Olson, Pinder & Chapman: Trio of Top Prospects Talks about Spending the Spring in Big League Camp

mo621566b#3 on A’s Farm’s Top 10 Prospect List, Matt Olson is one of the top young power-hitting prospects in the A’s system. He was the A’s third overall pick in the 2012 draft, selected right behind shortstops Addison Russell and Daniel Robertson, who would soon become his roommates and two of us his closest friends. A first baseman by trade, Olson began increasing his versatility by spending a good amount of time in right field at Midland last year. He’s set to get his first taste of Triple-A this season at Nashville, where we’ll get to see what kind of damage his big bat can do in the Pacific Coast League.

AF:  Well, this is the first time you’ve spent a prolonged period of time in the big league camp. So what’s it been like for you and what have you been able to get out of the experience?

MO:  It’s been good…it’s a nice feeling to be around these guys and soak up whatever they’re doing and just watch what they’re doing…I’m more of an observer than going up and asking things. So I watch guys’ routines and just how they carry themselves.

AF:  Now you spent last season at Midland, which isn’t known as a hitter’s paradise. So what kind of challenges did you face and what did you have to deal with as a hitter there?

MO:  Yeah, like you said, it’s generally not known as a hitter’s park, especially for lefties. But the thing is the mental side of it. You know, I kind of had to deal with the mental side of not letting the park affect me at the plate. And I did have a little time during the season where I did let it affect me. And I kind of had to remind myself to just go through your at-bat the way you normally would. And I started seeing some results after that.

AF:  So how does the major league pitching you’ve had a chance to face over here compare to some of the minor league pitching you’ve faced in the past?

MO:  Guys just have a better feel for their stuff, maybe a little better stuff, a little tighter sliders, faster fastballs. But mainly they just know what they’re doing better and they know how to approach each at-bat better.

AF:  You’ve always been a first baseman, but you spent a lot of time playing right field last year at Midland, particularly during the second half of the season. So where are you expecting to be position-wise this coming season?

MO:  I’ve been working out at first and outfield so far this spring. I’m pretty comfortable doing either – so wherever they need me, wherever I have a spot in the lineup.

AF:  You’ve always had a reputation as a pretty solid defensive first baseman. So what was it like when you first started going out and spending time in the outfield? What particular challenges are involved in getting used to playing out there?

MO:  It’s just different as far as knowing what to do with each ball – knowing what to do with a ball down the line, who to pick up when you’re coming to throw the ball to the cut-off. There was definitely a learning curve. I wouldn’t say I’m 100% comfortable out there – I don’t think I should be. I’ve just really been starting to pick it up in the past year or so. But I’m just trying to get some work in and get more comfortable out there to where I can just not even think about anything and just let it happen.

AF:  So have you seen or talked to your old roommates Addison Russell and Daniel Robertson lately?

MO:  I haven’t talked to them much. I actually haven’t seen Addison – he’s got his baby now. But I try to keep in touch with them and talk to them every once in a while. Us three aren’t the best at communicating with each other. But once we get back with each other all hanging out in person, it’s like we didn’t miss a beat.

AF:  And of all your old roommates at Stockton, I guess Chad Pinder was the only one you still had around to keep you company at Midland last year.

MO:  Yeah, just Pinder.

AF:  I remember in Stockton, it was you, Pinder, Robertson, Billy McKinney and Austin House all living together.

MO: Yeah, whoever I live with goes!

 

cp640461b#6 on A’s Farm’s Top 10 Prospect List, Chad Pinder was named the Texas League Player of the Year last season after leading all Midland regulars in batting average and slugging percentage as well as leading the league in total bases. He played exclusively at shortstop last season after primarily appearing at second base the year before at Stockton. Pinder is slated to begin the season as Nashville’s starting shortstop, though his ability to play short, second and third could increase the chances of him seeing some time in Oakland before long.

AF:  You’ve spent a lot of time here in the major league camp this spring, which is always a good thing. So what’s the experience been like for you?

CP:  It’s been awesome – learning a lot, getting my feet wet. So it’s been a good experience.

AF:  Is there anything in particular you’ve experienced here in the big league camp that’ll be helping you out down the road?

CP:  Honestly, just all the reps I’m getting. And I’m learning a lot about different things some of these big leaguers do and how they go about their business – I’d say that’s a big thing. The kind of dedication it takes, what they do around the clubhouse – all the little things I’ve picked up on.

AF:  Has anyone in particular been a big help to you here this spring?

CP:  Working with [A’s infield coach Ron] Washington has been tremendous. I mean, I can’t speak highly enough of him and all the stuff that I’ve gotten from him thus far.

AF:  So have you been out there working in the field with him every morning?

CP:  Just about every single day.

AF:  Is there anything in particular that you’ve picked up from Ron Washington that you’ll really be putting into play going forward?

CP:  Yeah, a lot of the techniques of fielding groundballs, the little things that normally I’ve never worked on, whether it be different arm angles, different angles working around the bag. There’s things that he drills into us.

