If there’s a second reason, it’s to stump for worthy, but ignored minor league stars to get a shot in the big leagues. Bill James once said that minor league equivalencies were his most important creation. The ability to project a top minor league performer’s performance in the majors has triggered a series of quixotic quests. Some of these quests prove successful: Free Erubiel Durazo! Some don’t: Free Roberto Petagine! But the desire to see the best possible talent on the major league stage burns strong, decades after Bill James first started the movement.
With all that established…Free Brandon Allen!
Grabbed in the 5th round of the 2004 draft by the White Sox, Allen struggled early in his minor league career. In his first four professional seasons, spread over rookie ball and the Sally League, he showed decent-but-not-great power, struck out nearly four times as often as he walked, and posted OBPs of .337 or lower in three of those four years. Heading into his age-22 season, ticketed for the wrong end of the defensive spectrum, with an iffy track record, a lukewarm pedigree, and his first crack at high-A-ball imminent, Allen’s future didn’t look all that bright.
Then, something clicked. Starting the 2008 season at Winston-Salem of the Carolina League, Allen hit .279/.372/.527, by far the best effort of his career to that point. Winston-Salem did play as a hitter’s park that year, but this wasn’t the Lancaster jet stream inflating numbers to preposterously unreliable levels; this was, ostensibly, legit. Allen kept building on that performance. He ended the 2008 season at Double-A Birmingham, where he hit .275/.358/.614 in 173 plate appearances. The next season, he posted a less impressive .825 OPS in half a season back at Birmingham, then hit a wall in a brief stint at Triple-A. The White Sox needed relief help, and Allen was deemed expendable; off he went to the Diamondbacks in a July 2009 trade for reliever Tony Pena.
Then, Allen went bonkers. Playing at hitter-friendly Reno in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, Allen hit .324/.413/.624 in 167 PA. He finally earned his first cup of coffee in the big leagues…and threw up a stinker, hitting .202 with a 38.5% strikeout rate. The DBacks shipped Allen back to Triple-A, where he raked again, launching 25 homers and posting a .933 OPS in 107 games, before landing another brief major league audition.
Three days shy of his 25th birthday, Allen heads into this season sitting second on Arizona’s depth chart at both first base and left field, trailing Juan Miranda and Xavier Nady. This is, in a word, crizazlebeans.
Miranda is nearly three years older, with a less impressive track record than Allen’s. At least there’s some modicum of potential, given Miranda’s never had a clean shot at a job. Nady, on the other hand, defines mediocrity. He sports a career line of .277/.331/.445 as a corner outfielder, and a below-average defender. Actually, at age 32, likely on the downside of his career, he’s worse than mediocre. The only possible positive outcome from Nady playing every day would be if he posts another below-replacement-level season like he did in 2010, hurting an already weak DBacks team and potentially netting the number-one pick in the 2012 draft.
Brandon Allen is entering what should be the prime years of his career. He’s got power, can take a walk, and offers up to six years of team control. He’s the most logical candidate to start at not one, but two different positions in the Diamondbacks lineup. Paraphrasing Ivan Drago, if he fails, he fails. But he has to get a shot.
Free Brandon Allen!
Jonah Keri is the author of The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First -- now a National Bestseller! Follow Jonah on Twitter @JonahKeri, and check out his awesome podcast.