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The Greg Allen conundrum

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Greg Allen needs big league at-bats for his development, but Cleveland can’t afford his offensive struggles

Oakland Athletics v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

I have a bias toward Greg Allen. In his profile, I see a second coming of Kenny Lofton and, thinking about that, I can’t help but once again be a 10-year-old kid running around the backyard throwing baseballs at a net wearing a shirt with Lofton’s face and loving baseball as purely as possible.

Lofton and Allen both reached the big leagues at 24 and in their first 70 games the two have looked somewhat similar, with Lofton slashing .233/.304/.277 to Allen’s .213/.253/.299. In his second season, however, Lofton was given the chance to play daily on an Indians team that finished 76-86, was never in first place in the AL East, and ended the year with a 20-game gap between them and first place. The 2018 Indians, meanwhile, are projected to win 92 games and have a 98.4 percent probability of making the playoffs. Thus, does this team have the ability to exercise the patience needed to develop Allen into the next Lofton?

So far, if only by necessity, the Tribe is giving Allen the time he needs to improve at the highest level. In his first extended stint in the big leagues this year, May 6 to June 17, Allen played 32 of 36 games, finishing games 29 times during that stretch. But his numbers through that stretch, .206/.250/.304 with just six extra-base hits and five walks to 32 strikeouts, warranted his demotion to Columbus to work on refining his game. Since being recalled on June 3 after Lonnie Chisenhall’s calf disintegrated, Allen has started every game but one and finished every one of those games except one (11 games, 10 started).

This is the kind of developmental play that Allen needs. In order to determine whether his bat can play at the highest level he needs everyday repetitions. In this regard the team has handled him correctly, in my estimation.

Likewise, having him get at-bats at the big league level has been the correct call for Allen’s development. Though his minor league career features just 35 games at Triple-A, he has little left to prove in Columbus. In his time there, Allen posted a line of .326/.429/.434 with 17 walks to 31 strikeouts. In the 14 games he spent in the minors between stints in Cleveland he was 23 for 56 (.410) with six walks to 14 strikeouts. He raised his Triple-A batting average 66 points, on-base percentage 20 points, and slugging 64 points over that span.

In terms of results, the Indians could hardly have hoped for anything better when they sent him down. And while you could argue that the ends justified the means, the team’s decision making has clearly been in Allen’s best interest and not solely a factor of injuries forcing him to play in Cleveland.

But even in a division full of teams on life support, Allen’s production as an everyday player at the highest level do not inspire confidence. Since coming back (which is a tiny sample size of 40 plate appearances), Allen’s hitting .222/.237/.250 with one walk and three strikeouts. In a situation like the ‘92 Indians faced, everyday play with that kind of production would be fine, but the current outfield consists of one stud and no one else within 20 points of league-average OPS+ (Brantley, 123; Naquin, 78; Davis, 58; Guyer, 55; Allen, 42). Thus, how do you maintain everyday at-bats for Allen?

Simply put, I can’t imagine a post-trade deadline reality in which the Indians can square Allen’s numbers with their interest in fielding an offensively adequate outfield. I am also not sure how the Indians will proceed given the lack of an interesting outfield trade market (dear God don’t bring back Austin Jackson, who has somehow been worse than Allen this year).

After a series in which the Indians looked every bit equal to the Yankees, though, the positive impact of an addition to the outfield and the bottom of the lineup could not be more obvious (well, it still might be a bit less obvious than an addition to the bullpen, but you’ve read that article before). So, despite Allen’s excellent record at Triple-A, despite being better than league-average defensively, despite above-average sprint speed, despite my personal affinity for him, the Indians would be a better ballclub without Allen.

I will not give up my hope that Greg Allen can be the next Kenny Lofton, but it seems necessary to postpone those hopes for another year. If Cleveland can upgrade its abysmal outfield, postponing won’t seem so bad, anyway.