Thursday, February 27, 2014

Oakland dumps Parrino, upgrades with Elmore

To complement Sogard, the A's have acquired fellow Arizona State alumni and 2B, Jake Elmore, in a swap that disposes of Andy Parrino off the 40 man roster and bolsters the Athletics middle infield depth stashed away in Sacramento. Elmore, a 26 year old veteran and senior signee during the 2008 Draft proceeding, the versatile asset rapidly ascended through Arizona's farm ladder and rocketed through affiliates after bypassing Visalia entirety prior to his 2012 MLB debut. Elmore's sensational campaign with Reno that season, going .344/.442/.465 through 511 PAs with a 143 wRC+, .386 BABIP, and 14.5% BB% to establish himself as one of the PCL's best infielders, wasn't enough to spare him as he was relinquished and consequently snagged by Houston, who served as Elmore's organization during the previous 2013 season. After a mediocre, yet improved, attempt with the major league squad, Elmore spent the hefty majority of his appearances in Oklahoma City featuring once more as a utility AAA injury replacement infield piece. Following his renewed stint with Chicago this offseason after Houston severed ties with the diminutive 5'9", 185 pounder, Elmore expected to enter their facility in the Cactus League and compete once more prior to another likely now International League assignment. Now however, the A's have sought out Elmore's services as the dealt cash considerations to Chicago to acquire him and replace Andy Parrino's post with his presence, now serving as the only MI replacement currently upon the 40 man roster. 

Elmore has revived significant praise for his exceptional plate discipline, featuring as some of the most elite through the PCL over the previous two campaigns, wielding a 105:91 BB/K between Nevada and Oklahoma. Additionally, Elmore is a tremendous contact heavy bat, with a spray approach and plus speed upon the basepaths, boosting his value with a PCL résumé of 48-14 in stolen base opportunities since 2012 (110-53 lifetime in MiLB). While stifled when pitted against MLB arsenals thus far, Elmore has accumulated a traditionally inflated BABIP thanks to his noticeable lack of power, baserunning, a line drive approach that have frustrated minor league arms and coaching staffs alike, making him one of the most feared leadoff men throughout the Pacific Coast League. The Athletics though seemed more intrigued by Elmore's outstanding versatility, playing all nine positions between Houston and OKC during the 2013 calendar year. All nine of them... Elmore primarily dabbled in the infield, with 27 cumulative contests between SS/2B with Houston and 54 at 2B while housed within their AAA affiliate, but Elmore also participated in LF, RF, CF, 1B, 3B, C, and pitched for his fourth career campaign (2011, 2010, 2009) while servicing in pinch running and hitting capacities. Elmore is also the 13th player in MLB history to pitch and catch in the same contest, joining Bert Campaneris in that exclusive club and featuring as the only non-catcher in the *history* of major league baseball to only catch and pitch without playing any other positions in a lone game. It's a tantalizing package for Oakland, who has been unabashed by their fondness towards those who can man several positions. To bolster his production even further, the right handed Elmore has incredibly favorable LHP splits, and shall likely be utilized in a platoon post should he arrive in Oakland during the 2014 season, hitting .297/.367/.432 between 167 amassed PAs in 2013 with a 17:17 BB/K versus southpaws. He shall likely be called upon should Punto or Callaspo succumb to injury and have a possible platoon constructed between he and Sogard, despite a lackluster MLB résumé of a .223/.290/.298 slash, 63 wRC+, and -0.8 fWAR through 209 plate appearances. However, he's fared somewhat sufficiently versus MLB lefties in a minimal 75 PAs, with a .250/.320/.309 line, a 9.3% BB% (7 BB), and a remarkable four strikeouts; production that suggests a greater sample size is required. 

Sacrificed is Andy Parrino, the long expected DFA casualty who now shall meander about waivers, but is unlikely to be scooped up by any interested suitor. Now signifying there are zero remaining 40 man roster members from the Tyson Ross swap following Andrew Werner's demotion to permit Scott Kazmir onto the roster earlier this offseason, Parrino is likely to never don an Athletics uniform again with less than noticeable offensive production and a ballooning strikeout rate. I wrote about the switch hitting outcast prior to his exile in January:

"Recently married this previous month, Parrino has definitely had an enjoyable offseason aside from any baseball particulars. But the former Padre has seen his fellow accompanied trade companion in Andrew Werner be ushered off the 40 man roster for Kazmir's entry and has additionally seen Pedro Figueroa be discarded for Gimenez to waltz onto the roster as well during this past December, narrowly avoiding a DFA himself as the fringe utility piece is precariously tightroping the 40 man roster and a ticket to the waiver wire for the time being, hoping to demonstrate his worth in February and through March to remain an Athletic for 2014. The addition for Nick Punto doesn't help the cause of the switch hitting New York native, but Parrino could still salvage an Oakland career with a dominant spring and would definitely benefit if either Sogard or Callaspo succumbed to injury prior to April. Regardless of how, this is likely Parrino's final campaign to showcase his worth for the A's before either a DFA or release following a uncharacteristicly forgettable 2013.

Originally welcomed into professional baseball via a 26th round selection in 2007, Parrino gradually outlasted his competition in Eugene, Fort Wayne, and Lake Elsinore and steadily climbed towards a 2010 attempt with San Antonio where he garnered Texas League midseason All-Star honors en route to a 2011 where he burst through to Tucson with a .303/.388/.539 slash in just north of 175 PAs and proceeded to assimilate to his AAA surroundings seamlessly with a .327/.399/.484 encore. Essentially, there were zero roadblocks for Parrino, who debuted for San Diego during the September of that 2011 but was finally was wrangled in with mediocre showing in ~50 PAs before his 2012 approached. As he settled in to the first offseason where he had legitimate major league expectations, Parrino would wind up splitting duties between San Diego and Tucson prior to his arrival in the A's organization with Werner for Tyson Ross and AJ Kirby-Jones in the offseason, and once again thrived in AAA while being stifled by major league repertoires:

Tucson (2012): 265 PAs, .328/.400/.484, 127 wRC+, .136 ISO, .385 wOBA, .409 BABIP

San Diego (2012): 138 PAs, .207/.316/.273, 51 wRC+, .069 ISO, .253 wOBA, .284 BABIP

With another opportunity presented with another ballclub, things seemed optimistic for Parrino as he initially began in Sacramento before sporadic attempts in Oakland throughout 2013. Unfortunately however, for the first time as a professional AP struggled vehemently during a minor league campaign, going .212/.300/.302 with a 62 wRC+ in his 420 plate appearances with the River kittens. The result was incredibly disappointing for Parrino, who now has less standing with his MLB difficultly spreading to his PCL performance and a career major league résumé of .186/.295/.242 with a 51 wRC+, .238 wOBA, .057 ISO and a -0.2 fWAR alongside an inept 27.9% K%.

In short, Parrino needs a successful stretch fast if he wishes to participate in the majors come 2014. If he can navigate past the remainder of the offseason and still be under the A's watch, the spring's importance for Parrino is one of the largest of any 40 man resident for Oakland."