AF:  And I guess he’s always going to make sure your footwork’s right too!

CP:  Yeah, no doubt, no doubt!

AF:  After spending the previous season playing second base in Stockton, you spent all last year at shortstop in Midland. So what was it like for you to get back into playing shortstop on a daily basis again?

CP:  It was nice, it was awesome. I obviously played it growing up, and I loved the opportunity to get to play it at this level.

AF:  Here in the big league camp, they’ve had you playing a lot of second base. Now moving back over there to second base, do you have to shift gears a bit, or does it come right back to you?

CP:  Yeah, it’s a little bit of shifting gears. But obviously playing there in Stockton for a full year and still getting reps there in practice at second base, it’s fine, it’s not a big deal.

AF:  The ballpark in Midland certainly isn’t known as a hitter’s park, but you obviously had a great season there, being named the Texas League player of the year. So what was the key to your success in the Texas League last year?

CP:  Honestly, I think playing in that environment helped me – knowing that I couldn’t get away with a cheap home run. I had to just focus on hitting line drives. And I think that playing in that environment helped make me a little bit more of a complete hitter last year.

AF:  So the challenge served you well then.

CP:  Yeah, definitely. It made me stay within myself and just try to hit the ball hard and make consistent hard contact.

AF:  Now your long-time roommate Matt Olson has been here in camp with you. It must be nice to have a familiar face around to go through this whole experience with.

CP:  Absolutely. I’ve known Olson basically my entire time in pro ball. And obviously we’ve been very close over the past couple years. So it’s nice to have him here for sure.

AF:  And do you ever see any of your old roommates from Stockton?

CP:  Yeah, I saw [Austin] House the other day. I saw D-Rob [Daniel Robertson]. I played with him in the [Arizona] Fall League this past year and we lived together in the Fall League. And Billy McKinney lives with us now during spring training. So we’re all still good friends.

AF:  So going forward into this season, is there anything you’re looking to try to do in the year ahead?

CP:  Just carrying everything over from last year, just staying consistent and not trying to do too much and just to continue to grow as a player.

 

mc656305c#4 on A’s Farm’s Top 10 Prospect List, Matt Chapman was the A’s #1 pick in the 2014 draft. The team selected him primarily for his defense at the hot corner and his power potential with the bat. And Chapman made good on that potential by leading all A’s minor leaguers with 23 home runs last year while appearing in just 80 games due to injuries. The 22-year-old has been one of the A’s young standouts this spring, clearly impressing manager Bob Melvin and the coaching staff in his first big league camp. Chapman will be starting the season at Double-A Midland, but he could be a prospect who’ll be rising fast.

AF:  You’ve been getting a nice, long look here in your first big league camp. So what’s this whole experience been like for you?

MC:  It’s been a pretty surreal experience. Just to be invited here was an honor. And to be able to be around still and be able to be with the big league team and practice with them and play in games has been a dream come true.

AF:  Well, you’ve obviously been having a lot of success here. So what accounts for how well you’ve been doing this spring?

MC:  I think getting healthy, and all the work that I put in this offseason is paying off. I’ve been working with the coaches – working with Ron Washington, working with [hitting coach Darren] Bush – trying to just keep staying consistent. But I think all the hard work I put in this offseason has helped me prepare for what I’ve been doing. I feel very confident with how hard I worked. So I was prepared.

AF:  Well, it sounds like you definitely didn’t take it easy this offseason. So is there anything in particular that the coaches have been working with you on here?

MC:  Defensively, just being in the right position always and to always be thinking. I was working on my base a lot, defensively, being more level so I can use my hands more and feet. And then offensively, not trying to overswing and do too much, just trying to take a nice consistent swing and not get myself out and make sure that I’m giving myself the best opportunity to get hits.

AF:  Are there any veterans who’ve been particularly helpful to you this spring?

MC:  Billy Butler, Khris Davis, Yonder [Alonso], [Stephen] Vogt, everybody’s been giving me little tips and things to either work on or how to be more professional. So I’m just trying to soak up as much stuff as I can while I’m here.

AF:  So what have you picked up here in big league camp that you’ll be applying going forward?

MC:  Just showing up everyday regardless of what’s going on, and always trying to keep the same positive outlook. You know, it’s a long season, so being able to stay even-keeled. And putting in the work so that, whether you have success or not, you won’t question whether you prepared yourself – you’ll know you gave everything you’ve got and left everything you had out there.

AF:  Well, it looks like you’ll be heading to the Texas League this year. So what are you anticipating for yourself in the season ahead at Midland?

MC:  All I’m really focused on is going out to Midland and playing everyday and staying healthy and just trying to get better and work my way up.

AF:  You’ve always had a reputation as a quality defensive third baseman with a powerful arm, and you’ve made some nice plays here in the spring. So are you still feeling as confident as ever out in the field at third base?

MC:  Of course, you always have to be confident. That’s how you give yourself the best opportunity to have success.

AF:  Well, when you’ve got an arm like yours, I’m sure it makes it a whole lot easier to be confident out there!

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