Lake Elsinore Calif. -- Catcher Austin Allen was one of the most productive players in the Padres’ farm system in 2015. The 2015 fourth-round pick hit a healthy .320/.364/.425 in Fort Wayne last year that led to a berth in the Midwest League All-Star game.
The former Florida Tech backstop was lauded for his offensive potential coming out of college but experts questioned his defensive prowess and ability to stick behind the plate long-term.
In 2017, Allen has the responsibility of working with a very talented pitching staff in Lake Elsinore while improving his receiving skills. So far, 2017 has been a success as the Storm pitching staff leads the Cal League in ERA and Allen is hitting .272/.371/.386 for the Storm. Allen talked to us before a recent Storm game in Lake Elsinore.
MadFriars: Over the last few weeks, your bat has really heated up. Have you made any early-season adjustments?
Austin Allen: Just staying calm up there. I am sticking with my approach, trying to get something up in the zone that I can handle and put my best swing on it and hit it hard.
You are near the top of the league in doubles. Is that an indication that your approach has been successful?
Austin Allen: Yeah. This off-season I worked on driving the ball more. Last year in Fort Wayne I had a good year but I was kind of just spraying the ball around, so like my big focus, this year is driving the ball with more authority and with doing that I need to be more selective with the pitches I am swinging at.
Your answer kind of went into my next question. Your walk rate has significantly increased in the early part of this year. Is that a byproduct of just waiting for the pitch you can drive?
Austin Allen: Yeah, I think so. I think it all just comes down to focus. And if I am focused on one spot or one zone then I am going to be able to lay off the pitches that aren’t in that zone a lot easier.
On the catching side of things, I know last year you were working on the dynamics of calling a game. With a talented rotation like the one you have here in Lake Elsinore, is it easier to call a game or is it more difficult?
Austin Allen: Honestly, it’s a lot easier. Everyone has such good stuff to where you can never go wrong with a certain pitch that you call. Every day we go over scouting reports, I talk to (Lake Elsinore pitching coach Glendon) Rusch about what he wants to do - kind of what he sees in hitters and try to stick to that plan as much as possible.
So is that pregame planning and review of scouting reports the most important part of calling a game?
Austin Allen: Yeah. But it also varies pitcher-by-pitcher. Some guys have a better fastball than others, some guys throw more off-speed for strikes, so a lot of just comes down to knowing the individual.
I know you have worked extensively on the defensive side of things. What are the biggest strides you have made defensively over the last year or so?
Austin Allen: I am still working on a little bit of everything. I am not where I want to be yet - I am not even close. Every day I try to get better at receiving, blocking and throwing. I want to be the best receiver that I can for these guys and help them out by getting as many strike calls as I can. So that has been my biggest emphasis - more than blocking and throwing.
Pitch-framing is the new popular statistic to discuss and evaluate. What specifically do you work on to become a stronger pitch-framer?
Austin Allen: The biggest thing that I focus on is the low pitches, whether that’s fastball or off-speed. I just want to be able to get under everything and not necessarily manipulate the pitch but give the umpire a better look at the pitching kind of try and bring it back to the strike zone.
Going back to the instructional league, being at Petco Park for the Future’s Game, how much did that experience help in your development?
Austin Allen: You know, it was awesome. I was very blessed to go out there with those guys and experience that. It was my third time at Petco Park. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything and just to be part of that group that went out there is truly a blessing.
A lot of guys have talked about the player-to-coach ratio in the instructional league being as small as they have ever had professionally. Was there any big takeaway that you had from that experience?
Austin Allen: I think all of our coaches that we have at every level that I have been around, bring something different to the table. I try to grab bits and pieces from them and that has been a true help.