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Showcase | Story | 8/13/2015

Golden glove, great gifts

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

SAN DIEGO – At the conclusion of the championship game at last October’s inaugural Perfect Game California World Series (Underclass) in Los Angeles, something unusual occurred when it came time to name the event’s Most Valuable Player.

CBA Marucci had just defeated CCB Elite by a 3-1 count to claim the championship and PG tournament officials got busy looking at MVP-worthy performances. Interestingly, one of the top contenders was a 2017 shortstop from San Diego who hit a very unremarkable .250 (2-for-8) with a triple and two RBI but had found another way to contribute to CBA Marucci’s title run – Nick Allen had used his glove.

Allen, a 5-foot-9, 155-pound master in the middle-infield who had just started his sophomore year at Francis W. Parker High School in San Diego, was part of two double-plays and one triple-play in CBA’s win over CCB. That alone was enough for the Southern Cal commit to earn co-MVP honors with his CBA teammate Cameron Jabara. A golden glove had shared an MVP honor with a silver slugger.

“You can’t control everything at the plate but when you’re in the field you just try to do the best you can and that’s where I really put my focus,” Allen told PG while in attendance at this week’s Perfect Game Underclass All-American Games at the U. of San Diego’s Fowler Park. “If I’m not hitting, I’ll just go out and play the best defense that I possibly can and keep myself going, so when I get the next chance to go out and hit I’ll hopefully do well there.”

Despite his defensive prowess, it would be a mistake to pigeonhole Allen as a glove-only type of player. He is a toolsy prospect who has hit .361 and stolen 50 bases in 52 attempts in 63 varsity games over two seasons at Parker HS, and has risen to No. 20 in the class of 2017 national prospect rankings (No. 2 at shortstop.)

“I take a lot of pride in doing (everything) well,” Allen said. “I know that I’ve been recognized for my defense but I’ve really worked hard in all aspects of my game. Even with my base-running, I really try to work on that a lot and I try to show my speed as much as I can. It’s really about working hard and practicing a lot and putting the time in.”

The Underclass All-American Games don’t follow the format typical of other PG showcases in that all five teams take infield and outfield as opposed to specific throwing workouts, although throwing velocities are recorded during fielding sessions; there is also no 60-yard dash. After batting practice and infield-outfield, the teams go right into games with each team guaranteed 20 innings over the two-day run. It’s a format Allen prefers because it emphasizes “team” over “me.”

“The process is very good here, and what (PG is) doing will help out the player in a lot of ways,” he said. “It helps to build team chemistry in a tournament environment which is a lot like what we’re playing in travel ball right now. We get to meet new people from across the country on the different teams, so it’s a great experience.”

This is also an opportunity for top prospects like Allen to measure themselves against their peers – two of the other top-four ranked 2017 middle-infield prospects were here – and each player expects to come in and compete at the highest level possible. The idea is to put forth a maximum effort while realizing that everyone else on the field is doing the exact same thing.

Perfect Game Vice President of Player Personnel David Rawnsley is at the Underclass A-A Games and has long been a fan of Allen’s from watching him at previous PG events the last two years. While writing the PG High School Pacific Region (California and Hawaii) Preview in February, Rawnsley named Allen as one of the region’s top-two middle-infielders as the only sophomore included on the all-region team. Rawnsley wrote:

“Allen is only a sophomore … but has already established a national reputation as one of the most dynamic defensive players in the country. Allen is one of those rare players who can dominate a game defensively not only with his tools but with his creativity and instincts. Offensively, the right-handed hitter has surprising bat speed for his age and size and a solid middle-of-the-field approach.”

Allen played at the varsity level his freshman season (2014) at Parker HS, and had an immediate impact on a team that finished 22-9. Saying he went into the campaign with no expectations whatsoever, he proceeded to hit .379 (44-for-116) in 31 games, with nine doubles, a triple, 25 RBI, 33 runs scored and 22 stolen bases in 23 attempts; his fielding percentage sat at .973 (four errors/150 total chances).

