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Next step in Brandon Allen’s coaching journey: Cardinals’ assistant hitting coach

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Brandon Allen Cardinals assistant hitting coach

Brandon Allen coaches first base for the Memphis Redbirds this past season. Allen was promoted last month to be the Cardinals' new assistant hitting coach.

In today’s 10 a.m. video, columnist Ben Hochman debates why 1948 was Stan the Man’s best season with the Cardinals. Also, a happy birthday shoutout to Nelly … Furtado. And, as always, Hochman picks a random St. Louis Cards card from the hat.

Before Brandon Allen was promoted to the Cardinals’ major-league staff as their new assistant hitting coach in early November and before he began his coaching career in the minor leagues in 2016, there came a moment when he needed to make a difficult decision with his career as a player.

Allen — a 2004 fifth-round draft pick by the White Sox — spent the 2016 season with Cincinnati’s Class AAA affiliate. It was a year during which he was limited to 67 games because of injuries, and it was the fourth consecutive season where he hadn’t appeared in the majors.

It brought the Texas native to a crossroads.

“I just got to a point where I realized I couldn’t do certain things with injuries,” Allen said. “And I had a lot of players just kind of come talk to me and it’s like, ‘OK, I enjoy talking the game of baseball. How can I keep going with this?’ An opportunity opened up for me, and here we are.”

The 36-year-old Allen’s first opportunity to coach in the minors came in June 2017 when he joined the Cardinals organization as a hitting coach for Johnson City — the club’s rookie-level affiliate at the time. He became the hitting coach for Palm Beach, then Class High-A, in 2018 and received a promotion to the same role with Class AA Springfield in 2019. By 2020, Allen wound up at the Cardinals’ Class AAA affiliate — where he spent the past two seasons before becoming a coach in the majors this offseason.

He’ll be in the Cardinals dugout as the team’s assistant hitting coach at the start of next season.

“2017 didn’t seem so long ago, but I’ve grown a lot,” he said. “I’ve ran across many of players, many of techniques, and I’ve had to learn how to communicate with players, how to really dive deep into each individual and their process. It’s still a continuing process, but it’s something that I’ve grown to love.”

In his new job with the big-league club, Allen will work alongside hitting coach Turner Ward, who steps into the role vacated by Jeff Albert, and will play a role in helping Cardinals hitters that includes 2022 National League MVP Paul Goldschmidt, perennial All-Star and Silver Slugger third baseman Nolan Arenado and a number of young players with whom Allen worked in Memphis the past two seasons.

“Man, it’s a fantastic opportunity to keep growing and learning,” Allen said. “You’re never bigger than the game. And so I’m humbled and excited, but also ready to expand my knowledge and help these guys perform at the highest level.”

With Allen as hitting coach this past season, Memphis finished the MiLB season second in team average (.263) and homers (197), third in on-base percentage (.345) and slugging (.436), and fourth in OPS (.781). All of these were improvements following a 2021 season during which the Redbirds were outside of the top 12 teams in those same categories.

“You know, I give the credit to those guys,” Allen said of helping Cardinals prospects find offensive success in the minors. “They did the work and understood their movements, their swing and they can dive into video and point out, ‘OK, this doesn’t look right,’ or go into the analytics, go into a heat map and see, ‘OK, I’m struggling in this zone. Let’s go work on it.’ So a lot of credit goes to the hitters, to the players themselves, you know. They want to get better. They don’t want to sit in this rut. They want to get out of this rut that they’re in or they’re having some trouble in this spot.”

The players that Allen worked with the past two minor league seasons include the likes of Nolan Gorman, Alec Burleson and Lars Nootbaar. Having appeared in 109 games for the Redbirds this past season, Burleson had the chance to build a rapport with Allen. When talking about his work with Allen, Burleson credited the coach’s understanding of the different individuals within the team and his knowledge of what worked and didn’t work for each player. It’s a quality that Burleson appreciated as a hitter.

“It was great,” Burleson said of working with Allen. “I think his biggest attribute, and this is the one that I think that really appealed to me, is he listens well. He allows you to kind of talk to him and talk through if you’re having issues hitting or whatever. And he allows you to talk through it. Half the time that solves your problems, and then if that still doesn’t (work), he’s got good input.

“But he’s a very good listener. He likes to listen and take in everything you’re saying and then go from there. That’s what I really liked about him. If you had a couple of bad games, he didn’t try and get his hands on you — he just listened to you.”

The ability to communicate with the players around him is one aspect that Allen called a “key cornerstone in development.” It was something he’s been able to develop with himself as a coach since he made the switch from player to coach, even if the change was difficult at first.

“That wasn’t an easy transition,” Allen said of moving into a coaching role. “But I was content with my career being finished and (it being) time to learn how to communicate, learn different swings, learn how different players approach each aspect of their game. And I think it was easier in that sense being a player. But there’s so many different ways, so many different methods that people learn, people teach and so that’s been the fun part. And the most diligent throughout this process.”

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