Jan. 23, 2003
By Brian Gomez, TheSunDevils.com
Some people think Arizona State junior center fielder Rodney Allen had a disappointing season last year. Others say that although Allen struggled at times in the batter's box, his level of production did not diminish.
The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.
Regardless of what happened in 2002, Allen is ready to move on after excelling in the Cape Cod League last summer while playing for the Orleans (Mass.) Cardinals with Sun Devil junior second baseman Steve Garrabrants.
"I really matured a lot over the summer and I learned a lot of things," said Allen, who was ranked as the league's 13th-best prospect with a .254 batting average and a team-high 19 stolen bases in 37 games. "I know there are so many guys around me who are just as capable as I am. Last year, I was a little down numbers-wise, but this year I'm looking forward to having a great season."
The third-team preseason All-American by Baseball America returns to Tempe as a different player than the one who left eight months ago following a 6-for-15 (.400) outing in the NCAA West Regional. Allen, who added 10 pounds in the off-season and further toned a strong upper body, has shown vast improvement defensively.
Allen made five putouts and tallied one assist in five games last week during a series at Hawai'i-Hilo that marked his first action in center field instead of left field. Allen needs to continue to put up those kinds of numbers to match a sophomore season in which he made only one error in 56 games for a .990 fielding percentage.
"He's still got a ways to go," ASU head coach Pat Murphy said. "I don't think he's settled in yet, but he's capable."
Most of the early-season concern for Allen, a native of Culver City, Calif., centers on his ability to get the job done at the plate. If last week's series was any indication, Allen is headed down the right path. Allen was 8-for-21 (.381) with six runs scored and a team-high-tying 12 RBI.
"We're going to rely on him a lot this year," Sun Devil junior right fielder Andre Ethier said. "Hopefully, he doesn't feel any added pressure or feel like he has to take on the role anymore than anyone else."
Allen doesn't believe in getting too wrapped up in statistics, and neither do most of his teammates. He kept his spirits high last season despite striking out 38 times and watching his batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage take a nosedive.
Even if Allen were to sneak a peak at a few box scores from last year, he would notice that he crossed the plate five more times, had two more extra-base hits, had eight more stolen bases and had only three fewer RBI than he did as a freshman.
"People say he had an off year, but I think he had a great year," ASU sophomore shortstop Dustin Pedroia said. "He's a leader on the field and in the clubhouse. Guys overlook that because maybe they don't know the true story. He's a great player and everybody looks up to him around here."
Allen vowed before the start of last season to avoid the notorious "sophomore slump," but it was a lot easier said than done. After all, he had just become the first freshman in school history to earn first-team All-Pac-10 honors with a .389 batting average, 21 extra-base hits, six home runs and 22 multihit games.
"I didn't really know if I was going to play that much," Allen said of his first year removed from Desert Vista High School in Phoenix. "I kind of just went out there and played the game like it was played in the backyard. I had a great time and my numbers just happened to be really good."
Allen knows his batting average may never again soar around the .400 mark, but he figures there's no shame in being a .332 career hitter, especially when he is being likened to a future Hall of Famer in his younger days.
"Like Barry Bonds, power comes with age and wisdom," Allen said. "Right now, I have the capability to hit a home run, but I just want to get on base and help the team win. Line drives will definitely be more beneficial to the team, but I know I'm going to run into a few home runs this year."
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org.