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Bullpen Bargains: Otero, Abad, Rodriguez set to star

As Oakland's frenzied offseason has boded Jim Johnson, poised to usurp Balfour's 9th inning duties, Eric O'Flaherty and his traditionally sensational performances despite his corresponding injury that'll sideline him until the medial portion of 2014, and Luke Gregerson, one of the NL's most fearsome set-up men for the previous few seasons, the A's have established perhaps the most intimidating relieving cast throughout major league baseball as the newly acquired trio shall contrast with stalwart forces such as Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook that have steadied the Athletics over their previous two AL West championship crusades. With the inheritance of Johnson, Gregerson, and O'Flaherty's contacts, Oakland is guaranteed to distribute in excess of $17M (Johnson $10M, Gregerson $5.025M, O'Flaherty 2 years/$7M) to those individuals alone and have devoted approximately 23% of their 2014 payroll to their bullpen assets, deadlocked with Tampa Bay for the highest percentage compromised to relieving specialists in baseball. Presumed additionally to be bestowed with bullpen berths are Dan Otero, Jesse Chavez, Fernando Rodriguez (TJS) and Fernando Abad, a far less notable contingent that'll service for the Athletics within their low leverage situations and garner only but minimal fame outside of the organization. However, this cast is undeniably pivotal for Oakland as the foundation of the Athletics pitching staff, utilized should the rotation struggle or succumb to injury and be trotted out in situational appearances to nullify an especially pesky bat, a role previously encompassed by Jerry Blevins and Evan Scribner. While Scribner still remains within the organization, he has had his options depleted and is highly unlikely to be granted with a opening day post unless injury should occur, so it'll most likely be a waiver adventure for the pitcher who clinched Oakland's 2012 AL West title in late March, as Jesse Chavez has promptly overtaken him upon the long relief righty depth chart.

Chavez was originally dealt to the A's for cash considerations from Toronto and became an organizational scapegoat after floundering through a horrid 2012 debut after four outings, two of which he throttled in by Baltimore and Detroit, that found him on the fringe of the A's organization and left many questioned why the Athletics went the entire offseason prior to 2013 without releasing him. The former asset that gave Tampa Bay Rafael Soriano, Chavez long has meandered throughout major league franchises between six organizations and serviced primarily as a long relief spot starter in desperation before latching onto Oakland. He figured to reprise his position after commencing within Sacramento's rotation, but astonishingly patched together one of his most outstanding stints in nearly a half decade for the Rivercats between five outings (30 IP) which was enough to grant him admittance into a permanent A's bullpen role, much to the chagrin of the fanbase. After a career of disparaging ineptitude, having amassed a lifetime -1.4 fWAR through 177 1/3 MLB frames with a FIP north of 4.90, Chavez stampeded to his most exquisite extended major league campaign by far between 35 appearances and 57 1/3 IP. The righty burst through for a cumulative 3.01 FIP, 4.8% HR/FB (12.4% career), 22.2% K%, 8.1% BB%, and 0.7 fWAR to become one of the most dominant long relief specialists during the 2013 campaign in the American League. The transition can be pinpointed to a repertoire shift, practically disbanding his slider entirely and incorporating a newly mastered cutter (41.6% of pitches thrown during 2013 were cutters compared to 34.1% fastballs, the lowest mark throughout his MLB tenure). Additionally coinciding with a bump in curveball utilization, Chavez has since been reborn as a revitalized reserve rotation member, now firmly entrenched in Oakland's bullpen while serving as a starting replacement should injury arise. Just recently avoiding arbitration for $750,000, Chavez now is poised to duplicate his production as a recalibrated 30 year old journeyman that has since seen his career salvaged by the Athletics, featuring as a crucial reliever for the A's throughout this 2014. While not in immediate danger, Chavez is out of options for the entirety of this approaching season. 

Another offseason acquisition that shall compete within Phoenix Municipal while out of options is Fernando Abad, the Dominican LHP that essentially replaces Pedro Figueroa's position for the Athletics as the resident aging international LOOGY that shall have to make the roster should he wish to retain his position upon the 40 man roster. Abad, swapped for John Wooten in another transaction between Beane and Rizzo, recently embarked on a stupendous romp through the Dominican and Venezuelan winter leagues with the Toros del Este and the Navegantes de Magallanes while not permitting any walks through 17 appearances and 18 innings compared to 15 K, 25 H, and 7 allowed versus AA/AAA caliber competition. It was encouraging production in his initial organized baseball performance while housed within the A's organization, now seemingly assured an opening bullpen post barring a disastrous spring. Previously with Washington, Abad amassed his most sterling statistical output of his MLB career through 37 2/3 IP, with a 6.0% BB%, 6.3% HR/FB, 3.26 FIP and 0.3 fWAR as he fared considerably more favorably after shifting from the infuriating Crawford Boxes and Houston after surrendering 7 of his 14 HRs with the Astros (2010-2012, 84 2/3 IP) to RHB in Minute Maid. The former top Houston prospect just prior to his debut while still housed in Corpus Christi, Abad thrived when relieved of the dreadful confines of south Texas as the control oriented asset fared for better within his constrained DC stint. Now, after having disbanded with a 37th round corner outfielder in John Wooten, Abad arrives as one of the most phenomenal additions of the offseason and ought to benefit even more so from the pitcher friendly atmospheric conditions within the Coliseum. As opposed to the aforementioned Figueroa, Abad's forte is his exceptional precision while incorporating his 92-95 fastball and accompanying changeup/curveball secondary slate, which features in stark contrast to the budding Henry Rodriguez that is Figgy. Another low budget significant upgrade orchestrated by the Athletics, Abad should make it a difficulty for the organization to squeeze O'Flaherty onto their roster once he's cleared to return. 

Abad's 2012 Houston bullpen companion, Fernando Rodriguez was shipped to Oakland as an accessory within the Lowrie swap, featuring as an inconsistent long relief asset that had dabbled in Anaheim prior to his free agency with the Astros in 2010. After succumbing to an injury to his Ulnar collateral ligament and having to undergo TJS before he could debut with Oakland in 2013, Rodriguez has since recuperated and is one of the more highly anticipated bullpen additions for the Athletics after what has been reported as a remarkable spring thus far for the 29 year old El Paso native. With rave reviews from Bob Melvin and opposition such as Luke Montz, who stated he "Never wanted to face him again" after a simulated game/BP session (Per Susan Slusser), Rodriguez has raised eyebrows throughout the Phoenix facility and figures to be bestowed with an instantaneous bullpen position following his extended stint and supposed rehabilitation assignment with Sacramento. The curveball specialist (27.6% CB% for his career) has a reputation to be erratic, after his 70 1/3 IP stay with Houston in 2012 in which he amassed a 11.0% BB% and walked 24 batters in 28 1/3 IP on the road away from Houston (As opposed to a mere 10 through 41 IP in Texas). He does support that with a plus strikeout percentage (24.9% K% career mark), but has often been bitten by a litany of dingers after boasting a 11.5% HR/9 throughout his career cumulative 123 1/3 IP, including once again cursing the Crawford Boxes after surrendering 9 of his career 16 HRs while housed within Houston's organization to RHB at home (47 1/3 IP, 7 HR in 75 1/3 IP in all other scenarios). Regardless of his mediocre 4.35 FIP and -0.1 FIP throughout his brief tenure when pitted against MLB competition, Rodriguez evidently has the attention of the Athletics and shall receive an initial opportunity with the ballclub to prove himself. After avoiding arbitration this winter for a sum just slightly greater than $600,000, he'll attempt to definitively clinch the Lowrie swap for the Athletics with a Chavez-esque breakthrough campaign. 

