San Diego is no stranger to baseball talent.
Even while the major league Padres have struggled for the vast majority of their existence, the region has become a breeding ground for prospects and pros alike. Top youngsters like Bradley Zimmer, Brady Aiken, and Mickey Moniak. Established stars such as Stephen Strasburg, Cole Hamels, and Adrian Gonzalez. Legends like Ted Williams and Tony Gwynn. All spent their prep days under the seventy-degree sun of America’s Finest City.
With this year’s draft fast approaching, who’s the next name to know in San Diego’s long baseball lineage? That’d be Francis Parker’s Nick Allen, a slick shortstop whose small stature gives him a strong case for being the best pound-for-pound position player in this year’s class.
Allen burst onto the scene last year with a junior season that, according to stats from MaxPreps, saw him swing to an outstanding .469/.570/.816 triple slash line, chipping in 36 runs and 21 extra-base hits in 31 games.
While he didn’t quite repeat those numbers in 2017, that’s no matter for MLB talent evaluators, who will never look to the 5’9” fireplug as a bat-first shortstop. It’s Allen’s glove, as lathered in gold as any in the nation right now, that has him listed among the top talents in the 2017 draft class.
I had a few opportunities to watch the recently-crowned CIF champion and Rawlings-Perfect Game All-American play during the spring. How does Allen’s game hold up under the scrutiny of the eye test? Two words: extremely well.
As mentioned above, Allen’s calling card is his penchant for wizardry on defense. A combination of loose movements, good foot speed, and outstanding instincts provide the Parker prep with excellent range, and his quick hands and strong, accurate arm allow him to make almost any play that’s asked of him, at almost any spot left of second base, and from almost any arm angle. I have heard anecdotes of him touching the rim with just a single step lead-up, and of leaping to snare line drives and cocking his arm to make the next play before the ball is even caught. It’s simple: the kid is special in the field.
After watching a season’s worth of shortstops roll through Fowler Park to play games against the University of San Diego, I can confidently say that Allen, despite still being in high school, was by far the best I saw all spring, and you can count on the 18-year-old for a web gem or two nearly every time he takes the field. Does it all sound a little superfluous? Perhaps, but only if you haven’t seen him play yet. (Note: if you fit that description, I’d watch this as soon as possible).
Allen’s bat isn’t quite on par with his glove, but it still flashes signs of being a positive for him at the next level. The shortstop has a compact swing, consistently keeping his head down and throwing his hands well. Against high school competition, Allen exhibits great pitch recognition, and shows a strong ability to spray the ball to the opposite field with extra-base pop. Given his barrel accuracy and 6.73-second speed in the 60, it is certainly feasible to see him becoming a consistent line-drive hitter to all fields as he adjusts his approach to pro pitching staffs.
Allen’s make-up also stands out as soon as he takes the field. While I haven’t had the chance to speak with the high schooler personally, his leadership is evident on the diamond, and he has an intensity and swagger about him that is hard to miss. The few times he made a mistake, letting a ball slip through his hands or getting picked off first, Allen showed very few external signs of frustration, a quality that will serve him well in the game of failure that is professional baseball.
For all the good things that stand out as soon as you set eyes on Allen, his biggest weakness is just as evident: his size. Listed at a generous 5’9” and 165 pounds, he lacks the physical presence of many of his top-of-the-draft board contemporaries. Unfortunately, this is obviously not something that can be improved on by pro coaches, and concerns about how his body could hold up under the wear and tear of a six-month season have turned some teams off of the shortstop.
In the games that I saw him play, Allen also flashed an approach at the plate that was overly-aggressive at times, looking to drive the ball for distance. Whether this was a result of facing lesser pitching at the high school level or a by-product of the massive chip Allen carries on his shoulder into every game is hard to say. At the next level, however, Allen will need to be more disciplined in his approach and avoid trying to homer-hunt his way to a roster spot. Given his baseball IQ, though, I don’t believe this is an adjustment that will be difficult for the youngster to make.
Ultimately, let’s just say that the USC commit will likely never set foot on the field in a Trojans uniform. Allen’s tremendous glove and make-up should allow him to silence any scouts who doubt him because of his size, and that size shouldn’t do much in hindering his ability to stick at short long-term. Players of his defensive caliber are rare, and combining that ability in the field with a still-developing bat that has line-drive potential should keep Allen firmly planted in the first round of next week’s amateur draft.
The team that has frequently been attached to Allen in recent mock drafts is the Chicago Cubs, whose front office of Theo Epstein and Jason McLeod were in Boston when the Red Sox drafted a similarly diminutive star in Dustin Pedroia. The Dodgers were also reportedly out in force at Allen’s CIF championship game last Friday, and a number of other organizations picking near the end of the first round have understandably expressed interest.
No matter which uniform he eventually dons, though, Nick Allen should be drafted on the first day of the draft, the latest in a long line of San Diego stars on the diamond. How far can the small-statured middle-infield maestro go from there? That’s up to him, and him alone, to decide.
I certainly don’t recommend betting against him.
Noah is a current undergraduate at the University of San Diego. In addition to his classes as a Business Economics student, Noah serves as the scouting director for the nationally-ranked USD baseball team and as an NFL correspondent with The Mighty 1090. You can follow him on Twitter @thebackseatlamp