Brandon Allen was drafted by the White Sox in the fifth round of the 2004 draft, out of high school in Montgomery, Texas. He was a power-hitting slugger with questions about polish and defense. HIs pro debut was unimpressive: .205/.280/.314 for Bristol in the Appy League, with 16 walks and 60 strikeouts in 185 at-bats. He'd get a Grade C based on power potential and draft status, but with the need for a great deal of refinement.
Moved up to Great Falls in the Pioneer League in 2005, Allen hit .263/.366/.472, much better production. HIs BB/K was 32/69 in 231 at-bats, as he improved his plate discipline, cutting down on strikeouts and boosting walks. I gave him a Grade C in the 2006 book, noting comparisons being made to Fred McGriff and Ryan Howard, but also noting it would take time for him to develop.
Allen stumbled in 2006, hitting .213/.257/.382 for Kannapolis in the Sally League, with 22 walks and 126 strikeouts in 395 at-bats. He did hit 15 homers, but the strike zone got away from him most of the time and he struggled. I did not put him in the 2007 book as a result, though perhaps I should have as a Grade C who was still young enough to improve despite his issues with the zone.
2008 was a rebound season: .283/.337/.483 for Kannapolis, with 18 homers, 39 walks, and 124 strikeouts in 516 at-bats. His discipline still needed work, but the strikeout rate was down. I did not put him in the 2008 book but should have done so, as a Grade C/C+ but still young enough at age 21, the equivalent of a college junior, to develop in an interesting way.
He has been very interesting this year, hitting .279/.372/.527 in 89 games for Winston-Salem in the Carolina League, then .275/.358/.614 in 41 games for Birmingham in the Southern League, combining for 32 doubles, 29 homers, 60 walks, and 124 strikeouts in 472 at-bats. He even stole 17 bases in 21 attempts.
Is this a real breakthrough? Allen's ratios didn't slip much at all after being promoted. His strikeout rate went up a little, but the walks remained the same, and he continued to provide plenty of power. He's got issues against left-handed pitching, hitting just .211 against them in Double-A, though he still slugged .544 against them. He murdered right-handers to a .313/.389/.656 mark. His home/road splits were unremarkable. He's just 22, so I think the improvement this year was for real.
His defense needs work (15 errors this year), and I don't think he's ever going to hit for much of an average, which will make it important for him to draw walks to keep his OBP at decent levels. If I were the White Sox, I'd be willling to push him to Triple-A to begin 2009, to see how much of this can be sustained against better pitching. I would rate him a Grade B- prospect right now. Is that too high? Too low? Or just right?