EL PASO, Texas — Not too many talent evaluators had many doubts that Austin Allen, 25, had a pretty good chance to hit in the big leagues; the bigger question was if he could stay at catcher.
Drafted in the fourth round of the 2015 draft by the San Diego Padres out of Division II Florida Tech, Allen showed that he could hit in his first full season year in Low-A Fort Wayne with the TinCaps posting a .319/.362/.429 slash line and last year with the Double-A San Antonio Missions he hit .290/.351/.506.
The question was, could someone that is 6-foot-3 and 245-pounds stay behind the plate?
Allen answered that himself reshaping his body in 2017 and 2018 to get lighter and gain more flexibility. He is now a lean 220 and last year his caught stealing rate went up from 21 to 36 percent.
“I have been talking about his improvement for a long time since I saw him in Spring Training this year,” said Edwin Rodrguez, who was Allen’s manager in 2017 with the High-A Lake Elsinore Storm and is now in the same role with the Chihuahuas this season.
“Blocking balls, framing and calling a game has really picked up. Tonight he was taking care of everything behind the plate. And that left-handed bat is for real, it has always been real.”
This season Allen is hitting .292/.363/.590 in 199 plate appearances going into Friday’s game. He got his first call-up to the big leagues and after we spoke with him just before his second.
MadFriars: We have been interviewing you forever. What was the biggest surprise when you got to the major leagues?
Austin Allen: I wasn’t surprised by anything. The biggest thing I took away from my time up there was how to put together a scouting report on hitters. A lot of credit goes to Hedgey [Austin Hedges, one of the Padres’ catchers] for taking me under his wing and showing me about how he goes about getting it done.
What he looks for on video, the numbers, hot zones, cold zones and everything like that. He showed me what he likes to emphasize and the reasons behind it. Whether I was catching that day or not, it was something we were working on together.
Does it vary from pitcher to pitcher?
Austin Allen: Of course, because they are all different. That was the biggest part of the learning curve for me. Also, Darren Balsley [San Diego’s pitching coach] helped me out tremendously. When I was catching he was talking to me between innings.
On games when I wasn’t catching I was locked in watching how Hedgey called a game and how he went about his business.
The scouting report is a real process. Some guys are going to take longer than others. Now I know how to put one together and am trying to put one together down here to the best of my capabilities and go over every hitter with the starting pitcher and Bronsie and seeing what they have. We bounce ideas off of each other, and then we have the report.
The information in the minor leagues has grown exponentially since when we started in 2004. How much information do you have here as opposed to the big leagues?
Austin Allen: not as much but there is still enough to put together a good report on each guy. That is something that I am working on along with the in-game stuff. Pitch sequencing and reading hitter’s swings.
That is one of the things that I am trying to work on here.
That has always been one of the things that have amazed me about being a catcher. You have to do all of those things and you have to hit or you don’t get to play.
How do you balance it and how did it affect your offense?
Austin Allen: My biggest thing was showing the Padres that I will be ok on the defensive side of the ball. That was my biggest goal when I went up.
You have always been consistent in wanting to prove that point over the years. You have always known that you can hit.
Austin Allen: It’s the last thing I’m worried about is my bat, whether I’m 20 for 20 or 0 for 20. I know the numbers are going to be there in the end.
I can live with a bad day at the plate, I can’t live with a bad one behind it. Every day I am putting more effort into my defense than my offense. I know that I can hit at the big league level and I feel like I did a pretty good job of showing that I know the strike zone and that I have an approach.
When you go back to the defensive side. If you catch 150 or 160 pitches and you move five from a ball to a strike that is a big difference.
Austin Allen: It is a huge difference. In some games, you are going to receive the ball well and the borderline pitches are still going to be called balls and other days it’s the opposite.
The big key is to stay underneath the baseball and come up towards the strike zone. That has been my main focus.
When I was in the big leagues my receiving numbers showed that I was a positive receiver. So, people can’t say that I can’t receive the ball anymore. The numbers are there to back it up.
Austin Allen: The Padres are very in touch with all of the advanced statistics up and down the system.
At the plate, you are confident. You have access to quite a bit of information. In Fort Wayne, I interviewed Blake Hunt and he talked about the need to shut his mind down and have aggressive reactions when he gets a ball in his zone.
Are you the same way?
Austin Allen: I’ve always trusted my hands and my eyes enough to not let the other things get in the way. My biggest thing is I want to know the guys’ hardest fastball and what offspeed pitch am I most likely to get and that is all I want to know.
Anything other than that then I start guessing and I will be off of the fastball. The best hitters in the game are the best fastball hitters. All of them hammer mistake fastballs. So when I am on the heater, I am going good.
You try to react to the offspeed stuff. I get in trouble when I start guessing.
With so many catchers in the system, how much do you pay attention to who your competition is?
Austin Allen: I know it sounds like a cliche, but I’ve never really paid attention to that stuff. The biggest reason is when I do it starts to affect all of the other stuff I need to focus on during a day, things that I have some control over.
I can’t make the Padres do something or make another team do something. All I can do is put in the work every single day, come to play and make sure I am enjoying myself.
I’m fine with coming to the field every day and trying to get better than worrying about things that I have zero control over.