Athletics

A's rookie Olson stays humble during record-breaking power surge

olson-power-trot.jpg
USATSI

A's rookie Olson stays humble during record-breaking power surge

OAKLAND — Matt Olson is aware of the company he’s keeping in the A’s record books.

His reaction is a mix of reverence and a shrug-of-the-shoulders type humbleness.

That’s the personality of the A’s rookie first baseman. Even as the conversation about him and his awe-inspiring home run pace grows louder, he remains the same steady, grounded presence.

“I’m happy for him,” A’s hitting coach Darren Bush said. “The guy’s worked his butt off. He’s the same today as was when he first got called up.”

Olson cleared the fences once again Friday night, his two-run homer off Nick Martinez in the second inning helping the A’s to a 4-1 victory over the Texas Rangers. At this point, it’s much more newsworthy when Olson doesn’t homer than when he does.

He’s crammed 24 homers into just 57 games this season. Taking into account his first call-up last September, and Olson’s 24 homers over the first 68 games of his career are the second-most in the history of major league baseball over that span to open a career. The Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger also hit 24 and only the White Sox’s Jose Abreu, with 25, hit more over his first 68.

Olson’s 13 homers in September are the most by any rookie in major league history for the month, and there’s still eight games left in it. But Olson’s hot streak dates back to Aug. 27. He’s hit a major league-best 16 homers in 23 games since then.

Among rookies in A’s history, only Mark McGwire (49) in 1987 and Jose Canseco (33) in 1986 have hit more than Olson’s 24. But neither Bash Brother, nor any other player in Oakland history, ever hit 15 homers in a 21-game span as Olson recently did.

“It’s definitely an honor,” Olson said before Friday’s game. “I grew up with a Mark McGwire poster on my wall. It’s a little surreal.”

Who saw this coming?

Olson went 2-for-21 without a single RBI in his first taste of the bigs last September. Then he shuttled five times between Triple-A and the majors this season before getting called up once again Aug. 8 and being told he’d get a shot as the A’s regular first baseman with Yonder Alonso having been traded. The constant shuttling took its toll, though Olson never let on about that publicly to reporters.

“You could see (the frustration),” said Ryan Christenson, his manager at Triple-A. “When he walks in and you tell him ‘You’re getting sent up,’ and he’s like, ‘Well, how many days is it for this time?’ He wouldn’t voice it necessarily, but you could sense it.”

Olson, with help from Bush and others, made an adjustment coming into this season. He began holding his hands out farther away from his body to begin his swing. With his 6-foot-5 frame, Olson had found himself getting jammed inside. Then in trying to adjust to that, he couldn’t square up pitches on the outer half.

“Now, his hands are firing from where he wants them to,” Bush said. “He doesn’t have to fight. You want your hands to have a clean path. Now he can stay in there, stay behind the ball, let his hands work for him.”

Olson, a 23-year-old from Lilburn, Ga., takes this sudden burst of success — and attention — in stride.

“I’ve been hit with so many stats here in the past week, I can’t even keep track of who’s done what, and honestly what I’ve done,” he said. “I kind of try to ignore all that.”

That’s OK. Others are taking plenty of notice.

 

Bigger than baseball: Piscotty reflects on homecoming in trade to A's

piscotty-us.jpg
AP

Bigger than baseball: Piscotty reflects on homecoming in trade to A's

He’ll be playing in front of his family and hometown fans, in the ballpark he grew up going to as a kid.

Stephen Piscotty is fully aware that not many major leaguers get to do this, but his trade from the St. Louis Cardinals to the A’s means so much more on a deeper level.

The Pleasanton native will get to play in front of his mother, Gretchen, who was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”, in May.

It was a difficult and emotional 2017 season for Piscotty, a 26-year-old outfielder who left the Cardinals for a period to be with his family and also dealt with two stints on the disabled list. He struggled to a .235 batting average after a 22-homer, 85-RBI season in 2016.

He admits how difficult it was to concentrate on baseball, with his thoughts drifting back to the Bay Area and his Mom. Piscotty expressed gratitude to the Cardinals for their treatment of him during his tough time and for their efforts in orchestrating a trade that brought him home.

The A’s sent minor league infielders Yairo Munoz and Max Schrock to St. Louis in a deal that was finalized Thursday.

“We’re pretty emotionally tied to that organization,” Piscotty said of the Cardinals. “It chokes me up a little bit. But family obviously comes first, and sometimes some things are more important than baseball. With this opportunity here, it’s just a great combination of family and baseball. … A lot of good is going to come out of it.”

