When the Arizona Diamondbacks recalled Brandon Allen from Triple-A Reno on Friday, it was with an eye toward bolstering a position lacking production. Arizona first basemen -- mainly Juan Miranda and Xavier Nady, with a dash of Russell Branyan -- were hitting a combined .242/.311/.392 entering Saturday night's contest against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Phoenix. That's a little worse than what Brandon Inge hit last year, and Inge isn't anyone's idea of an offensive threat, let alone a bat-worthy alternative at a bopper’s slot like first base.
What the Diamondbacks may not have expected was that Allen would pay immediate dividends. Batting seventh in manager Kirk Gibson's lineup behind Geoff Blum (activated from a season-long stint on the disabled list the same day), Allen stepped to the plate with two on, including Blum, and nobody out against Dodgers right-hander Hiroki Kuroda. After working the count full, Allen swatted a pitch into the right-field bleachers to give Ian Kennedy and three relievers all the runs they would need to win.
Kennedy worked seven strong innings to improve his record to 10-3, but Saturday’s story was Allen. Despite hitting .261/.405/.528 last season at Reno, the 25-year-old Texas native was given a return ticket to the minors while the Diamondbacks chose more experienced -- and ultimately inferior -- options in his place.
Allen, for his part, did everything he could and then some to earn his way back to the big time. He hit .306/.427/.579 and was tied for seventh in the Pacific Coast League with 18 homers at the time of his promotion. Even allowing for Reno’s reputation as one of the best hitters’ parks in the hitter-friendly PCL, that sort of production strongly contrasts against the inadequate performance of the Snakes’ veteran alternatives at first base.
With the San Francisco Giants' loss in San Diego on Saturday, Arizona remains very much in the thick of the National League West race after notching its 50th win of the season. While the temptation to dismiss this year's Snakes the way many dismissed last year's Padres is great, the longer Gibson’s D-backs stick around the top of the standings in the NL West, the more troublesome they become.
All contenders are looking to improve their situation, trying to gain some small advantage that could give them the necessary edge down the stretch and -- luck permitting -- deep into the postseason. The sexy way to do this is by making trades -- entire cottage industries have been built around the dissemination of salacious trade rumors this time of year -- but another, somewhat hidden method exists.
Rather than trade its young talent to procure a more established veteran, a team may also promote from within the organization in an effort to help the cause. Of course, the young talent must be big league-ready. If he isn't, people will be held accountable in a way that they might not be had they traded for a veteran instead. But for a team hedging its bets, this isn't a bad way to go.
On Saturday, against the Dodgers, and perhaps that much more obviously after Allen’s three-run homer, this strategy definitely seems the best way for the D-backs to go.
The Chicago White Sox selected Allen in the fifth round of the 2005 draft before sending him to Arizona in a July 2009 trade for swingman Tony Pena. Although Allen never has been considered a top-shelf prospect, his mix of power and plate discipline should make him a useful enough big league hitter, in a poor-man's Adam LaRoche kind of way.
Playing Allen for little more than the minimum could give the D-backs the benefit of not having to throw good money after bad because of disappointing production from Branyan, Nady and Miranda. This lets them spend their money elsewhere if they’re going to shore up their bid for contention in the next couple weeks. There isn't huge upside here, but a poor-man's LaRoche is an upgrade over what Arizona had before Allen arrived. Every little bit helps, and today, with Allen in the lineup, the Diamondbacks are a more legitimate contender than they were yesterday.
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