The often forgotten workhorse hidden beneath the notable residents of Oakland's bullpen, Dan Otero has constructed an outstanding case as one of the premier precision relievers in the majors, after having been scooped up by the Athletics after two consecutive DFAs just before 2013 began. He was forcibly made to navigate through waivers once more by the A's, but would remain within the organization and was consequently outrighted to Sacramento to commence the previous season, stomping past the AAA competition through 23 appearances, 15 of which he wound up credited with a save to complement his 22:1 K/BB (ONE walk) in 27 1/3 IP to conclude a PCL performance that jarred the Oakland front office and saw Otero don the A's insignia on June 14th to service as the Athletics' middle relief asset. The fastball/slider/changeup arsenal wielded by Otero stymied opponents upon his first legitimate prolonged major league stint with the A's,  completing his attempt with 39 IP through 33 appearances with a 27:6 K/BB (17.0% K%/3.7% BB%) with zero dingers that calculated to a 2.12 FIP and a 0.8 fWAR. The remarkable control bullpen piece boasts a lengthy résumé of eyepopping statistical results, with a mere 12 HRs permitted through 354 1/3 professional frames, 48 walks distributed, and a 2.20 GB/FB ratio, with the only lackluster attribute noted in regards to his performance being mediocre strikeout percentages with occasionally lofty BABIP rates. That minute critique shall likely not thwart Otero's impending 2014, which will all but assuredly be splendid once more, quite possibly featuring as the most underrated reliever in all of baseball. 

Oakland being granted with the designation as the most imposing bullpen amongst all of baseball isn't exactly an exaggeration. But the majority of those proclaiming that have yet to even investigate the secondary tier of relieving assets possessed by the Athletics, and with the performances they're likely to produce, it could possibly even result in historic ramifications let alone restricted just to 2014 as one of the greatest relieving corps ever... But, we'll just have to wait until November to possibly ignite that discussion 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Kyle Wheeler Q&A

Buried beneath the onslaught of draftees recently acquired by Oakland during the previous summer, Kyle Wheeler was packaged to the Athletics as a 26th rounder and senior backstop hailing from Mississippi's NAIA stronghold, Belhaven. The third and ultimately last catcher wrangled in by the organization behind Iolana Akau (20th round) and Josh Miller (23rd round), Wheeler has since featured prominently in the Papago facility and is attempting to construct a spring résumé fitting for an initial Beloit assignment, already one of the more elderly draftees from the most recent class (10/16/1990). For the stout 5'11", 195 pound Louisiana native, it'll be a crucial 2014 to establish himself within the organization after accumulating but a mere 59 plate appearances while housed upon the AZL roster after having acclimate following his NAIA campaign concluding in April as opposed to June as most Division I draftees. While there is no legitimate sample size to cite thus far, the then 22 year old went 14-52 with 5 2Bs, 1 HR and a 3:16 BB/K to complete his initial foray into the professional ranks before the A's bestowed him with bonus game opportunities after an Instructional League invitation in September. 

Following an immediate collegiate pitstop at SWMCC, Wheeler ascended to the NAIA and donned a uniform with the Blazers for his upperclassman campaigns, concluding his amateur tenure with a .338/.419/.487 attempt through 58 contests as a senior in a performance that attracted MLB organizations to a Mississippian campus and ultimately saw the senior be swiped by the Athletics. Now, with the offseason dwindling down, Wheeler shall attempt to replicate the route of Phil Pohl, Oakland's 28th round draftee from the 2012 proceedings that spent a mere three contests in Beloit prior to a Stockton assignment for the remainder of 2013 due to his age and admirable initial performance within California, shockingly serving as the third 2012 draft asset to have arrived in central California behind Addison Russell and Max Muncy. One of the more anonymous draftees amongst the previous crop, Wheeler intends upon boarding a shuttle to Wisconsin to commence this campaign and capitalize upon his seniority to receive priority should a Stockton post become vacated.  I spoke with the backstop and unofficial ambassador to Papago Park in regards to his impending summer within the A's organization: 

CK: Hey Kyle, how has everything been this offseason and so far in Arizona?

KW: This offseason has been great, finally done with school and I can solely focus on baseball 100%. To be honest, this offseason was surreal. Getting to tell all my friends stories about 1990 Cy Young award winner Bob Welch, the great Ricky Henderson who was faster than light itself, and gold medalist Marcus Jensen, until telling these stories I don't think I was actually able to enjoy it. 

CK: You were the first draftee from Belhaven since 2010 and only one of 37 NAIA draftees selected throughout the whole MLB Draft. Were you aware of Oakland's interest before the draft and did you have any expectations before June rolled around? 

KW: When I heard my name called over the internet I couldn't believe it was from Oakland! My scout, Kelcey Mucker, had spoken to me once or twice rather than the Phillies and Cubs who had spoken to me multiple times. But more than happy where I am and thankful for this opportunity.

CK: You've gotten some praise for the defensive abilities. Do you consider yourself an above average defensive catcher and do you take pride in scouts noticing that about you?

KW: I take a lot of pride in controlling the run game, but I feel it's never my place to dictate my ability. I play the game of baseball hard and let my ability speak for itself.

CK: Definitely have had a lengthy opportunity to get accustomed to Arizona after arriving there and then sticking around for instructs. What was your impression of the competition down there in the AZL and your experience within the instructional camp?

KW: I feel if you're privileged enough to even make it to the rookie level where I was at, you're a great player. You're doing something many dream of and few who get the chance to do. Instructs was for sure a higher level of play. You had hitters and pitchers thinking three pitches ahead rather than solely that one pitch. So there were a lot more adjustments being made to certain situations. But I loved every second of it and can't wait for the season to start

CK: Even though it was only a few plate appearances, I noticed you went 1-14 against lefties in the AZL and fared much better against righties in your first few professional games. Was that just a fluke or circumstantial? Or have you historically  felt more confident against one over another? 

KW: Haha funny we talk about the south paws! 1-14... Whew, What a stat. Little frustrating because as a high school and college hitter I was notorious for hitting lefties hard. I think I pressed too much at times and these times just so happen to be against lefties

CK: What do you hope you improve upon throughout 2014 whether it be your offensive approach, overall strength, etc? 

KW: There is always something to improve on for me. Cleaner actions in some mechanics catching, focusing and preparing myself as a hitter mentally is something I need to improve on. But I feel as if the day you have nothing to improve on, that's the day baseball is done with us. Always working for something better.

CK: Any indication as to whether you'll be headed to Beloit to commence this season or if you'll be remaining in extended? 

