control the strike zone often chasing bad balls (especially the dreaded “chase slider”) and had immense platoon splits: Allen batted .276/.315/.448 (122 wRC+) against LHPs and a wretched .179/.232/.226 (36 wRC+ with an .047 ISO) against RHPs.
For projections on Allen’s hitting, one can lean a bit on his minor league profile and the key stats from there are encouraging. Allen’s career K-rates in the minors ranged from 15.9% to 20.1% while his BB rates were solid, usually coming in at 7%-8% and peaking with an impressive 13.1% at AAA in 2022 prior to his call up.
What this suggests to me is that in contrast to what we saw far too often in 2022, Allen in fact has the capability of being patient, controlling the strike zone and making a fair amount of contact. None of these qualities was evident in the big leagues, but we might be able to expect significant improvement in these areas going forward.
Where Allen will probably always struggle is that his batting average will take a hit because his best approach is to slap and slash the other way and RFers can play him very shallow. Until MLB regulates shifting in the outfield, Allen is going to lose a lot of hits.
But I do foresee his BB rate rising, his chase rate falling, and I could see him settling into being a top defensive shortstop who bats around .240/.320/.350. That’s no hitting star, but historically it is roughly an 80wRC+ that is on par with many of Elvis Andrus’ seasons ages 24-26 and again ages 29-30. What he won’t do is suddenly hit better than league average, which is what Elvis accomplished in his exceptional age 27-28 seasons.
Ultimately I see Allen being a top defensive shortstop who handles LHP, struggles against RHP, and overall holds his own at the plate at around the 80 wRC+ level. A reasonably good comp for that profile is one that should make A’s fans smile and that is Mike Bordick, whose career line of .260/.323/.362, 84 wRC+ is probably only a tick above what it is fair to hope for from Allen.
Really, Pache is Allen’s twin at another key position in that the defense is already gold glove quality, but the bat is sorely lagging — and most especially against RHP.
Pache’s 80%ile ceiling is probably Juan Lagares, another elite CFer who has platoon splits that have made him worth starting against LHPs but whose troubles hitting RHPs have prevented him from becoming a solid every day starter.
As for Pache’s floor, there is really no guarantee he will hit LHP well enough to stick in the big leagues as more than a bench player and there are no signs, yet, that he can necessarily hit at all.
In contrast to Allen, Pache’s minor league track record shows he K’d about 25% of the time in two AA seasons and 27.5% of the time in 2021’s AAA season, then picking up where he left off by fanning 26.9% of the time for the A’s in 2022.
Compounding things at the big league level, for whatever reason when he did make contact Pache was a “ground ball machine” — 57.1% of his batted balls were ground balls which, combined with his 14% infield fly rate, means he failed to clear the infield 71% of the time when he did make contact.
The hope would be that Pache’s issues are correctable. Perhaps a swing plane adjustment can help him lift more balls, and like Allen it’s possible that big league experience will enable him to better control the strike zone at this level. And there’s the stat his advocates like to hang their hat on: Pache’s 40.8% “hard hit ball” rate was actually pretty good even though he managed just a .166 BA on them.
But it’s a lot of hoping, and if the Lagares comp is any good it’s not exactly cause for celebration. Lagares has a career slash line of. 250/.291/.360, 79 wRC+ and hasn’t produced as much as 1.0 WAR in any season since he turned 28, 7.8 for his entire career. You would prefer that to be player’s likely floor, not his likely ceiling.
It is absolutely possible that Pache will be a late bloomer who “figures it out” in a couple years and becomes an every day mainstay in CF. And I truly hope he does, as he is not only potentially an exciting player but he is a very likeable one.
However, the Eyeball Scout is not here to root or hope, he is here to assess and if I had to put my ‘smart money’ on an outcome well...
Rookie stats are rookie stats. Take them with a grain of salt because in either direction they might not look much like stats the following 10 years. So while Langeliers had a stretch of striking out like it was going out of style, and his .218/.261/.430 line with a 34.6% K-rate was a bit “Mike Zunino,” I don’t think the truth lies in Langeliers’ inaugural cup of coffee.
Here’s what we know about Langeliers. He’s a really good catcher with a knack for firing throws right over the 2B bag. and he has big time power. That alone cements his floor as “Zunino at worst” but his minor league profile and his pedigree (9th overall pick) suggest he has plenty of plate discipline (his BB rate at AA was 9.7%, at AAA 10.7%) and Langeliers started to show improvement in this area in the second half of his call up.
Did you know that in his last 46 PAs over 12 games, Langeliers walked 6 times and struck out just 5 times? It’s also helpful to remember that this is a relatively inexperienced pro player, having been drafted in 2019 (and there was no 2020 season).
So when we look at Langeliers’ offensive ceiling, it’s not a terrible hitter who can “run into one” like Zunino. It’s probably more a really good hitter like Mike Napoli, who struck out his fair share (27.5% career) but also combined power with a good eye and was an asset at the plate.
If Langeliers’ ceiling includes an offensive profile anything like Napoli’s and a defensive profile anything like Zunino’s, you’re talking about a player worth getting excited about. And while the results weren’t quite there in a rookie “first go around,” there is plenty of evidence — from his pedigree to his minor league track record to what we saw in glimpses with Oakland — that the upside is pretty significant, the floor plenty high.
I have no idea what the A’s are going to do with Sean Murphy, and if Murphy is dealt with Langeliers anointed his successor it’s going to be a downgrade. But that’s because Murphy is so good, not because Langeliers lack the makings a good starting catcher.
Still to come: Adrian Martinez, Kevin Smith, Adam Oller, Jared Koenig, Conor Capel and much, much less!
Please weigh in on your thoughts around Allen, Pache, Langeliers, and my assessments of them...