Allen could be on the fast track
Right-handed pitcher Cody Allen had about as great a professional debut as a relief pitcher could have last season in the Indians’ minor league system.
Allen, 23, was selected in the 23rd round of last year’s draft out of High Point University (FL), a year after the Indians had selected him in the 16th round of the 2010 Draft. The Indians were able to sign him this time around, and he really impressed as he pitched at four different levels last season.
In 23 combined appearances last year at short season Single-A Mahoning Valley, Low-A Lake County, High-A Kinston, and Double-A Akron he went 5-1 with a 1.65 ERA, and in 54.2 innings he allowed 35 hits, 14 walks, and had 75 strikeouts. The bulk of his time came at Mahoning Valley and Lake County as he made 21 of his 23 appearances there, but he was so good at Lake County at the end of the season (7 G, 17.0 IP, 0 R, 5 BB, 28 K) that the Indians took a look at him for an outing at both Kinston and Akron.
It is not often that a relief pitcher without a high draft profile and taken in the lower rounds makes that kind of push up through the system so quickly. It was a dream first pro season for Allen, one he did not want to end.
“I didn’t want last season to end as I was on a roll,” Allen said. “But now I am just ready to come back on the same roll I was on and the same approach I had last year.”
That roll that Allen got on last year was unexpected. He had a good season in college last year at High Point where he started 13 games and went 4-6 with a 3.12 ERA (82.2 IP, 77 H, 3 HR, 29 BB, 89 K), but he never pitched in college like he did with the Indians last year. He feels his success last season was a combination of being a bit further away from the Tommy John surgery he had in 2009 and also the benefits of professional coaching.
“I got farther and farther way from Tommy John, so obviously that helps,” Allen said. “I also used the resources around me when I first got to Mahoning Valley and just got on a good routine that worked for me and stuck with it. I just kind of added stuff here and there but did not change much. I felt like I was ready to pitch every time I went out.”
Allen’s health is a big reason he did not originally sign with the Indians after they selected him in 2010. Rather than signing, he and the Indians ultimately felt it was better that he go back to college for another season.
“When I got taken in the 16th round in 2010, it was my first year off of Tommy John and I did not have a great year and I did not feel I was ready,” Allen said. “There were a lot of things that I needed to work on, plus I was real close to graduating. But there were a lot of things I needed to get better at, and I feel I got a lot better at those things last year which helped me transition into the [professional ranks] easier. I feel I am better for it.”
It should be noted that performance is not the truest indicator of prospect value, especially for college pitchers that pitch at the short season Single-A or the full season Low-A level, but Allen has the stuff to go along with the numbers. He features a 92-95 MPH fastball that has good life, and this spring has been up to 96 MPH and more consistently at 94-95 MPH. He complements his fastball with a good power curveball, and also mixes in a slider and changeup.
At the end of last season the Indians toyed with the idea of starting him this season, but for now they appear content with keeping him in a bullpen role. A role where with his performance, stuff and development to date could have him on the fast track to the big leagues if he continues to make significant strides this season.
Allen is fine with pitching in whatever role the organization wants him to, but he really likes the bullpen and feels that is where he is most comfortable.
“I am real comfortable in the bullpen,” Allen said. “I was a bullpen guy my freshman year in college, but after that I started, so I think putting me back in the bullpen has made me really comfortable. [Mahoning Valley pitching coach] Greg Hibbard helped me tweak a couple things with my approach and routine that was monumental for me. I stopped trying to tinker with stuff and instead we just tried to stick with a couple of things that worked and tried to perfect them. I think that is what really helped me.”
One of the biggest areas of focus for Allen this spring is developing more separation from his curveball and slider. The curveball is his go-to secondary offering, but he likes to use the slider occasionally to give hitters a different look. If both pitches look the same, then they are not very effective and are not changing what the hitter is seeing.
“I am trying to create a bigger separation between my curveball and slider,” Allen said. “I am just focusing on the curveball to get it where it needs to be because I think that pitch has more potential for me. Then later when the curveball is consistent with the shape and velocity and everything I will add the slider in because it is a pitch I will not use as often. I know last year when I got long relief opportunities when I went three innings my slider and curveball almost became the same pitch velocity and shape-wise. That is one thing that we talked about early in camp that we want to create two separate pitches to use to righties and lefties.”
Rarely do you see a reliever throw three pitches in the bullpen, but Allen actually has four. While he mostly uses his fastball-curveball, he also mixes in the aforementioned slider and a changeup he is still developing. He shows a good feel for the changeup, and it is a pitch he is going to need even as a reliever if he wants to have something in his arsenal he can attack more advanced left-handed hitters with.
“I have really worked hard on the changeup,” Allen said. “Last year I did not have to use it much. It is a pitch I really want to work on because if it is called I want to be able to throw it. It is a pitch I really used in my one appearance in Akron. I threw three or four of them because they were on my fastball and they were seeing the breaking ball, so I had to get them off of it.”
Allen also got the rare opportunity to throw in a few big league games early on in spring training. He was not in big league camp or getting a look as a Major League option this spring, he was simply one of the two or three extra arms the Indians pull from minor league camp each day to “backup”. Since pitch counts are monitored very closely in spring training, when a pitcher goes beyond his workload in an inning and has to come out, this is when the “backups” come in and pitch.
Even if he was not getting a look for a big league job this spring, Allen relished the opportunity to pitch against some Major League hitters. Also, there is no doubt that his stuff and performance caught the attention of the Indians’ big league coaching staff as well as the front office.
“That was great,” Allen said about the opportunity to pitch in a few big league spring training games. “The first guy I faced since the Parallel League was Scott Rolen, so that was kind of a surreal thing and I had to pinch myself and get him out. It was fun as I got to go up there and learn a lot and got to see what those guys do on a day to day basis. This is my first spring training so I watched how they go about their spring training and how they are getting ready for their season, which has been helpful for me to get ready for my season.”
With a little taste of the big league life and thrill of pitching against big league hitters, Allen is as committed as ever to do what it takes to get there. This season is going to be a lot about maintaining his success from last season, staying healthy, and continuing to make strides so that he can possibly jump firmly onto the big league bullpen radar by the end of the season.
“I just want to develop in areas I know I need work,” Allen said. “I don’t have any numbers or levels in mind, I just want to improve. I want to be able to throw a breaking ball in a 2-0 count. A good one, not just a flipper up there, and getting more consistent with that pitch. I want to get better against lefties and get better out of the stretch with holding runners. All of the things that a bullpen guy has to be able to do at the big league level.”
Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI. Also, his new book the 2012 Cleveland Indians Prospect Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.
Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.
Nice article. Informative.
Allen seems to be mature and ambitious enough to listen to the advice of others. A lot of pitchers are reluctant to work on new pitches or tweak other aspects of their pitching until the opposition requires them to change.
Allen accepts the fact that his current arsenal won't be sufficient at higher levels and is endeavoring to make the necessary changes in his game so that his pitches can get more advanced hitters out. In that regard, he seems to be ahead of the curve compared to most other prospects and it should reduce the time he spends in the minors.
Of course, it helps to have a low/mid 90s FB as a primary pitch and apparently, a quality CB.
It will be interesting to see how he fares this year when he pitches against hitters closer to his own age.