KW: I hope to be in Beloit, I'm an older guy and I don't want to be 23-24 in rookie ball or Vermont. But if that's where I'm stationed, I will do everything in my power to do what is necessary to be at the next level.

CK: Bonus: Most unusual guy you've shared a lockeroom with since arriving in Arizona?

KW: This is a no brainer... Jeremy Barfield! Love the guy, he's extremely funny and likes a good time and you never know what to expect from him day to day. Always fun to hear stories from his career thus far and just the advice he has to offer is great to here from a guy who was at the triple A level. 

CK: What do you hope to have accomplished once this 2014 season has ended?

KW: At the end of the 2014 season, where ever I am located I hope to have a division title, win the playoffs, and be a better player than what I was. I'm a team guy and I know to accept any role I'm given, and just looking forward to the many blessings I may receive. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Matt Olson and the dinger

Chris Carter's legacy within the Athletics' organization has been reborn with the likes of Matt Olson, another tremendous 6'4", 230 pound first baseman/corner outfielder who concluded his Midwest League debut with a double digit HR total for the month of August to finish with an official 23 longballs, which was enough to rank second throughout the organization behind Max Muncy. Unlike Muncy however, Olson is going to thrive upon dingers while housed by the A's, likely to always be burdened with a ghastly strikeout percentage and having to compensate with some shots over the outfield fences. Truly now, as we can dissect his first full season attempt, it can be argued that Olson is the best pure power hitter Oakland has had in their possession since the Carter era, back when Vernon embarked upon his historic 39 HR romp with the league champion 2008 Stockton Ports as a 21 year old. It'll be another rehashing of trogdor with Olson as a 20 year old with the Ports six years later during the 2014 campaign, with a sometimes inconsistent stint with Beloit unlikely to stunt his progress onward to the California League. With a porch jutting outward from right field for the left handed piece to target, unbridled winds and oppressive humidity resulting in absurd homer distances, Olson could probably match Michael Choice's 30 HR attempt during 2011 while wearing a blindfold. Undoubtedly, there will be some horrid misses and Olson's swing mechanics could be altered meticulously which would consequently interfere with his loopy dinger enabling approach, but the organization should allow him to tackle the Cal League unhinged with it only being his second Athletics year, something incredibly exciting for those attending contests at Banner Island this season. Legitimately, Olson has a phenomenal opportunity to become the first 40 HR hitter in Stockton history, and therefore develop into one of the most fearsome power prospects in baseball, already having ranked 5th in ISO (.210) amongst Class A assets below 21 years old during the 2013 campaign  just slightly behind Joey Gallo, Byron Buxton, Nick Williams and Corey Seager (Minimum 300 PAs). 

Despite meager statistical marks after finding it somewhat of a difficulty to acclimate to Midwest League competition prior to August, Olson ended his 2013 by literally swinging at everything, with 10 HR and 39 strikeouts in just shy of 120 plate appearances including a five game stretch with five dingers (8-21, 3 doubles, 5 HR, 6 strikeouts) between August 19th-23rd versus Wisconsin and Kane County in a frenzy that showcased his monstrous potential. While greatly unharnessed, his might still is pretty tantalizing from Oakland's perspective, featuring as the best pure power asset within the farm system at the moment, with his only possible competitor for that designation coming from Ryan Huck. The former Georgia prep sensation had committed to Vanderbilt before the A's scrounged him up as the 47th overall selection in the 2012 Draft, featuring as dominant ace upon the mound for Parkview as well, but the Athletics seemed convinced to capitalize upon his strength rather than utilize him as a finesse pitcher. He proceeded to rip past inferior AZL arsenals with a .237 ISO and .282/.345/.520 slash through 197 PAs before he was granted with a Vermont assignment and went 3-11 with a HR and a 3:4 BB/K that convinced Oakland's MiLB curators to stash him upon Burlington's postseason roster. It was remarkable first few months for the Athens native, who then trekked to Wisconsin with the Snappers as Oakland shifted their MWL affiliation. 

Carter, to compare, had a more imposing season prior to joining Oakland in 2007 with Kannapolis, however the South-Atlantic is a far more offensively charged league and Carter (20) was a year older than when Olson attempted as a 19 year old. Just for visual purposes, here are their Low-A résumés:

Matt Olson: .225/.326/.435, 558 PAs, 23 HR, .210 ISO, .349 wOBA, 114 wRC+, .272 BABIP, 12.9% BB%, 26.5% K%. 

Chris Carter (2007): .288/.382/.512, 537 PAs, 24 HR (Same amount as Logan Morrison in the Sally League that year as well... Which is interesting I guess), .224 ISO, .396 wOBA, 138 wRC+, .327 BABIP, 12.5% BB%, 20.5% K% 

Olson is definitely more of a pull oriented offensive presence, as evidenced by scouting reports and statistically by his BABIP percentages, something that'll undoubtedly be emphasized before April. And Carter unfortunately didn't have a legitimate age 19 full season sample to utilize, but was overmatched by SAL repetiores through a mere 13 contests in 2006 to conclude his rookie professional season before said aforementioned statistical result. So, should Olson make improvements one would expect from a budding teenage power phenom, he ought to be able approach that Trogdor performance. Plus, you plop that in the Cal League, and you're just getting silly. To complement Olson as well, he features a considerably more elite defensive cog than Carter ever was, after being named Baseball America's best defensive 2013 MWL 1B with an additional means that should bolster his value. 

Olson has similarly drawn Dan Vogelbach comparisons for his sheer physical capabilities at the plate and accounting for how the two originated from an identical scouting regions as preparatory sensations before being drafted. Although, the two differ drastically in regards to their discipline, as Olson will always wield absurd strikeout rates and amass equally as ludicrous dinger totals whereas Chicago's Troggy will more constrained and have a significantly lowered punchout rate. Olson is probably a medium between Joey Gallo and Voggie, not accumulating the gaudy and eyepopping annual homer rates (Except for in this 2014) as Gallo but contrasting that with better discipline than Texas' adolescent power threat, which really says something about Gallo for you... Regardless though, Olson is the only one of these three that'll have the pleasure of arriving in the California League, and while he'll need to contort his approach as he progresses through to Midland and Sacramento, 2014 ought to serve as a remarkable display of a bonkers five month long home run derby for onlookers to enjoy. Even should Olson exhibit some deficiencies, his youth shall serve as an excuse and he'll have ample opportunities to tweak prior to advancing through the minor league system, which means this campaign is Olson essentially freestyling within California, something that could shatter Oakland Athletics organizational dinger marks. Stockton's resident cleanup piece should breakthrough for the Ports, regardless if this inflated 2014 power production may never be seen again throughout his career. So just settle in, relax and watch the dingers fly 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Montz and Taylor positionally defined

Through the remaining storylines emanating from Phoenix Municipal and Papago over the previous few days, it has been announced that Michael Taylor shall be restrained specifically to outfield duties this 2014 and Luke Montz will partake in a permanent transition to 1B as opposed to his primary catching position due to his shoulder hindrance. Both have significant impacts upon the Athletics MiLB depth chart and ramifications for playing distribution in Sacramento, as Taylor shall join Montz as an exiled former 40 man roster member should be not be slotted immediately in Oakland thanks to his lack of options. Still, both could theoretically play their way back to the east bay, as Montz began as a NRI the previous spring prior to receiving 25 man entry in May. Should Taylor once more be sectioned off to the Rivercats, it'll take a eyeopening performance for the Stanford alumni and historical A's enigma to finally acquire an opportunity with the ballclub and consequently leave Shane Peterson as the only reserve 40 man outfielder. The two amassed a cumulative 55 PAs during the previous season and had an extraordinarily limited role upon the squad, but should injuries permit, these two will undeniably have a pivotal influence within the A's organization. Assuming Taylor makes it through waivers should no injuries occur to Crisp, Cespedes, Reddick or Gentry before April, these two will likely serve as the attractive non-roster additions to consider in the midst of 2014.

