Insider: Rays Claim 1B/OF Brandon Allen

On April 9, 2012, the Oakland Athletics designated 1B/OF Brandon Allen. Soon after I tweeted the following:


It has been 10 days since then, and not only have the Tampa Bay Rays thought about it, but also made their choice. The team claimed Allen off waivers and will add him to the 25-man roster on Friday. To make room on the 40-man roster for Allen, Robinson Chirinos was moved to the 60-day disabled list (concussion).

Adding Allen will not be the team’s only roster move on Friday. The club is expected to activate B.J. Upton from the disabled list as well. Stephen Vogt will almost certainly be one of the roster casualties with the other likely being Elliot Johnson or Reid Brignac. Johnson is out of options and would have to clear waivers for the Rays to send him to Durham. Even if that happens, Johnson has the right to refuse the assignment. Brignac has a remaining minor league option and can be sent to Durham without issue.

In make that decision, the Rays will have to decide which is more important: organization depth (keeping Johnson) or talent on the 25-man roster (keeping Brignac). Optioning Brignac is the easiest move; however, for all his offensive flaws, the young Cajun is the team’s best defensive shortstop and still has plenty of potential. Johnson keeps the organizational depth chart intact, but offers little value outside of late-inning defensive replacement and pinch-running.

While we do not know who will go, we know Brandon Allen is coming.

It is not hard to see why the Rays are – and reportedly have been – attracted to the 26-year-old. He possesses immense raw power and has always had an advanced eye for walks. He spent most of the past three seasons at Triple-A where he hit .286/.401/.555 in 1116 plate appearances. Over the same time frame, he has amassed 374 PA in the majors, hitting .205/.291/.375 with 32 extra-base hits including 11 home runs. While his power has somewhat followed him to the next level, so have the major holes in his swing.

In addition to walking and hitting home runs at a solid clip, he strikes out a lot. The propensity to walk, hit home runs, or strikeout has earned him the label of a true three outcome hitter. The “TTO” hitter should be a familiar concept for Rays’ fans. Carlos Pena is the truest three outcome player the team employs, but B.J. Upton, Luke Scott, and Matt Joyce each has some TTO to their games.

Meanwhile in his short time as a big leaguer, Allen has struck out at a pace greater than any of the names mentioned above. Of his 374 major-league plate appearances, 133 (36%!) have ended in a strikeout. The anti-Jeff Keppinger, Allen, has a contact rate of 70% and swings and misses around 13% of the time. Not surprising, but as a left-handed slugger, he struggles against southpaw-pitching.

A former top-five prospect in the Arizona Diamondbacks system, Allen is more of a bench bat/platoon player at this stage in his career. Sure, he still has the tools to reach a higher ceiling, but his flaws may not be as fixable as once thought. The Rays would like to tap some of that potential, but for now everyone should temper their expectations.

With that said, Allen should immediately improve the roster spot held by Stephen Vogt. A nice story in spring training, Vogt has shown nothing to suggest he can produce at the highest level right now. The 0-13 start to his career is what it is, but in this case, the process is as discouraging as the results.

Vogt has yet to hit a ball classified as a line drive – a sign of good contact – and worked just one three-ball count. With a larger sample size, he would likely show some improvements; however, that sort of training is better served in Triple-A. Yes, Allen will strike out more than the average player, but when he makes contact it should go a long way and he has shown the ability work his way on base with the walk as a major-leaguer.

Defensively, Allen has played first base and left field as a professional. Though his career sample is relatively small, he projects to be around average wherever he plays. Although he is a decent athlete, he is not considered as much of baserunner.

At the very least, by claiming Allen, the Rays added some much needed power to their bench at cost of a waiver fee and the pro-rated, league-minimum salary. Going beyond that, he is young, comes years of team control, and plays a position that is relatively thin within the organization. He will strike out, but also get on base via walk, and should hit with authority when he does make contact.

Under the perfect scenario, the Rays are able to correct Allen’s flaws and turn him into a productive, semi-everyday player for the future. Perfect scenarios do not often occur, so perhaps more realistically they end up with a decent fourth outfielder/ first baseman with pop off the bench. Either way, he improves the club in the short-term, provides some potential for the long-term, and does so at minimal cost.