Despite the Atlanta Braves clearing payroll and shipping off their big names at the beginning of the 2015 season, the real rebuild began with the 2015 MLB Draft. They made a huge haul in that draft and they are starting to see the results with the majority of them playing an integral part in the surging first place Rome Braves fantastic second half run.
Kolby Allard was the first of those draft picks. Hailing from San Clemente, California, Allard was viewed as one of the top picks in the draft until a tricky back saw him drop to 14th overall. The Atlanta Braves got themselves an elite talent, and the then 18 year old left hander wasted no time showing them what he was made of.
Allard made three starts in the GCL, pitching six innings, while striking out 12, walking none and allowing just one hit.
"That’s what you work for your entire life, pitching pro ball," Allard said. "To hear your name called draft day and have your dream come true is a great feeling. Then to go out there and have some success in the very beginning even though it was a short sample size — it was a good feeling and a good way to start my career off."
Allard had would have minor surgery in the offseason to help with his back and sit out the first two months of the season. When he made his debut in Rome on June 6th, he didn’t look like himself. In fact in his first two starts were a bit rocky, but it wasn’t about ERA or any other stats, it was about getting back into the groove.
"Whenever you don’t throw a baseball for a good amount of months, it takes awhile to get back into the groove of things," Allard said. "It was about getting innings under your belt, getting some live game reps. You can’t simulate a game situation in a bullpen as much as you try to. It’s a lot different. So, it was matter of getting those innings under my belt and after I did that and started throwing every five days, you get back in the groove. I’ve been throwing the ball pretty well now and helping my team win games and that’s the ultimate goal."
The 6-foot-1, 180 pound lefty returned to Danville and got those innings under his belt. He would make five starts, each one seemingly better than the last, going into the sixth inning in four of those starts. He finished his run there at 3-0 with a 1.32 ERA striking out 33 and walking just five in 27.1 innings.
Heading into the season, Allard was known for great command of the strike zone as well as a solid mid-90s fastball as well as a devastating plus curve. His change up was efficient, but even Allard will tell you that the improvements upon it this season have made him even more effective.
"Every game I try to establish my fastball on both sides of the plate," Allard said. "When you can do that it sets up your off speed stuff and allows it to play well. When you can get your curveball and changeup over you can get your fastball to play even better.
"Since I started the season the Braves and I have put an emphasis on throwing my changeup, and I have gotten a lot more comfortable with it. It’s coming around a little bit and I’m very pleased with the adjustments we’ve made with it. It’s really helping me get outs and it’s now a very important pitch for me so I am happy with the way it is developing."
August has been a particularly strong month for Allard. He’s gone 4-0 behind a 1.72 ERA, striking out 37 and walking just six in 31.1 innings. He’s won his last three decisions in a row, a winning streak that started on August 13, Allard’s 19th birthday.
"I never actually pitched on my birthday before, so that was really a cool little experience," Allard said. "I got to go out there and help my team win on my birthday while we’re making a chase for the playoffs. It was a good feeling."
What’s been most impressive isn’t simply his strikeout numbers — striking out 10.7 per nine — or his walk numbers — 1.74 per nine — in August, but how he has commanded the zone, appearing advanced well beyond his years. His last two starts, for example, saw him strike out 13 and walk none while landing 73 percent of his pitches in the strike zone. He is firing on all cylinders right now and is in the proverbial zone.
Here's some good video from Christopher Blessing of Baseball HQ:
It’s no coincidence that the Rome Braves have caught fire at the same time their future ace has. The team’s run to the top of the South Atlantic League Southern Division.
"Whenever you’re in a good atmosphere like we have here -- all the guys are super cool and we have a really fun team --it helps," Allard said. "All the guys get along very well and we have a very cool coaching staff, we push together.
"We have something special going through the ranks here. We’re pretty young and have a bit of talent, so hopefully this is the kind of group of guys you can stick with and move up the ladder with together. Hopefully, we win the South Atlantic League championship this year and keep moving up the ladder doing the same thing."
While Austin Riley leads an offense that has caught fire in the second half of the season, Allard is part of one of the most young and dynamic pitching staffs in the lower minors. Four first round draft picks anchor one of the most exciting rotations in the Sally.
"Our pitching staff is very tight. Now we are down to me, Max [Fried], Touki [Toussaint], [Mike] Soroka and Sanchie [Ricardo Sanchez] and all of us get along very well. We have a tight pitching staff along with our entire bullpen. Like I said, hopefully we can win a championship here this year and continue to do it up the ranks."
Allard has shown that he is definitely something special. If his injuries to his back are fully behind him, it will be very exciting to watch he and his rotation mates rise through the Braves system.