Luke Montz, released from the organization following a debilitating and season ending injury, was hoisted back onto the Athletics after re-signing to another MiLB contract in October and becoming one of the first minor league signees of the offseason for the second consecutive year. Montz participated in only three contests at 1B during the 2013 campaign, one with Oakland following a pinch hitting appearance and two additional starts in Sacramento, so the sturdy 6'1", 235 pounder didn't receive an excessive amount of opportunities outside of his C/DH rotation which compromised 31 of his 33 Rivercat appearances, despite not catching at all while suited up with the Athletics. It was an abruptly brief stint for Montz, who only managed to accumulate 175 plate appearance while housed within the A's organization and unfortunately did not provide a sufficient statistical sample size. However, Montz figures to service as the ideal competition to Nate Freiman as a LHP mashing power bat, with Montz having obliterated lefties throughout his minor league tenure. While within Miami's organization, he slashed out to .351/.473/.667 in an approximate 135 PAs for Jacksonville and .248/.351/.608 in 145 PAs for New Orleans prior to his minute 37 PAs against southpaws with Sacramento last season, in which he went 8-30 with 3 2Bs, 2 HR and a 7:9 BB/K. Montz additionally has more sound discipline within a platoon matchup, with a 53:61 BB/K over his previous three MiLB campaigns, so it seems the most logical route towards the majors for the 30 year old former Expos draftee. His overall Sacramento result was indicative of his thunderous bat, finishing top 10 throughout the PCL in ISO with a .295 mark despite the truncated season and a cumulative .246/.352/.541 slash (131 wRC+, .387 wOBA, 31.0% K%) that should have him encompassing the kitten's cleanup duties. With Freiman also seemingly headed for Sacramento at this instant, it ought to be a highly contested duel between the two for opportunities, with this shift additionally possibly forcing Barton to shift to 3B. As for Aliotti's playing time... I'm as stumped as you are. 

Taylor has participated in Oakland for three straight seasons, despite amassing only 81 plate appearances with extremely limited chances that have prevented A's faithful from genuinely witnessing him for an extended period. Albeit, the results within a minuscule sample haven't been particularly exquisite, with a cumulative -1.1 fWAR and a .135/.210/.189 slash in stark contrast to his consistently exemplary annual Sacramento crusades, most recently manning a .281/.360/.474, .370 wOBA, 120 wRC+, .193 ISO 2013 while pitted against AAA competition. The corner outfielder has 1947 career plate appearances within Sacramento since arriving in Oakland, and holds the distinguished yet saddening honor as the Rivercats' all-time runs leader. To break from the central Californian prison, it was speculated Taylor would experiment with opportunities at 1B and received contests the previous spring in the infield. However, through his 112 MiLB bouts, Taylor remained an exclusive outfielder and the notion of him playing 1B was left as a hypothetical transition as opposed to the organization exploring it extensively. With well established reverse splits, it would be difficult to capitalize upon a platoon position for Taylor regardless, and his fate purely hinges upon spring injuries to have his fate with the A's result in something other than a waiver claim or release. He'll be forced to contend with Jake Goebbert and Billy Burns for non-roster outfield supremacy, but still could construct a campaign that demonstrates to Oakland that he deserves one more attempt to prove his worth. Should he not though, this is all but certainly the final season in green and gold for Michael Taylor. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Oakland exploring Aledmys Diaz

Rumors have surfaced for the second consecutive offseason that the Athletics are intrigued by the prospects of Cuban shortstop sensation, Aledmys Diaz, who defected from his homeland prior to 2013. There was a highly publicized snafu in regards to Diaz' age that prevented Oakland from acquiring him for the 2013 campaign as his age was exaggerated and he was deemed ineligible to participate with a major league organization until 2014. Now, having just been cleared to ink with a MLB franchise on February 19th, Diaz has accumulated a gaggle of suitors attempting to purchase his services for this approaching season. The A's have been quite fond of Diaz, but shall have to compete with a plethora of ballclubs including Toronto, New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Seattle, St. Louis and Atlanta to coincide with the projected pricetag of $7-8M per campaign. While lofty for an organization in Oakland already anticipated to boast an approximate $80M 2014 payroll, the Athletics could value the middle infielders' tools enough to even further balloon their monetary constraints to permit the former Serie Nacional de Beisbol standout onto their roster.

Now legitimately 23 years old, Diaz possesses exemplary arm strength at shortstop and outstanding plate discipline, an oddity for a Cuban national team member, despite a loopy swing that could occasionally be exposed by MLB pitching. Still, his power projection bodes well even within the Coliseum and is expected to acclimate smoothly to the majors. Wielding a  .303/.372/.440 slash, 135:114 BB/K, and 30 HR marks through over 1200 Cuban PAs prior to 2013 in a performance through his age 18-21 season that ranks better than Alexi Ramirez, Yunel Escobar and Yuniesky Betancourt, Diaz would likely commence in Sacramento or Midland initially for Oakland, but could rapidly ascend dependent upon his performance. Oakland would all but certainly attempt to shift Diaz from shortstop as well with Addison and Lowrie already entrenched there, making 3B a legitimate possibility or even 2B regardless of that transition possibly squandering his throwing prowess as he additionally demonstrates phenomenal range. The Athletics shall not hold an individual workout for Diaz though, and could be outbid by a considerably more competitive contingent than with Nakajima, as Hiroyuki's only other publicized organization attempting to get him was Arizona. Should they snag Aledmys, there might have to be a corresponding payroll dump, but position shouldn't be of any concern because either Lowrie will shift to second or Diaz will shift to 3B/2B. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Addison Russell and the Texas League transition

