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Brandon Allen Belongs in the Bigs

We’re pleased to welcome Eric Seidman back to FanGraphs today. Despite taking a 20 month sabbatical, he is still second among writers in post count here on the site. He’ll be contributing his thoughts here on a regular basis, and we’re pleased to welcome our own prodigal back home.

Brandon Allen has done everything a prospect can do to prove he deserves a legitimate major league opportunity, but the Diamondbacks seem unwilling to give their young slugger an extended look. With the emergence of Juan Miranda as a potential starter and the news that Russell Branyan will make the opening day roster, Allen appears to be the odd man out at first base. Since the team signed Xavier Nady to an incentive-laden major league deal and is committed to giving Gerardo Parra another shot as a starter, Allen also finds himself on the outside looking in at a crowded outfield. Add in that he has options remaining and it becomes increasingly likely with each passing day that he will open the season back in the Diamondbacks farm system, a destination he has completely outgrown.

Over 688 Triple-A plate appearances since 2009, Allen has hit .277/.397/.541 with passable defense at both first base and left field. He’s young, cost-controlled, and clearly capable of producing at a high level, but for whatever reason the Snakes lack confidence in his abilities. Scouts have expressed concern about his swing, but anybody with those numbers at the highest level of minor league competition deserves serious major league consideration.

The decision to keep Branyan in lieu of Allen makes even less sense when context is introduced. Branyan is injury-prone, aging, and in no way a long-term solution for a team, let alone one in the Diamondbacks’ position. He also bats from the left side of the plate, so he does not gain an advantage over Allen by being able to properly platoon with Miranda. Even if he produces well, is it really that far-fetched to think that an Allen/Miranda combination couldn’t match his numbers?

The Bill James projections peg Allen for a .251/.338/.462 line — very similar to Branyan’s numbers last season — and suggest Miranda could hit somewhere around .288/.362/.511. If those seem overly optimistic, Marcel considers them both capable of hitting at a league average level. Branyan may be more of a known entity, but he does not project to hit substantially better than either of the aforementioned prospects.

The Diamondbacks are not a three-win first baseman away from seriously contending, and even if they were, Branyan is in no way a sure thing to reach that mark. An Allen-Miranda platoon — even though both players bat from the left side — could match the league average with the upside to exceed that mark. Plus, the team would be able to better assess its assets by seeing what they can do in a more meaningful environment. Allen shouldn’t need another .280/.410/.550 in Triple A to merit a legitimate opportunity.

By opting for Branyan, or Nady, instead of Allen, the Diamondbacks are blocking a young slugger for the chance to miss the playoffs by nine games instead of thirteen, neither of which represents a desirable finish. There is a big difference between signing studs guaranteed to produce at a high level that simultaneously roadblock youngsters and what the Diamondbacks have done here by signing short-term question marks.

If the Diamondbacks are so low on Allen, then why not try to trade him? Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic recently suggested that the Rays were exploring Allen’s value at the winter meetings and have been high on him in the past. Perhaps the Nationals could view Allen as a potential successor to Adam LaRoche, or as a fourth outfielder. The Athletics could certainly afford to give him a shot as well, as when a good number of fans cannot even name your starting first baseman, odds are you can improve at the position.

Plain and simple, Allen belongs in the major leagues in some capacity, and if the Diamondbacks are not going to give him the shot he deserves — and I’m not talking about 50 meaningless plate appearances in September — then it makes little sense to let such a talented and useful player rot in their system. If they view Miranda as the solution moving forward, that’s perfectly acceptable, but sending Allen back to the minors is not the course of action here.

Allen does not need any more seasoning. He needs a major league season under his belt, and if the Diamondbacks are not the team willing to give him that opportunity, I fully expect their phones to be ringing off the hook over the next couple of weeks with teams inquiring about his availability. This might not be a full-blown “Free _____” campaign, but rather a plea to stop denying a young talent the opportunity he deserves. If he’s the next Mike Hessman, so be it, but give the kid a shot before pigeonholing him.