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For a short while last season, it looked as though Brandon Allen was imminently the Athletics’ first baseman of the future.
The left-handed hitter came to Oakland midseason in the trade that sent reliever Brad Ziegler to the Arizona Diamondbacks. With Opening Day starter Daric Barton demoted to Triple-A, Allen was inserted into the Athletics’ everyday lineup in mid-August.
Right out of the gates, Allen started to make a strong impression.
After his first week with the A’s, Allen was batting .391 with a 1.032 on-base plus slugging percentage.
When he hit two tape-measure home runs against the New York Yankees on Aug. 23, fans were under the impression that they had found their permanent first baseman.
Allen provided that raw strength and thump in the middle of the lineup that the Athletics had been missing for some time.
Unfortunately, that did not last very long. In his final 28 games of 2011, he went 12-for-94—a lowly .128 average—with no home runs. He finished his semi-campaign with Oakland with a .205 batting average, three home runs and 55 strikeouts in 146 at-bats.
As a result, Allen’s presumed starting job at first base evaporated rather quickly and, thus, spring training will be an audition for him to win the position outright.
However, there are clearly some holes that need to be filled.
Though he surely has the brawn to knock the ball out of the park, the problem—as with most power hitters—is his inability to make contact on a consistent basis. He is a career .210 hitter, and even though he can crush the ball to the moon, he only has 11 home runs in 324 career at-bats.
Obviously, Allen will need to work diligently to prove that he can hit at the major league level.
Even if he doesn’t win the first baseman job, he’d still have to have a solid batting average in order to land the designated hitter role.
After all, what good is a player who can hit prodigious home runs if he can’t do so at a moderate clip?
Jack Cust, anyone?
2012 outlook: Allen will win the first baseman job—by default. It would be nice for him to hit anywhere above .250—he has shown the ability, but he needs to demonstrate consistency at the plate and drive in runs even when he’s not hitting for high average. If he falters in any way, he could be out of Oakland’s plans quickly.