Piscotty and his brothers, Austin and Nick, grew up going to the Coliseum, as his father, Mike, has been an A’s season ticket holder for more than two decades. In May, their tight-knit family was rocked by news of Gretchen’s diagnosis.

“I remember kind of thinking ‘OK, they diagnosed it a certain way but it’s gonna turn out to be something else,” Piscotty said. “I didn’t want to believe it. I kept playing for a couple days, but I was so distracted, I couldn’t focus. I really didn’t care about what was happening on the field.”

Piscotty talked with manager Mike Matheny, hitting coach John Mabry and others.

“They were like, ‘You need to go home,’ and it was the right decision,” Piscotty said. “… It was a roller coaster year. I got sent down (to the minors), but I learned a lot. I’m gonna tap into some of those experiences.”

The A’s feel they’re getting an athletic corner outfielder about to reach his prime. Piscotty inked a six-year $33.5 million before the 2017 season, so he’s locked up at an affordable rate moving forward.

Piscotty has played mostly right field, but he and new teammate Matt Joyce can handle either corner spot.

Though the A’s made the trade primarily for baseball purposes, general manager David Forst added that “it’s wonderful for his family, and hopefully it will have given him and his family some peace of mind.”

Piscotty got news of the trade while in Pebble Beach with friends for a golf trip that had been a long time in the planning. Team orthopedist Dr. Will Workman actually made the drive to Pebble to administer Piscotty’s physical — at a local Airbnb property — so the A’s and Cardinals could finalize the trade.

Piscotty lives in Pleasanton in the offseason, but the family recently made a trip to St. Louis and saw the Budweiser Clydesdales. Gretchen loves horses.

Piscotty is optimistic his mother will be able to get out to the Coliseum to see him play. He credits his father, who has “worked his tail off” to take care of insurance needs and medications for Gretchen.

“We’re in a good place,” Stephen said. “We’re at a point where we’ve got things pretty dialed in and we can move around and go places.”

The support has poured in from St. Louis and the Bay Area. A’s president Dave Kaval, responding to a fan on Twitter, said the team will donate some of the proceeds from Piscotty jersey sales to ALS research.

“I wish I didn’t need all of their support, but it’s nice to have it,” Gretchen Piscotty told the Bay Area News Group.

Stephen, who grew up idolizing Tim Hudson and Mark McGwire, is excited to wear green and gold. Getting to spend more time with his mother provides a different kind of lift.

“That will give me a lot of comfort and peace of mind knowing I’m close.”

A's land Piscotty without giving up any of their top prospects

yairo-us.jpg
USATSI

A's land Piscotty without giving up any of their top prospects

The A’s finalized their trade for St. Louis outfielder Stephen Piscotty, sending two minor league infield prospects to the Cardinals in return.

Shortstop Yairo Munoz and second baseman Max Schrock were ranked 13th and 17th, respectively, on the A’s current list of prospects by mlb.com.

Both have upside but it’s fair to say Oakland pulled off this deal for a starting outfielder without giving up any of the premium guys in their farm system. A quick rundown on each prospect:

Munoz, 22, hit .300 with 13 homers, 68 RBI and 22 stolen bases last year split time between Double-A Midland and Triple-A Nashville. His raw talent and all-around tools made him an intriguing prospect. Munoz primarily is a shortstop but bounced all around the infield last season. The A’s even experimented with him in center field, and it would have been interesting to see if Munoz could have emerged as a possibility in center at the major league level eventually.

But with prospects climbing through the system such as shortstop Jorge Mateo, third baseman Sheldon Neuse and, over at second base, top prospect Franklin Barreto — not to mention shortstop Richie Martin, a former first-round pick whose hitting has held him back thus far — the A’s appear to have dealt from depth in trading Munoz.

Schrock, 23, was acquired in August 2016 from the Washington Nationals for reliever Marc Rzepczynski. He hit .321 for Midland last season and made the Texas League Midseason and Postseason All-Star teams. He’s an offense-first second baseman who impressed with his all-around approach and knowledge of the strike zone. A’s manager Bob Melvin praised Schrock in his first look at him last spring in major league camp. At 5-foot-8, he’s the type of player that naturally will get overlooked when compared to other more highly touted guys in a farm system.

The A’s just dealt another second baseman from their system in Joey Wendle earlier in the week. But with Barreto considered the A’s second baseman of the future, and Chad Pinder available to handle second as well being starter Jed Lowrie, Oakland was in good enough shape depth-wise to deal Schrock.

Interesting to note: Thursday’s trade was the first between the A’s and Cardinals since 2009, the season Oakland shipped Matt Holliday to St. Louis after a disappointing first half of the season. Since the 2014 trade deadline, the A’s have swung trades with 24 of the other 29 teams in the majors.