Athletics

Marcus Semien to honor Ron Washington at Coaching Corps awards

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Marcus Semien to honor Ron Washington at Coaching Corps awards

In 2015, Marcus Semien was probably the worst defensive player in all of Major League Baseball.

That's not hyperbole. The A's shortstop committed a mind-boggling 35 errors, eight more than any other player in the league.

Fast forward to 2018 and Semien had transformed himself into a Gold Glove Award finalist. How was that type of improvement possible in just three years?

Semien credits one man: Ron Washington.

"He's the reason that happened. I'm out there playing the game but I always imagine him still coaching me and talking to me. It's helped me so much. ... Without him, I don't know if I'd be here."

Semien will honor the former A's coach at this week's Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards, which will air Sunday at 7:00 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area. The ceremony will feature professional Bay Area athletes of all sports as they pay tribute to coaches who helped them get to where they are today. The event will also support Coaching Corps' mission of providing well-trained coaches to young athletes from low-income communities.

Semien first met Washington during that nightmare 2015 season. Washington was out of work after managing the Texas Rangers the previous eight seasons, but he came to meet with the A's at the request of then general manager Billy Beane.

"Billy Beane called him up and said, 'I think there's a kid you might be able to help,' Semien recalled. "He came midseason to Tampa and we met right there."

Washington joined the A's as an infield coach, marking his second stint with the organization. He and Semien went to work right away, taking thousands of ground balls and working specifically on his hands with flat-glove drills.

"My flat glove was instrumental in the way I caught the ball," Semien said. "We were not even three feet away from each other and he had the ability to hit a fungo (bat) that close to me and simulate the last hop of a ground ball. And we did that thousands and thousands of times every day during the year-and-a-half he coached me."

While Washington worked Semien hard, he always maintained an encouraging attitude, something Semien appreciates to this day.

"The way he preaches is very positive. If you mess up, it's okay. Next rep. He's there to hit you as many balls as you need, and when he sees something he likes, he gets very enthusiastic about it."

Of course, the physical skills only represent half the battle in baseball. Washington was also instrumental in elevating Semien's confidence and mental toughness.

"I made a lot of errors the first two months before Wash came," Semien acknowledged. "I could've rolled over and just given up, but Wash showed me the way to really focus on my technique, and the more reps we did, the more comfortable I got out there. Wash really helped my mental game. His saying is mind over matter. Our matter was getting my defense cleaned up and that's what we did."

Semien's progress wasn't always as smooth as he would have hoped, but he stayed committed and continued to improve. In 2016, he cut his errors down from 35 to 21 and increased his fielding percentage from .947 to .971.

This past season, Semien recorded a career-high nine defensive runs saved, third-most among AL shortstops. His 11.6 rating in the SABR Defensive Index was third best in all of baseball, regardless of position. And it all started with Wash.

"I think the dedication, the time he puts in, the effort, it's the best I've ever seen," he praised. "There are coaches who come in and get their work done, and that's enough for some people. But for a person like me in 2015, there was a lot more that needed to be done and he went the extra mile."

At just 28 years old, Semien still has plenty of years left in his playing career. But that doesn't mean he hasn't thought about a coaching career of his own down the road.

"Wash's style is the style I would want to use," he smiled. "I would take everything I learned and everything that got me better and use that. If I didn't have him coach me the way I did, I don't know if I'd be able to be a good coach."

Why Bob Melvin has sky-high expectations for A's before 2020 season

Why Bob Melvin has sky-high expectations for A's before 2020 season

MESA, Ariz. -- The A's reported to spring training on time Monday morning for the preseason’s first full-squad engagement. This group, as assembled, is stacked.

It doesn’t take advanced stats experts to see the 2020 crew is loaded with talent, depth and the superstars required to improve upon back-to-back 97-win seasons. That’s even true in an improved AL West and at a point on the calendar where hope springs eternal.

Manager Bob Melvin was quick to point to another reason for extreme optimism this season.

It starts with the A's superstars setting a proper tone throughout the organization. Their work ethic, Melvin said, proves contagious.

“We have a bunch of guys like that, whether it’s Matt Olson or Matt Chapman or Marcus Semien, those guys set the tone for how we do things around here,” Melvin said Monday morning. “When you have younger players coming up or new players coming in and they see how our top guys work, they have no choice to work the same way.

"It’s great when your best players are the hardest workers.”

Those players can absolutely mash. That was clear during the first full-squad workout. Several have been around taking swings in recent days but seeing so many established veterans alternating through the cages around Lew Wolff Training Complex certainly creates belief the A's can score with anybody in 2020. Pair that with a legit frontline starting rotation and All-Star closer Liam Hendricks and even Melvin can see a clear path to great things this season.

Melvin has been around a long time and managed a lot of good baseball teams. His expectations for this group are sky high. He made that clear in his opening speech to the full squad here in major league camp.

“We always discuss in our first meeting what our goals and expectations are,” Melvin said. “We try to keep those to ourselves but, when you have two seasons with 97 wins and 97 wins and you feel like we have a better team this year, yeah I think our expectations are pretty high.”

[RELATED: Why Canha rightfully was named to MLB.com's All-Underrated Team]

Vegas oddsmakers set the over-under line at 89.5 wins for these A's, a significant sum that would put them back in serious contention for a third straight postseason berth. They’ll be gunning for a division title after two straight wild-card berths where the season died out in a one-game playoff.

This largely established group is focused on staying healthy and intact for when the games actually count. That doesn’t mean they’re content to sit back this spring and wait for good times to roll. The grind continues for the entire team as it works to become more versatile.

The A's are placing emphasis on situational hitting this spring, possible going against the grain for a team that as historically liked walks and big blasts.

That will be important in working through offensive slumps like the A’s experienced near last season’s end.

“You can bludgeon teams at times, but there will be times where we go through offensive droughts as a team,” Melvin said. “The defense is always going to be there, but if we can win some games situationally by getting guys over and getting guys in by putting some focus on that, the team will be better because of it.

"We’ll continue to emphasize that.”

Why A's Mark Canha rightfully was named to MLB.com's All-Underrated Team

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Why A's Mark Canha rightfully was named to MLB.com's All-Underrated Team

Mark Canha, like many A's players, quietly fell under the radar last season. The recently-turned 31-year-old hit a career-high 26 home runs, yet nobody seemed to mention his name. 

One person, at least, did notice. MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince named Canha to his All-Underrated Team going into the 2020 season. Canha is Castrovince's center fielder, though he mostly will play in left for the A's with Ramon Laureano healthy. 

Canha actually played four positions in 2019: 56 games in center, 27 games in right field, 15 games at first base and 10 games in left. The Cal alum also served as Oakland's DH in 16 games. 

Along with a career-best in homers, Canha posted career highs along his .273/.396/.517 slash line. He also produced a .913 OPS and 145 OPS+.

Canha's versatility once again will be key for Bob Melvin's squad this season. Melvin has a plethora of outfield options in Canha, Laureano, Stephen Piscotty, Robbie Grossman, Chad Pinder and more. 

[RELATED: Manfred believes Fiers did 'service' revealing Astros scandal]

Perhaps none of the above bring more to the table than Canha, though. 

As the A's look to move past the AL Wild Card Game this year, the San Jose native figures to be a reliable asset yet again.