Oakland undoubtedly is within possession of their best prospect possibly throughout franchise history in Addison Russell, their shortstop phenom aged 20 years who is expected to debut come 2015 in the Coliseum and hopefully service as the A's perennial positional superstar for years to come. After a sensational conclusion to his Cal League stint after hitting .315/.468/.609 through 139 PAs after recuperating from a thumb injury that cost him 10 consecutive days in the latter portion of July, Russell seems poised for Midland after being overwhelmed by PCL arsenals as a teenager (1-13, 9 K's) in a three game sequence with the Rivercats in September. However, this ought to service as Russell's most daunting task as this 2014 campaign rapidly approaches with the Texas League having had a notorious reputation for neutralizing even the most remarkable Athletics prospects throughout the past half decade. For Addison, who struggled mightily through May and had a mediocre statistical record prior to July while donning a Ports uniform, he shall not be able to afford inconsistency throughout the initial few months in Texas as he most likely shall not be able to salvage his cumulative record as instantaneously as he did in Stockton. Playing within the most power suppressing league amongst A's full season affiliates alongside being forced to confront even more so advanced and groomed repertoires, Russell could be in for a frustrating season with the Rockhounds and may not be able to produce to the extent in which he had thus far through Arizona, Vermont, Burlington and the 209 with historical résumés suggesting the AA promotion is the most grueling within Oakland's farm system. However, Addison does possess the capability to easily breeze past this level of competition seamlessly because, well, he's Addison F*cking Russell and to reiterate, is possibly is the most highly anticipated Oakland prospect of *all time*. So, while these previous Midland alumni may not have had a similar amount of potentiality... or athleticism... or instincts... or upside or radiating aura that Addison provides for the organization, it still is worthy to note the difficulties associated with the Midland ascent that have continuously tormented Oakland hopefuls. 

Michael Choice:

Stockton (2011)- 542 PAs, .285/.376/.542, 30 HR, 131 wRC+, 11.3% BB%, 24.7% K%, .257 ISO, .396 wOBA

Midland (2012)- 402 PAs, .287/.356/.423, 10 HR, 117 wRC+, 8.2% BB%, 21.9% K%, .136 ISO, .347 wOBA

Choice was hindered significantly by the gusty west Texas plains and therefore saw his power statistics drastically decline after anticipation built dramatically about him being the next organizational power phenom and possibly even arriving in Oakland by September 2012. Alas, he only logged a career 12 PAs with the Athletics during September of 2013 after a far more successful encore with Sacramento, as he now is housed within Texas' system. Albeit, he did improve his contact percentages during his Midland attempt, but it took a frantic 11 day frenzy to conclude his 2012 where he hit .500/.557/.818 (22-44, 3 HR, 1 3B, 3 2B, 5 BB, 5 K, 2 HBP) to construct a halfway decent overall statistical record in the midst of a 16 game hitting streak before he suffered a season ending boxer's fracture. Still, Midland was Choice's worst MiLB season by far, proving to be the most difficult shift for the Arlington son that'll likely launch a few dingers off the A's pitching staff this season 

Miles Head:

Stockton (2012)- 293 PAs, .382/.433/.715, 18 HR, 190 wRC+, 7.8% BB%, 18.8% K%, .333 ISO, .483 wOBA

Midland (2012/2013)- 397 PAs, .248/.307/.362, 7 HR, sub 100 wRC+, 7.0% BB%, 29.5% K%, sub .110 ISO, sub .300 wOBA

Miles had a historic romp through Stockton in his Athletics organizational debut, in arguably one of the most dominant Cal League stretches in the league's exsistance. It was expected he would effortlessly take a route towards the majors through Texas after his graduation, but that notion was soon derailed as he flailed versus AA arsenals to conclude 2012 and then experienced another onslaught to commence 2013 before he underwent shoulder surgery that abruptly ended his campaign. He'll attempt to conquer the competition while within the confines of CitiBank Ballpark for the third consecutive stint come 2014, with his fellow trade companion, Raul Alcantara, having now caught up to him. The rotund corner infielder may still undergo experimentation at first base despite currently residing at 3B, but his offensive woes are the means of emphasis at the moment.

Grant Green:

Stockton (2010)- 606 PAs, .318/.363/.520, 20 HR, 125 wRC+, 6.3% BB%, 19.3% K%, .382 wOBA, .203 ISO

Midland (2011)- 587 PAs, .291/.343/.408, 9 HR, 101 wRC+, 6.6% BB%, 20.3% BB%, .336 wOBA, .117 ISO

Green was nipped by a bout of regression prior to featuring within Oakland major league infield discussion, with lowered BABIP rates and an even greater on-base deficiency with his travels to the southwest. Of course, the power rates nosedived as well, but despite these statistical bulletpoints, the A's acknowledged the Texas League's difficulty and bumped Green up towards Sacramento and bestowed him with an AZFL berth as well. Now, with Alberto Callaspo (Frankly, a much better middle infield option) having usurped Green's post in the organization, he is destined to wallow away in Disneyland and Utah throughout this upcoming 2014. Still, as Oakland's top middle infield prospect at the time, the Texas League proved to be the largest hurdle within his MiLB career. 

Jemile Weeks:

Stockton (2009)- 232 PAs, .299/.385/.468, 7 HR, 127 wRC+, 11.2% BB%, 17.2% K%, .342 BABIP, .169 ISO, .382 wOBA

Midland (2010)- 312 PAs, .267/.335/.403, 3 HR, 103 wRC+, 9.0% BB%, 11.9% K%, .293 BABIP, .136 ISO, .336 wOBA

Jemile's power rates obviously can be neglected as that wasn't necessarily his forte and his SwStk% improved dramatically, but the on-base percentages and spray contact decreased and upper echelon repertoires bound Weeks to a mediocre output. Regardless, the organization still slotted him in Sacramento en route to his stellar 2011 debut campaign in Oakland, which could occur with Addison as well should be only manufacture mediocre marks due to his prospect standing within the A's franchise. It was the only affiliate in which Jemile couldn't take advantage of through his ascent though, despite just recently struggling in a disappointing 2013 Sacramento attempt following his sophomore regression. 

Max Muncy:

Stockton (2013)- 428 PAs, .285/.400/.507, 21 HR, 134 wRC+, 15.0% BB%, 15.9% K%, .222 ISO, .390 wOBA

Midland (2013)- 197 PAs, .250/.340/.413, 4 HR, 12.2% BB%, 17.3% K%, .163 ISO, .336 wOBA

Muncy serviced as a 2013 interpretation of Miles Head for Stockton, despite actually possessing some plate discipline instincts that ought to sustain his production throughout the minors in a performance that brought him to the forefront of Oakland A's farm discussions and have since placed him upon some renditions of the Athletics 2014 top 10 prospects. While not putrid in Midland to an extent that Miles Head was, it was a deflating and mediocre attempt after his celebrated Ports tenure. Realistically however, Muncy shall not replicate his dinger flurry that he demonstrated in the Cal League, considering himself as line drive, contact oriented bat who stated to me in an interview that he despises striking out more than anything within the game of baseball. He projects to be more of a Daric Barton prototype, which was evident through his 197 AA plate appearances and brief AZFL stint. He'll attempt Midland once more in 2014, hopefully with more consistency. But another 25 HR campaign or title as organizational home run leader may be a bit outlandish for the former 5th rounder and first 2012 draftee to Midland. 

