Nick Allen discusses Olympic silver medal and promotion to Sin City

LAS VEGAS — From Texas to Tokyo to Sin City. Nick Allen has had quite the summer.

The promising A’s prospect was named the minor league’s top defensive shortstop by before starting out the season with Double-A Midland, where he showed some major offensive progression with a .319/.374/.471 slash line with six homers and 31 RBIs in 50 games. 

Then USA Baseball tabbed him as its starting shortstop for the Summer Games in Tokyo. Allen savored his Olympic village experience, marveling at the accomplishments of his fellow olympians while also enjoying the chance to see NBA stars like Luka Doncic and Marc/Pau Gasol roaming around on a daily basis.

Eventually the Americans lost to host Japan 2-0 in the gold medal game on Aug. 7, but Allen said he felt a different sense of pride wearing the USA jersey on such a big stage.

“It’s a really cool feeling,” Allen said. “It’s definitely something different. Especially when we were standing up on that podium at the end. You wanted to win gold, obviously, but it was something special just to win something for your country. I’ve played and been part of some USA teams in the past, but this is definitely something different. Obviously it’s the Olympics. It was really something special and something that I’ll put into words later on in my life. Right now I’m still in awe and shock.”

Soon after he had the silver medal draped around his neck — and while he was still half the world away — Allen received a text from the A’s: he had been promoted to Triple-A Las Vegas.

“It was hard because we had just lost the game, but it was exciting to kind of get some news that I was moving up a level, one step closer to my ultimate goal,” Allen said.

The 22-year-old said he enjoyed the opportunity to team up ex-MLB veterans like Todd Frazier and Edwin Jackson, along with manager Mike Scioscia, the longtime former skipper of the Los Angeles Angels.

Allen went 6-for-21 with two doubles, a homer, two RBIs and a .286/.318/.524 slash line while starting all six games with Team USA in Tokyo. He was also named the Best Defensive Player on the All-Olympic team.

“Just pays tribute to all the hard work I put in throughout the years,” Allen said. “And there’s more hard work to be put on from here on out, but I’m glad that was something I was recognized for there. Whatever way I can get my name out there, in a positive way, that’s what I’d like to do. But first and foremost, I’m trying to help my team win. But I’m thankful for the recognition for sure.”

Once he got back to Texas, Allen packed up his car and drove to Las Vegas with his dad. Allen, a 2017 third-round pick by the A’s out of high school, made his Triple-A debut with the Aviators on Aug. 12 but has stumbled a bit at the plate, going 5-for-36 (.139) in 11 games so far. 

Manager Fran Riordan said Allen is starting to settle in at the Triple-A level.

“Now he’s starting to feel comfortable and his at-bats are getting better,” Riordan said. “He’s obviously an elite fielder and everyone knows that and can see that when you watch him play. It’s just a matter of Nick getting comfortable in a new environment like every player goes through when you move up a level. You have to take a while to let your ability to catch up to his environment.”

For what it’s worth, Allen is 3-for-9 over his past three starts and banged his first double with the Aviators on Tuesday night. Listed at 5-foot-8, 166 pounds, Allen is diminutive for a shortstop but he’s showing more pop at the plate this season.

His slugging percentage in 2021 (.425) is slightly lower than it was in 2020 (.434), but Allen has doubled his home run total to six this season. He also hit a dinger in the Olympics.

“Power is always the last tool to develop, offensively,” Riordan said. “Turning whatever power you have into real game power is a whole ‘nother story and Nick’s done a great job of doing that. It’s just a matter of his physical maturation and his mental and approach maturation going into the batter’s box and having that confidence. And just being physically stronger than he’s ever been in his career.”

With his offensive development, Allen is working hard to buck the idea that he’s only a defensive wizard. But Allen’s glovework is probably his greatest asset. Though he did uncork one throwing error while I was there, Allen looked very nimble and quick in the three games I watched him in Vegas.

“He’s an elite defender,” Riordan said. “He moves laterally really well, great footwork, plenty of arm strength and accuracy. He’s got tremendous instincts. The defense is never going to take a day off with Nicky. I think that’s going to be a huge part of his game for his entire career.”

At this rate, Allen — the A’s No. 3 prospect, according to — is on schedule to get a big-league promotion in 2022 or 2023. 

When it comes to an ETA for Allen in Oakland, there is another thing to consider: Elvis Andrus’ contract. Andrus will probably open the 2022 season as the A’s starting shortstop again. According to Spotrac, if Andrus accrues 550 plate appearances in 2022 or 1,100 combined PAs in 2021-22, his $15 million option for 2023 becomes guaranteed. Entering play Thursday, Andrus has racked up 450 plate appearances while playing in 121 of the A’s 127 games.

I don’t think the A’s want to be paying 35-year-old Elvis Andrus that kind of money in 2023. 

My guess is that Allen will be added to the 40-man roster this offseason and begin next year at Triple-A, until he forces his way up to Oakland with offensive production. Perhaps a 2022 midseason call-up could help eat into Andrus’ games played, but I fully expect Allen to be the A’s starting shortstop by 2023 opening day.

For now, he’s going through the growing pains expected for any prospect.

“I think I’m growing as a baseball player every day,” Allen said. “I’m learning. If I struggle, I try to turn that into a positive somehow and just try to keep getting better. I think I’ve put together a decent year. I’m just trying to get things going again and get back on track, keep learning, keep developing. At the end of the day, I have a ton of room for improvement. I’m looking to improve every day.”