Friday, February 7, 2014

Iolana Akau Q&A

One of the premier latter round signees smuggled away by the Athletics was Iolana Akau, the first backstop they opted to select within the entire draft in the 20th round. His stalwart commitment to the University of Hawaii and a thumb fracture in which he suffered in February that cost him the remainder of his high school campaign was enough to have potential suitors scatter and thus provided the opportunity for the A's to abscond with the 17 year old former LLWS folk hero and commence contract negotiations. After numerous weeks of consideration, Oakland and Akau finally agreed upon a $375,000 buyout that convinced the Hawaiian prodigy to don the A's insignia and he was flown out to the AZL for preparation after a considerable lull without in-game competition. He finally would debut and accumulate just over 30 plate appearances, going 4-30 with 2 BB and 10 K in a disappointing initial attempt versus rookie league arsenals, but to reiterate, as the youngest AZL roster member (8/31/1995) and having not partaken in a competitive format since nearly the beginning of 2013, it was a legitimate debut for Iolana who now transitions onward towards his first professional spring 

Akau hasn't received unanimous acclaim for his bat at this stage though, and he'll likely feature primarily as an elite defensive backstop with an accompanying line drive oriented approach. His defense, which was what drew the attention of MLB organizations to him in June, was some of the absolutely most exquisite amongst any draft eligible catching prospect and ought to propel Iolana through to Vermont at some instance in 2014. The transition will be painstakingly gradual for Akau in all likelihood though, with his youth and organizational prospect status wanting the A's to ensure that their catching jewel  develops to their liking. 

CK: How's everything been out in Hawaii this offseason? Enjoying not getting snowed on unlike the rest of the continental United States I presume.

IA: Being back in the islands felt great. The weather was beautiful and I just enjoyed being home with my family and friends. Nothing beats being in Hawaii and enjoying the beaches and the sun.

CK: What baseball attribute do you believe you've improved the most upon this offseason? 

IA:  I think the biggest thing I improved on this offseason was getting stronger and being consistent with my swing.

CK: You're an alumni and championship recipient of the LLWS representing Hawaii, and when you got drafted a lot of A's fans recognized you and were posting photos of you when you were a part of that squad, braces and all. What was that experience like for you in Williamsport?

IA: My experience at the LLWS was a experience of a lifetime. Not too many kids can say they went to the LLWS and win the world championship at the same time. I believe my LLWS appearance and the way I performed after injuring my elbow, really put my name out there. It was a huge stepping stone for me and my career in baseball and I felt like with that under me it just gave me that spark to continue to play hard.

CK: Pundits tabbed you as a 10-12th round talent and most considered you needing to go higher than that because you had a relatively firm commitment to Hawaii. So, when the A's wound up selecting you in the 20th round, what were you initially thinking? And what persuaded you to eventually go professional?

IA: Initially, when I got drafted in the 20th round by the Oakland A's, I thought for sure I was going to attend University of Hawaii to play baseball. But with a great club like Oakland and the guys in there system, really made me rethink going to college. My family and I found a way to make a deal with the A's, and sure enough, plans worked out for the both of us. I couldn't be more happier at where Im at today and it's truly a blessing to be playing professional baseball for the Oakland Athletics.

CK: How was the acclimation process to the Athletics in Papago, especially after missing the majority of your senior season with the thumb injury? 

IA: The acclimation process was great there at Papago. It was a little rough in the beginning but when time went on I got more adapted and more comfortable with everyone. My injury during senior year was a downfall for me. But coming to the Athletics in Papago, they took good care of my injury and they kept a good eye on me.

CK: You received a few plate appearances versus AZL pitching as one of only two 17 year olds on the roster, alongside Edwin Diaz. What were the differences between the rookie league arms comparatively to what you had been accustomed to in the Hawaiian HS ranks?

IA: Coming from Hawaii and the talent I faced in high school, it was nothing close to professional pitching. More experienced pitchers. Smarter with their pitches and all around the game is faster. I was intimidated at first stepping in that box against pitchers throwing 90-97 mph but with the amount of plate appearances and how I did, it's a start.

CK: You've gotten lots of acclaim for your defense, which was considered some of the most elite of any draft eligible catching prospect last season. How much pride do you take in your defensive ability? And what was it like having Baseball America give you the preseason award for beat organizational defensive catcher?

IA: I take a lot of pride in my defense. Catching was one of my biggest attributes that I excelled in over the years. The day I became a catcher was the day that made me realize how important that position really was. I take a lot of pride in being a good leader for my teammates and taking control of the game and also being on the same page with my pitchers. Being noticed and having the chance to be named the best organizational defensive catcher meant a lot to me. It showed me that my work ethic and my hard work on the field payed off and that my talent to be a good catcher doesn't go unnoticed. I felt honored and blessed as well.

CK: You tweeted that you just caught a bullpen from James Shields. What was that like forming a battery with an established major leaguer like that?

IA: Having the chance to catch James Shields and being able to talk to him about the game was a great experience. Felt good to be able to catch a big leaguer and learn his ways of the game and how he was successful.

9.I understand you primarily go by "Lana" just by dropping the "Io" in front of your name. With that being said, do you know about *the* Lana (Berry) on twitter? And do you think you could hold up the reputation of Lana's everywhere by eating a hamburger with nine patties in 30 minutes like she did? 

IA: [Laughs] Yes, I go by "Lana" because "Iolana", for some reason, is to hard to pronounce for some people. And no I don't know who Lana is on twitter. And probably could try and eat a hamburger with nine patties in it just maybe not in 30 minutes haha

CK: You're heading into your first genuine spring training as minor leaguer and are expected to remain in extended until June. Even with the lengthy amount of time prior to your assignment, what are you hoping to improve upon before the AZL/Vermont and what are you anticipating about your first complete minor league season? 

IA: You know, I'm hoping to improve all around as a player. I want to be ready and prepared as much as possible before spring training and get my body prepared to have a long season a head of me. This being my first complete minor league season, it's exciting. I get a little taste of the full effect on how everything works and we'll see how things turn out for me this year. It's a great year for baseball and I'm looking forward to see what the season has got in store for me

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