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Allen Measures Up Despite Slight Stature

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Nick Allen Nick Allen shrugs off questions about his height[/caption] LONG BEACH—
Jupiter WWBA Tomdipace

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California Baseball Academy director Jon Paino remembers vividly the first time he met shortstop Nick Allen because it was also the last time Paino told his future star pupil that he was too small to play for him. The tryout was for a travel team Paino was coaching and most of the players who showed up were 13 or 14 years old and preparing for high school baseball. And then there was Allen (Francis Parker High, San Diego), not yet out of elementary school and according to Paino’s memory, not even 5 feet tall, standing out immediately by flashing the defensive skills and baseball IQ of a player twice his age. “He was incredible,” said Paino, who was the head coach at Temecula Valley (Calif.) High before founding CBA. “He was in the fifth or sixth grade at the time but he moved like a polished college infielder.” Paino recognized the talent immediately, but Allen’s age and stature compared to the rest of the players trying out were still enough of a concern that Paino made the difficult decision to leave Allen off the roster, something he told Allen in person. “I just remember the look in his eyes. You could tell it was something he had heard before, but he wasn’t discouraged,” Paino said. “He didn’t see any limit or any boundary for himself and you could tell even then that there was no way anyone was going to get in the way of his goals.” Fast-forward to the 2016 Area Code Games and all that early determination has paid off. Allen hasn’t exactly experienced a growth spurt—he now stands 5-foot-8 and weighs 155 pounds—but he reprised his role as the anchor of the Brewers’ defense after playing for the club’s underclass team in 2015. Allen spent most of the week reinforcing the scouting consensus that he is one of the best up-the-middle defensive players in the 2017 class. Allen says that size has always been an issue in his career, but surprisingly, unlike so many other diminutive players who fly under the radar before blossoming down the road, it hasn’t been enough of an issue to keep Allen from building an elite pedigree from a young age. Allen first made a name for himself in 2012 when USA Baseball picked him for its 14U National Team Development Program and he followed that up by earning a spot on the 15U National Team that won the gold medal at the COPABE Pan American Championships in 2013. By the time Allen was playing a starring role in CBA Marucci’s run to the 2015 WWBA 17U National Championship, he was already considered one of the better infield prospects in the country. “He has been so smooth at shortstop for so long that he was impossible to miss,” Brewers Area Code Games manager Josh Belovsky said. “Those players who can stay up the middle are the ones that all of the scouts are looking for and without tipping my hand too much, I’d give him every opportunity to stick at shortstop at the next level.” If you ask Allen, the realization that he could play at the next level came much earlier, and he shrugs off the idea that it took until 2012, the same way he shrugs off questions about his height. “I think it was actually when I was 8 and I was playing with a 9U team at an AAU Tournament in Florida,” Allen said without a hint of sarcasm or humor. “That was the first big tournament I had ever played in and I remember playing pretty well. I think I showed myself I could play at that level and have carried that with me in the years going forward.” But no matter how many nifty plays Allen makes deep in the hole, there are always going to be questions about his size and more specifically, how that lack of size will translate offensively against bigger and better competition. Both Paino and Belovsky are quick to point out that Allen is already strong, generates great bat speed and runs a sub-6.8 60-yard dash. So it is not as if Allen doesn’t have the tools to make an impact offensively. But it also seems safe to assume that Allen probably won’t hit 30 home runs in a season either. Just don’t try to tell Allen that. While Belovsky alluded to Allen “understanding who he is” and hopefully growing into a “top of the order guy who can set the table for those run producers,” Allen is almost defiant about stressing that he is more than just a slap hitter. “A lot of people don’t know this, but I can drive the ball,” Allen said. “It is going to start coming in the games. When I take my BP, I am not just out there trying to loop the ball into the outfield. I think I am more of a guy who can generate a lot of back spin and drive the ball to all fields.” Concerns about Allen’s physicality and offensive ability apparently weren’t enough to keep the college programs away. Allen committed to Southern California in October of 2013—when he was a freshman—and even if his offense doesn’t improve, his defense makes him a potential valuable contributor to any college team. But Allen wouldn’t be where he is today if he didn’t reject the notion of that hypothetical ceiling outright. “I have always had the mindset that I want to be a major leaguer,” Allen said. “And I think I am going to be a major leaguer.” Of course, he hasn’t given up hope that his body will make that goal a little bit easier to reach either. “I have always been the smallest player on my team and maybe that is a good thing,” Allen said with a smile. “Maybe there is still a secret growth spurt still in there somewhere.”

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