Consistency key to Allen's staying power
First baseman showing signs of overcoming plate deficiencies
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Brandon Allen's Texas roots run deep.
The A's first baseman, a native of Montgomery, Texas, a small town with a population that amounts to just three digits, returns every offseason and is surrounded by essentially every family member in a 50-mile radius.
It's a place of comfort for Allen, who is looking for that same thing in Oakland, his third baseball home in less than 10 years. Just 26 years old, Allen has already been traded twice in his young career -- first by the White Sox in 2009, then from Arizona last July -- but is hoping a few changes to his swing have him primed for job security with the A's.
"Well, you always think that," Allen said, smiling, on Monday morning. "But I do enjoy it here so far, and I feel like this could be the place for me."
The organization sure hopes so, even though its front-office faces are also keeping tabs on first basemen Daric Barton, Kila Ka'aihue and Chris Carter -- all of whom are considered in the mix for the Opening Day job.
A's hitting coach Chili Davis and special adviser Phil Garner, who worked with Allen a handful of times during the offseason in Texas, are trying to help him have the opportunity to. Together, they've put in plenty of hours in the cage to combat Allen's struggles with inside pitches.
"What he showed last year is that he's got power to all parts of the field," Garner said. "Any time the ball was out over the dish, he'd hit to the middle of the diamond, and he'd hit it well. And then they started pitching inside to him, and that speeds up your bat."
The ball, then, would go foul or right by Allen's bat, and nearly 40 percent of his at-bats culminated in a strikeout. Since, he's improved on lengthening his hand path and staying on his legs to avoid a short swing.
"I can feel the results in the cage, feel my hands quicker," Allen said.
There have been flashes of it on the field, too. Allen has five hits in 21 at-bats this spring, including three for extra bases, and leads the club with 10 RBIs. Seven of those came March 4 against the Cubs, when Allen hit his first home run -- a grand slam on an inside pitch.
"One year ago," Garner said, "he would have pulled that foul."
Manager Bob Melvin likes what he's seen, too, but is looking for consistency, as the lack of it has plagued Allen's career to this point. When he was brought up to Oakland on Aug. 13, he went 0-for-2 with two strikeouts in his debut before putting together back-to-back three-hit games that jump-started a five-game hitting streak. But, in the month of September, he hit just .141 (10-for-71) with 34 strikeouts.
"Every hitter is going to have a few flat spells," Garner said. "But if a hitter knows where to go when he gets in trouble, he can cut that time down."
Allen's Minor League numbers suggest it's possible. In 83 games for Triple-A Reno last year, Allen hit .306 with a .579 slugging percentage and .427 on-base percentage, to go along with 18 home runs and 66 RBIs. Add in his above-average defensive ability and deceptive speed, and his potential grows.
"We really like what he has to offer," Melvin said. "You can tell he's working hard, and I think he's having a nice camp at this point."
"I feel good, I feel comfortable," Allen said. "I'm trying to win a spot on this team. I'm getting my at-bats and just trying to produce."
Allen's fate likely won't be known until April, as Melvin plans to keep the position battles open as long as possible. But continued production and growing confidence, Garner believes, will make him "that guy who forces himself into the lineup."
"The opportunity is there, and if he shows enough and keeps that going, there's no question he can play here," he said. "It's just about maintaining that level of consistency."