Many A’s fans anticipated the debut of Nick Allen during the 2022 season after being one of the A’s top 3 prospects heading into the year. Allen, whose glove has always been elite but raises concerns offensively, played right into that scouting report in his rookie 2022 campaign, and unfortunately for him and A’s fans, nothing changed in 2023.
Allen was drafted with the third round, 81st overall pick of the 2017 MLB Draft on June 13, 2017.
What were the expectations?
With 2023 being Allen’s second full season at the MLB level, he was expected to make some hitting strides after a tough 2022 and anchor down the A’s middle infield as either a shortstop or second baseman.
Allen's 2023 from an offensive standpoint was nearly similar to his 2022 line. He hit .221 with a .263 OBP and .287 SLG in 303 at-bats. He slugged four home runs, the same as 2022, and 20 RBIs, one higher than 2022. Allen walked 5.5% of the time which is just about league average, yet struck out 15.8% of the time which is well below league average and significantly lower than his 2022 mark. An offensive stat that Allen was incredibly low in during his 2023 campaign was exit velocity. He averaged just 82.1 MPH off the bat which is about six lower than the MLB average, and his HardH% of 26.8 is 13% below league average.
One constant that Allen will always impress in, and 2023 was no different, is his defense. The former All-Defensive shortstop through MLB Pipeline spent 819.2 innings at shortstop in 2023 and recorded just nine errors to show for it. He saved three runs above the MLB average which although may not seem like many, is very impressive for baseball's most demanding and involved position. Whether it was tracking down bloopers in the shallow outfield, ranging to his left or right to make a quick play, or using all of his 5’8’’ frame to jump and snag a ball heading into the left-center gap, Allen was easily the team's defensive MVP in 2023.
What went right? What went wrong?
Besides the defensive wiz he was, not much went right for Allen in 2023. As alluded to earlier, significantly decreasing his strikeout numbers was a big plus, but offensive inconsistency plagued Allen all year and saw him get sent down to Triple-A multiple times. While strikeouts weren’t the issue, it was just simply weak contact. Batted balls off Allen’s bat yielded a barrel just 1.2% of the time — 5.7% below the MLB average. Allen’s launch angle is also a full five degrees smaller than the big league average which explains why so many of his hits were infield hits, and why hard contact was tough to come by. Allen was especially bad on off-speed pitches where he hit just .167 with five hits, an average exit velocity of 75.2 MPH, and a launch angle of -3 degrees.
Various defensive metrics place Allen top 10 and even top 5 amongst shortstops, but offensive rankings shoot him much further down the list. Shortstop is one of, if not the deepest offensive position in the game right now, so how much longer are the A’s willing to stick with their defensive-minded shortstop who brings very little to the table offensively is a question 2024 will soon answer.
Allen is slated to be the A’s opening-day shortstop come March, but for someone who’s flip-flopped back and forth between Triple-A Las Vegas and Oakland for two years straight, Allen only has one option remaining. The defense is unquestionably there, but 2024 could be a make-or-break year for Allen at the plate. Sitting behind him at shortstop is the A’s ninth overall prospect, Darell Hernaiz, who just hit .321 in 498 at-bats between Double-A and Triple-A in 2023, so Allen’s urgency to hold down the position for the foreseeable future might need to ramp up.