Athletics

Nick Allen's Olympic dream is what he was born to do

Athletics
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One of the first video clips you might find of A’s top prospect Nick Allen is of him sitting in the driver’s seat of his car with the shaky camera propped up toward his face.

Allen's hair is slightly frayed, but he appears comfortable. He’s conducting an interview with MLB Pipeline and in a few short months, he’s going to play overseas for his country in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

In another interview, Allen joked that he didn’t know what he’s getting into as he plays for a gold medal Saturday among a versatile group of players, but it’s a façade. This was what he was born to do. 

The A’s No. 3 prospect is one of the best defensive players you will ever lay eyes on. But don’t take my word for it, the people in his life, his manager Bobby Crosby and current teammate on the US Olympic team, Todd Frazier, confirm it. They have a front-row seat to it all. 

Crosby, now the manager for the A’s Double-A affiliate in Midland, Texas, gets to watch Allen’s display of athleticism, methodical plays and have talks only professional middle infielders could discern.

“First of all, defensively he’s something special,” Crosby told NBC Sports California this week. 

“He’s so quick, his hands are so fast, all of his moves are so fast that I wanted to make sure all the simple which, this year he did an unbelievable job at,” Crosby said. “He’s always going to make the good play, his first step is amazing, his hands are amazing, but also his work ethic, how he goes about everything, it’s impressive. He was born with some special talents, but he works on it on a constant, daily basis on his hand position and his first steps and things like that that make him really good.”

 
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One day, Allen will be playing the exact same position at the exact same field Crosby once patrolled. If you ask Allen, he wants that day to be tomorrow. 

Crosby says the one possible snafu for Allen would be slowing down his actions a bit. But even then, it’s a small thing that could be improved on. 

Allen, 22, was drafted in the third round of the 2017 MLB Draft out of Parker High School in San Diego. 

Allen's scouting reports painted him as a defensive prodigy of sorts. So much so, scribbles of that part of his game standing out were written a lot.  

Crosby said there were talks early in spring where he was trying to lift the ball a bit, but his original scouting report upon being drafted saying his defense would outshine his offense isn’t as accurate anymore.

“Yeah, he could flat out hit,” Crosby said.

“This year I think he’s kind of found out what he needs to do, he’s hitting line drives, he’s hit a sac fly -- he can do it if he needs to get the runner over -- he can do it,” Crosby said. “I think his offense always will be overshadowed by his defense, that’s just how good he is defensively.”

“His offense, he can hang in there with anybody,” Crosby added. “I truly believe he was the best player here at Double-A.”

This season with Midland, Allen was batting .319/.374/.471 with six home runs, 31 RBI and 65 hits in 50 games. 

His work ethic is second to none, Crosby explained. Allen is methodical. Everything has a purpose.

“There are guys who work hard, and they can hit 100 balls in the cage, and they can take 100 groundballs and get nothing out of it,” Crosby said. “Everything he does has a purpose. Just his attitude and the way he is, it’s very businessmen-like.”

Allen can be hard on himself, also. He wants everything to be perfect, but that means when it’s not, he’s the first to get upset with himself. A characteristic that reminded him of one of Crosby’s former A’s teammates.

“Mark Ellis was similar to [Allen] in that way,” Crosby said.

Ellis played second base for Oakland alongside Crosby from 2003 to 2009.

“Me and Mark would both get upset if we missed a groundball,” Crosby said. “We wanted to always be perfect, but Mark was very methodical with his work. I see a lot of comparisons between those two. Where it’s going to be done a certain way. It doesn’t have to be a bunch of reps, but the reps are going to be done the right way.”

 

Ask anyone who ever had met Ellis, and they would all describe how nice he was. The only person he ever appeared to be tough on was himself. It appears Allen is the same way. 

Crosby knows the legacy he leaves behind. A former AL Rookie of the Year, he knows Allen could be the next great A's shortstop. 

“I was fortunate enough to play [in Oakland for] a while, and he’s going to do the same,” Crosby said. 

With all the success and pressures he puts on himself, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have fun, of course. 

Todd Frazier mans third base next to Allen for Team USA in Tokyo. A two-time All-Star and 11-year MLB veteran in his own right, Frazier said Allen holds his own.

“Without a doubt,” Frazier told NBC Sports California on Friday. “This kid’s going to be a defensive star when he gets up to the big leagues. The way he prepares for games, he’s well above his age. I’m learning stuff from him.”

Frazier joked Allen was “bringing him back to his youth a little bit,” but the two instantly developed strong chemistry on the field. Quoting the “Left side, strong side,” line from the movie “Remember the Titans,” followed by comparisons to the Tom Emanski training videos, it’s all part of the entertainment between the two. 

Frazier offered the 23-year-old some advice.

“I told him, man, when you get up there with [Matt] Chapman and [Matt] Olson at first base, whoever’s going to be at second, you might win a couple Gold Gloves,” Frazier said.

Frazier defined Allen as “everything you could ask for” in a player and complimented his hitting. 

Go ahead and put Allen down for 10-15 home runs in a season, and while that might not sound like anything crazy, he’s able to pepper the ball every which way.

“Couldn’t be happier to play with a guy like that,” Frazier said. “He’s one of the best I’ve been around so far, even in Double-A. I don’t know about this year, this guy has a really good shot at being called up.”

Frazier said Allen is well beyond his years, and despite some of Frazier's comparisons to Didi Gregorius, he still seeks advice from an experienced MLB player.

“He said, ‘What’s the biggest thing you could take away from being a big-leaguer?’ I told him, ‘You need to have a routine. You got that already. You need to sleep. You got that already ‘cuz I know you like to sleep. In baseball terms, find a routine that gets you going every day.’ ”

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Allen and the rest of Team USA advanced to the gold medal game after a 7-2 victory over Korea in the semifinals on Thursday.  

 

The gold medal game is scheduled to start at 3 a.m. PT on Saturday morning.