Beau Taylor:

Stockton (2012)- 226 PAs, .328/.412/.446, 3 HR, 129 wRC+, 12.4% BB%, 12.8% K%, .370 BABIP, .387 wOBA, .118 ISO

Midland (2013)- 303 PAs, .191/.282/.266, 3 HR, 59 wRC+, 10.8% BB%, 23.2% K%, .245 BABIP, .258 wOBA, .075 ISO

One of the most noticeable victims of Midland, Taylor had a brilliant 2012 campaign that rocketed him up prospect rankings and found him considered as one of the most elite catching assets amongst the A+ caste, drawing comparisons to John Jaso for his extraordinary plate discipline and somewhat questionable defense that made him considered to be one the elite catching assets available in Oakland's system. The 2011 5th round draftee arrived with the Athletics after his collegiate stay at UCF and instantly burst upward to become the second draftee from that class to reach Midland (Sonny Gray). However, his discipline gradually eroded and his contact became increasingly more insufficient as he attempted the Texas League through the latter months of 2012 and the previous campaign, now having regressed into a practically anonymous piece within the A's farm. He still possesses the intangibles and capability to surge onward to Sacramento, but he'll have to alter his offensive approach significantly as his 439 career Rockhound plate appearances have been utterly forgettable. 

There are others who consequently have flourished upon having received a AA promotion such as Anthony Aliotti, Chris Carter and Corey Brown, however these perculiar individuals are squarely within the minority of those who venture through to the Rockhounds lair. There are numerous others besides those listed above that have floundered upon ascending to AA, considered the most difficult transition throughout the minors attributable towards the amount of veterans and caliber of competition present. Certain pitches Addison capitalized upon continuously while housed in Stockton shall be far more puzzling to solve, and he'll have to undergo a momentous adjustment phase in all likelihood. But, as demonstrated beforehand, even with mediocre offensive attempt, Addison will still likely persevere and shift to Sacramento due to his post as the unanimous #1 overall prospect in the A's possession. Undoubtedly, he'll showcase his tremendous defensive exploits as well to bolster any promotion he could receive, but the date that'll determine when his plane ticket this summer gets punched shall hinge upon his immediate adjustment period. It won't be a simplistic few months for Russell, serving as his most challenging MiLB assignment thus far, but this is an essential campaign for the future of Oakland's franchise as he will benefit exponentially from Midland's often frustrating surroundings. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Ryan Mathews preps for Stockton

Entrenched within Wisconsin for the entirety of 2013, Ryan Mathews featured as a consistent, unwavering competitor for the Snappers through 122 contests as a 24 year old and previous 27th round 2012 draftee out of North Carolina St. The corner outfielder was Beloit's primary left fielder, Mathews slashed out to .260/.337/.446 between 472 plate appearances with a 120 wRC+, .357 wOBA, and a .186 ISO throughout his debut campaign in the full season ranks. Despite the statistical résumé not necessarily popping off the page, Mathews' role upon Beloit's ballclub was undeniably pivotal as a clubhouse presence and prominent offensive cog, penciled into the majority of the Snappers' 2013 lineup configurations and becoming one of the most loveable characters amongst the fanbase for his constant charitable efforts off of the diamond. It was additionally the first season outside of a tumultuous and infamous collegiate stay for the former 5th year senior, receiving an additive year of eligibility due to undergoing an appendectomy that squandered the majority of his 2010. 

Bouncing through four institutions following a preparatory career in his native Orlando, Mathews initially began at Florida after being recruited as a first baseman and pitcher, but would eventually transfer to a program with significantly less notoriety in Western Carolina after the Gators underwent a coaching shift that irked Mathews enough to prompt him towards exiting the program. At WCU, Mathews starred in a stellar freshman stint throughout 54 contests with a .297/.335/.474 slash and caught the attention of his third suitor in Santa Fe CC in Gainesville, which he opted to depart to rather than continue onward as a member of the Catamounts. Ryan led the ballclub to the NJCAA World Series as they ultimately completed their season as the runners up in the championship bout, in an effort that attracted NCST to adopt the underclassman to conclude his college career with the Wolfpack. Unfortunately, the immediate two campaigns for Mathews saw him succumb to the aforementioned appendectomy and be buried underneath an extraordinarily competitive roster, which resulted in him only acquiring sporadic opportunities throughout his redshirt junior season. 

The offseason saw Mathews be revitalized, however, as he latched onto a Coastal Plain League ballclub in the Wilson Tobs. After setting a franchise record for dingers with 15 and dominating offensively, Mathews was bestowed with the designation of the third best CPL prospect by Baseball America and offered a NDFA deal from Chicago. Mathews, to the surprise of many, declined and rather attempted to orchestrate a championship campaign with NCST as the fifth year senior manned a cleanup post between nearly 250 PAs during the 2012 Wolfpack run. Mathews obliterated opposing ACC rotations, hitting .327/.380/.628 with a tremendous 17 dingers as one of the most formidable power hitters within Division I baseball, and thus enticed the Athletics to pluck him as the 829th overall selection. Upon debuting in the AZL, he went 15-60 (10 XBH) in 66 PAs and convinced the organization to have him evade Vermont and instantly be shuttled to the midwest. Now, as 2014 approaches for the older Mathews, who turns 25 on August 1st, Stockton seems inevitable in what could be an entertaining environment for the power oriented Mathews to thrive within.

 Hitting .339/.379/.578 throughout approximately 115 PAs within his final month of MWL action, Mathews has definitively demonstrated that California is all but a certainty, as the unique late round draftee shall attempt to achieve a previously unfathomable goal of a major league berth. I discussed matters with the honorary North Carolinian on his preparation entering 2014: 

CK:  Hey Ryan, how has the offseason been out there on the east coast? Ready for Arizona? 

RM: The offseason has been great. I spent a little bit of time in Orlando, where my parents live, but I’ve spent the majority of my time in Raleigh, NC. I’ve been training and working at an indoor facility called TPA. I do baseball instruction, camps, and private lessons. Seth Frankoff also works and trains here as well in the off-season.

CK: After spending the last campaign entirety with the Midwest League with Beloit, how would you say the pitching compared with collegiate and rookie league arms?

RM: In comparing the Midwest League pitching to the college pitching I faced, I would say the MWL pitching was a little bit tougher. If I was to compare the MWL to just ACC pitching, I think it’s a lot more comparable. ACC games in college were always the toughest pitching we faced, but when you got deep into the bullpen you would usually face some softer throwing guys. In the Midwest League the majority of the pitchers all had the potential to be really tough if they were on that day.

CK: Obviously, you had a rather storied college career following your initial commitment with Florida to the transfer that had you wind up at WCU and the shift to Santa Fe CC and finally NCST, which you practically only one full season at anyways. Between the NJCCA title run with Santa Fe and the unfortunate appendectomy to your breakout senior year and the draft, how could you summarize your experience within the college ranks?

RM:  Looking back on my college career, if I had to summarize it all into one word, I would have to say "blessed". The first reaction or comment I usually get when people find out I played at 4 different schools in college is "Wow, that must have been tough.” And to tell you the truth, it was tough and definitely not what I had planned, but God used it all to shape me and make me into who I am today. I was able to play for a lot of great coaches and with a lot of great players. I learned how to constantly adjust and transition. I faced a lot of closed doors in my career and at every one of them I had the choice to either quit or keep pushing and find another door. I’m extremely thankful for all the tough times I faced in college because they allowed me to truly appreciate and enjoy the little things in the game that I had never appreciated before.

