Kolby Allard would be the top pitching prospect in many organizations, but with the Braves, the 20-year-old left-hander is just another in the stockpile of elite young pitching that’s been accumulated through draft picks and trades during the past few years of a massive rebuild.
Check egos at the door because it’s tough to get noticed among this bevy of talent. And Allard said that’s fine with him and the others, that it’s all about having the right priorities and that this group of potentially premier pitchers has the right attitude.
“Yeah, for sure,” Allard said, a southern California native who looks and sounds exactly like most of us probably think a southern California dude should look and sound, laid-back and with straight, long-ish hair to his neck.
He was a first-round draft pick (14th overall selection) out of San Clemente High School in 2015 and would’ve been selected higher were it not for a back injury that sidelined him his senior season. That’s not been an issue for quite a while -- he’s bigger and stronger and had a 3.18 ERA and 129 strikeouts in a career-high 150 innings last season at Double-A Mississippi, getting better as the season wore on.
Allard had 1.83 ERA in his last seven starts, with 43 strikeouts, six walks and no homers allowed in 44 1/3 innings, a torrid stretch of pitching that helped boost his prospect status in the view of some outside observers.
“I got drafted, I think, around 175 (pounds),” said Allard, who’s listed as 6-foot-1, which might be generous. “I’m around 195 now, so I’ve put on 20 pounds since high school. I mean, I’m just trying to handle that major league workload. Threw 150 innings last year, felt great at the end of the year. And ultimately it’s (about being able to) throw 180 to 200 ever year, so that’s what we’re working up toward. And that’s the ultimate thing, make 32 starts.”
He’s a non-roster invitee to major league spring training and won’t be on the opening-day roster, but if Allard continues strides he made in 2017 his big-league debut could come by September or next season.
Baseball Prospectus gives him his highest ranking, at No. 24 on its overall prospects list entering 2018, while MLB.com has him at No. 58 and Baseball America has him at No. 65.
But for an idea of how disparate views can be when it comes to rating prospects, consider that FanGraphs has a whopping seven Braves pitching prospects ranked in its Top 100 overall prospects entering 2018 and Allard isn’t one of them.
The seven Braves pitching prospects they rank ahead of him: Kyle Wright (26), Luiz Gohara (31), Mike Soroka (34), Ian Anderson (45), Touki Toussant (60), Max Fried (78) and Joey Wentz (84).
If Allard is even aware of that, he certainly doesn’t seem to care.
“I mean, I don’t think anyone in here really cares who’s No. 1, who’s No. 2,” he said. “That doesn’t really matter. Everyone’s goal is to get up to Atlanta and try to win as many ballgames as possible, and I think that goes back to getting good guys in the clubhouse – no one cares about that status. Just the ultimate goal is to hang banners in Atlanta. All the guys (in the organization) I’m close to, all the young guys, that’s kind of what everyone talks about, it’s what we all want.
“So yeah, I couldn’t be more thankful to come up with these guys and push each other to be better players.”
In his Grapefruit League debut Friday against the Mets in Port St. Lucie, Fla., Allard issued one walk in an otherwise clean inning with help from journeyman outfielder Xavier Avery, who made a terrific diving catch in right field. Allard is to pitch again Wednesday against the Mets, this time at the Braves’ home ballpark.
The Braves have so many pitchers in camp, some still hadn’t made their first appearance after four games.
“(Allard) knows what he’s doing,” manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s got an idea, executing pitches, getting hitters out. In talking to him, it’s pretty impressive. And he looks bigger, stronger, the whole thing.”
Allard was asked if he and other young pitchers ever talk among themselves about the impressive inventory of arms the Braves have assembled.
“Yeah, that’s true,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of buddies in a lot of different organizations, and they kind of always talk like, ‘Dang, dude, you guys have a lot of wings (pitchers) over there.’ I’m like, yeah. But it’s a good thing when you think about it, because, yeah, not every single guy here is going to pitch for the Braves, but there’s so much talent around, I wouldn’t want it any other way coming up in a different organization.
“I think it’s kind of pushed me to be better from the time I got drafted when I was 17. Obviously this is kind of like all I know. Getting drafted at 17 and been here the last three years, and I don’t think I’d be where I am today if it wasn’t for all these guys kind of, whether they’re getting on you and pushing you in that way or whether it’s just that silent kind of competition -- I mean, obviously I came up with a lot of very talented players, and I think it’s helped me in the long run, for sure.”
It’s his first major league camp and Allard said the quality of the guys in the clubhouse, from the manager through the coaches and players have made it easy for like him to feel comfortable.
“Yeah, for sure, it’s been a really good atmosphere,” he said. “I think Snit and the coaching staff have put together a great group of guys here. Veteran guys who’ve been awesome, very cool to all of us, and with all the young guys in this organization there’s a lot of familiar faces, you kind of come up with a lot of these guys. And even the guys you didn’t come up with have been really cool, really open, really easy to talk to. So it’s been a lot of fun so far.”
Talking to the dozens of prospects and young players in camp, as well as veterans that new general manager Alex Anthopoulos brought in, it’s apparent that being good teammates, able and willing to communicate with others, has been emphasized at least to some degree in the build-up of talent in the organization.
“Yeah, for sure there’s definitely a lot of good people around,” Allard said. “In baseball you get a lot of different personalities, different people from a lot of different backgrounds, which is obviously a good thing -- it’s diverse. Bu for the most part they have done a very good job of bringing in good people and I’m very thankful that I’ve came up with an organization like the Atlanta Braves.
“It’s been a lot of fun so far, I’ve became friends with a lot of good people around here and hopefully we can bring good things to Atlanta.”