Logan Allen is slated to make his MLB debut tonight when the San Diego Padres host the Milwaukee Brewers. He’ll do so at age 22, four years after being drafted by the Boston Red Sox, who that same winter sent the southpaw west as part of the Craig Kimbrel deal. He’s progressed well in the meantime. Allen entered this season ranked eighth in a loaded Padres system, with our own Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel opining that he “comfortably projects as a No. 4 starter.”
Allen’s assets include a bulldog mentality, and he wears it like a badge of honor.
“It’s the way I’ve always been wired,” Allen told me this spring. “I’ve never been that guy who throws 100 mph. I’ve never been that guy who was the freakiest athlete. I’ve always had pretty good stuff, but I think my success is really more about the way I’ve handled myself on the field, with conviction and intent. I don’t believe in giving in.”
The subconscious can be a cruel animal. While the burly left-hander isn’t about to back down from a challenge, uncertainty demons have crept into the dark recesses of his mind on more than one occasion. Just yesterday, Allen told The San Diego Union Tribune’s Kevin Acee that his recent struggles — 14 earned runs in 15 innings over his past three starts at Triple-A El Paso — have been “between the ears.” He admitted that he’s allowed himself to become frustrated, which has resulted in a snowballing of bad results.
The three-game hiccup isn’t representative of Allen’s overall performance this year. As Acee pointed out in his article, the lefty had 1.91 ERA in his previous nine starts against PCL opponents. He’s also averaged better than a strikeout per inning — this is in a league where hitters have been ravaging pitchers at record rates.
The rough patches aren’t new. Like any young pitcher, Allen has had to learn to battle through adversity as he’s climbed the minor-league ladder. Also not new is the reason he often gives for any such struggles.
“The speed bumps I’ve had are mental,” Allen told me in our preseason conversation. “I don’t think they’ve had anything to do with my stuff. You refine your stuff — it does get better — but again, I’ve always had good stuff. A good pitch in Low-A is a good pitch in Triple-A. That’s my opinion. The hitters are definitely different, but if you locate that splitter down, or that low-outside fastball, it’s going to be hard for anybody to square up. So I don’t look at it like having to do anything different as I move up. At every level I pitch at, I literally just have to be me.”
More specifically, he needs to be the bulldog version of Logan Allen. Asked if the ball comes out of his hand differently when he finds himself lacking conviction, he responded, “Absolutely. The mentality I need out there is that every pitch I throw is my best one, so try to hit it.”
Hitters stepping into the box against Allen are going to see a low-90s four-seam fastball, a plus curveball, a slider he began throwing in 2017, and a Vulcan changeup that he described here. Each is a big-league-quality offering. In order for Allen to prosper at baseball’s highest level, he simply needs to let his inner bulldog run free. His response to the age-old “is pitching more of an art or a science?” questions bears that out.
“You have to go out there and do what you do best,” said Allen. “You can’t teach a guy to pitch with conviction. You can’t science a guy to pitch with intent — there’s no science in competing — so to me, that makes it more of an art. You can have the best spin rate in the world, but if you don’t locate, and don’t pitch with conviction, you’re probably going to get hit. When I’m at my best, I’m confident and just going after hitters.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.