CK:  Prior to your fateful fifth year, the White Sox offered to sign you as a NDFA after a stellar performance in the Coastal Plain League. Why did you opt to return to NCST rather than enter the minors?

RM:  Honestly, this was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. It had been my dream to get drafted and play professional baseball since I was 5 years old. A lot of people don’t actually know this, but I actually lost my spot on the team at NC State before my last year there. My scholarship was taken away and I was told that I was going to have to try out and make the team the next fall if I wanted to keep playing baseball. I couldn’t even get a summer ball team to take me either. I was fortunate enough to get a temporary two week contract with the Wilson Tobs. That summer I went from having my scholarship taken away to being offered a free agent contract with the White Sox. All my friends and teammates were ecstatic and called to congratulate me and wish me the best of luck in the pros. Why in the world would I go back and play at a school where none of the coaches believed in me when I had a chance to make my lifelong dream a reality? In 2010 at NC State I came to know Christ as my Savior and it radically changed my life. So instead of just signing the contract off the bat I decided to take a lot of quiet time with God and really seek where he might want me the next year. When I got done with all my quiet time, I really felt he was calling me to go back to NC State. It sure didn’t line up with my own logic or anyone else’s for that matter and I was even ridiculed by many professional scouts for that very decision to come back to school. I trusted that if it was God's will for me to play professional baseball that He would give me another opportunity. As the story goes, God was faithful.

CK: Within the CPL as a member of the Wilson Tobs, you set the franchise record for HRs with 15 and then launched 17 in just under 250 PAs with NCST. Plus you've kept the offensive streak going thus far in the minors through the first couple seasons. You wouldn't be able to tell initially with you being such a slender guy, but I think it's fair to classify you as a "dinger machine". Do you realistically view your longball ability as your best attribute on the diamond?

RM: Tough question, I’m not quite sure what my best attribute on the field is. I certainly enjoy hitting homeruns but I’ll leave that answer to you…

CK: You're considered one of the more outspoken and prominent Christian baseball players out there and even launched your own brand called "Saved Swag". Can you elaborate upon that a bit?

RM: I created SavedSWAG a year ago as a way to share with people what Christianity is all about. SWAG stands for Saved With Amazing Grace. It’s based off the bible verse Ephesians 2:8 – "For it is by God's grace you have been saved, not because of anything you’ve done, it is a gift from God". Christianity often gets a bad rap for being a group of people trying to do the “right” things, not sin, and then judge those who live differently. This completely misses the point that it is ONLY by God's grace that a Christian is a Christian. 

CK: Heard you even had a class with Tim Tebow at Florida and view him as an athlete role model. Do you believe Tebow was a good example for Christian athletes to follow?

RM: Tim Tebow is a great advocate for the Christian and athlete alike, but I think it’s easy for us to forget that he's still human... Even on Tim Tebow or Russell Wilson's best day they are still a dim and poor reflection of whom we are supposed to be. The only person worthy of following and worthy of being like is Jesus himself. I think the greatest Christian athletes don’t point us to be more like them but point us to take a look at who Jesus is.

CK: Predominantly, you played LF for the Snappers as opposed to just a mere six contests in RF. Are you more comfortable at one corner outfield position over another?

RM: I had actually played a lot more RF and CF prior to playing professionally. LF has been an adjustment for me but I enjoy playing any of them.

CK: This upcoming campaign has you seemingly headed to Stockton with a pretty exciting cast between Christenson, Robertson, Olson, Renato, Covey, Wahl, Sanburn and Ynoa. What are you anticipating about the Cal League?

RM: I’ve heard a lot of good things about the Cal League. I’m pretty excited to see what Matt Olson is going to be able to do up with his power numbers up in Stockton. It should be a great year though; playing for a manager like Ryan Christenson really provides a great atmosphere for player development. I think it’s a special group of guys and it’ll be fun to see what everyone is able to do at the next level.

CK: You just recently attended a banquet in Beloit with Chris Bostick, who unfortunately is headed to Texas and probably Myrtle Beach for 2014. Plus, John Wooten, was packaged for Fernando Abad earlier this offseason as another 2013 Snapper departing the A's organization. Gonna be tough with those guys no longer around? 

RM: Those are two great guys right there. From a personal standpoint you definitely miss having guys like Chris Bostick and John Wooten around, but at the same time it not only helped out the A’s organization but also probably helped them out in their individual careers as well.

CK: You have a whopping 15,400 twitter followers, in excess of three times as many as Addison Russell and easily the most within the A's MiLB system. How do maintain such a strong social media pressence?

RM: Since I became a Christian in 2010, it changed my life completely and the way I looked at everything. It was at that point when I started to use my social media as an outlet to encourage other people and tell them about Jesus. There’s a lot of negativity in the world and it’s been awesome to see how God’s used twitter and social media to encourage other people all over the country. I’m very fortunate to have such a great group of followers and fans.

CK: You and Seth Frankoff are besties so I've heard and have had your back-and-forths with the whole UNC-NCST rivalry. Have you seen him often this offseason? And how much will you gloat to him when the Wolfpack crush the Tarheels during this upcoming college baseball season?

RM: Like I said before, Seth and I spend most of the offseason working and training together so naturally we like to give each other a hard time. It’s all fun and games though; I consider him a good friend and have enjoyed getting to spend time with him the last couple off seasons.

CK: NCST has some tremendous talent this season with Rodon and Turner expected to zoom off the draft board this June. After playing with them and sharing first team honors with Rodon as a senior, how far do you believe they can go when they arrive in the professional ranks? Also, with Houston almost assuredly going to take Rodon, are you a bit frightened about possibly having to face him down the road in the minors or maybe even Oakland? 

RM:  It was easy to see that Carlos Rodon and Trea Turner were very special players as soon as they got to N.C. State. I really enjoyed having the opportunity to play with both of them when they were freshmen. Although very different personalities, I think they both have what it takes to do very well professionally. I faced Carlos a lot in scrimmage games when we played together. It was actually pretty funny, He told me at the end of the fall that whenever he faced me he would throw as hard as he could and I told him it was a good thing you did because I was swinging as hard as I could. I would enjoy getting to face him again, it would bring back the little rivalry we had.

CK: What facet, defensively or offensively, are you focusing upon improving the most throughout 2014?

RM: I’m looking to improve in all facets of the game in 2014. After my first full season, and getting the chance to play every day under great coaches, I really learned more than I ever have about the game. I’m looking forward to putting into play a lot that I was able to learn over this last year in Beloit.

CK: Lastly, when September rolls around, what do you hope to have accomplished when you look back on following your second complete season as a minor leaguer?

RM: When September rolls around this year, I hope to first off be playing in the playoffs making another run at a championship. We had a great team last year but just weren’t able to finish as strong as we started. When I look back on this year, I also hope people will say that I made my team a lot better on and off the field. I really enjoy helping those around me get better and I feel that’s when I’m at my best too. I know if that’s my main focus and goal that I won’t have any regrets looking back.