With his confidence-level as high as ever, Allen’s expectations heading into his sophomore season this past spring were high as well, and the added pressure he put on himself resulted in a slow start. He managed to relax and settle-in as the season progressed and wound up hitting .342 (38-for-111) in 32 games, with five doubles, a triple, 15 RBI, 23 runs and 28 stolen bases in 29 attempts; his field average dipped to .947 (9/171).

“I was able to finally slow myself down and I got to know my game and play to my strengths,” Allen said. “It ended up working out really well.”

The PG Underclass All-American Games were a nice continuance of facing top-notch competition for Allen, who spent last weekend up the coast in Long Beach participating at the Underclass Area Code Games. He spoke of the “amazing” competition at the Area Codes and how facing that level of talent prepared him nicely for what he encountered here Wednesday and Thursday.

At the Underclass Area Code Games, Allen was joined on the Underclass Brewers team by four other top California 2017s who also here Wednesday and Thursday.

Right-hander Kevin Abel, an Oregon State commit from San Diego, and fellow middle-infielder Royce Lewis, a UC Irvine recruit from San Juan Capistrano, played here with Allen on PG California (Navy). Middle-infielder Jayson Gonzalez, a Vanderbilt commit from Covina, and right-hander/first baseman Kyle Hurt, a Southern Cal recruit from Rancho Santa Fe, played on PG West (Royal).

There is a lot of familiarity amongst these prospects from Southern California, both from travel ball and from their long high school seasons. Baseball is a year-around endeavor in this part of the country and there is plenty of time for these teenagers with similar interests to get to know one another.

“Going into last week I knew a lot of the kids on our team, but then growing and playing with them for a couple of days, now we have real good friendships,” Allen said. “From here on out, we’re going to see each other at different events and it will be awesome having a friend you’re playing against or playing with a friend; that’s always amazing.”

This is Allen’s 15th event with Perfect Game and, speaking of playing with friends, that total includes 11 PG WWBA tournaments playing with Temecula-based CBA Marucci and coaches Daylon Monette and Jon Paino.

It’s been a mutually beneficial association, with Allen not only earning MVP honors at the PG Cali Underclass but also getting named to the all-tournament team at the 17u PG WWBA National Championship this summer in Emerson, Ga., a tournament CBA Marucci also won; he earned all-tournament recognition at the 2014 Perfect Game/EvoShield National Championship (Underclass).

“Daylon Monette has been very helpful to me with the CBA program, and then Jon Paino brought me along when I was 12; he’s really helped me in all aspects of communicating with everyone,” Allen said. “(CBA) has really treated me well and it’s not just me, they treat everyone well. They treat everyone with the same respect. There are no stars; they treat everyone like they’re the star of the team.”

With all of his tools, it’s likely Allen will continue to be the star on almost any team he’s on, and that might include at USC as early as the fall of 2017, if fate decides that where he ends up. Allen said he’s never been a big fan of any one particular college but after meeting with the Trojans’ coaches and touring the facilities – and taking into consideration the academic side of the ledger – the Los Angeles school seemed like a perfect fit.

So while Allen might not be staying home in San Diego to continue his post-high school baseball and academic careers, he will be staying in Southern California. That, of course, all depends on how MLB front office personnel and scouting directors view the slick-fielding shortstop when the 2017 MLB First-Year Player Draft rolls around.

In the meantime, Allen does have his sights set on playing in at least one important event here in his home city, one that will be played about a year from this week: The 2016 Perfect Game All-American Classic, which will include around 50 of the country’s top prospects in the class of 2017.

“One of my main goals for next year is to make the (PG) All-American game,” Allen said emphatically. “I’m just to go out there and continue to work hard and whatever happens, happens but it would be great to play in front of a home crowd and all of your friends; that would be awesome.”

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