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. 

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