Left-hander Cory VanAllen looks poised to make the next step to Triple-A Syracuse following his best full season in the minors.
The 6-foot-3, 180 lb., Bakersfield, Calif., native became a fixture in the Double-A Harrisburg Senators' bullpen, appearing in 47 games with a 5-4 record, career-best 2.50 ERA in 57 2/3 innings and 71 strikeouts.
He ended the 2011 season on a hot streak, posting a 1.32 ERA in his final 10 games, allowing just two earned runs after July 31.
VanAllen looked very comfortable in his first start-to-finish season as a full-time reliever after pitching as a starter from 2006-2009.
Nationals director of player development Doug Harris said VanAllen has perservered throughout his time with the franchise.
"He has battled arm and knee injuries during his career," Harris said. "But everybody really liked the way his arm worked. The ball came out of his hand really well."
After VanAllen got hit hard in 2009, the Nationals decided to make a big change in his arm slot.
"Back then his arm slot was almost an overhand slot," Harris explained. "He really didn't have a matching breaking ball for a left-hander and with his slot he didn't create any angle problems for a left-handed (hitter). He was an atypical left-hander at that time."
Harris said the team was pleasantly surprised with how quickly the arm slot adjustment paid dividends for VanAllen.
"We (decided to) drop his arm slot down in 2010," Harris continued. "He had some success, but at that time he was kind of a niche guy. Sidearm left-handers are pretty rare. When he came back up last year, his slot is a little bit wider and a little bit lower (than) in 2009. So he has a little better angle and can create a little better depth to his breaking ball and the velocity was really good (in 2010). He now matches up better against left-handed hitters."
Former Senators pitching coach Randy Tomlin said the coaching staff was impressed with how VanAllen adjusted to his new role.
"Cory reinvented himself last year," Tomlin said. He came back and in a lot of ways he reopened eyes as to he was as a pitcher. Through the season, myself and (Harrisburg manager) Tony Beasley noticed that this guy is figuring it out. He was much more consistent with his stuff. His breaking ball came around and he started to show he could get left-handers out. He was the lefty we went to pitch in a ton in tight situations and was able to go right after (hitters)."
At 27, this will be a big season for VanAllen. If he can replicate his highly successful 2011, he has a big opportunity to move up with a good spring training. But what about his age? Harris said VanAllen's age does not concern the organization,
"We try to maximize every player we have," Harris said. "His age is relevant, but it does not mean you think less of a guy. It has taken a little bit of time with Cory. We feel like he is on the verge of assuming a little more priority within the organization. He warrants that opportunity at the next level at this point. You can't sit here and say it is a lock, but certainly he has put himself in position for that."