by Bill Moriarity / A’s Farm Editor
Matt Olson has been one of the top power-hitting prospects in the A’s system ever since the team made him its third overall pick in the 2012 draft. Since then, the Georgia native has slowly climbed the ladder step-by-step and finally made his major league debut for the A’s as a 22-year-old last September. He’s been up and down between Nashville and Oakland multiple times in 2017, and the young slugger demonstrated his power potential by hitting 4 home runs in 18 games for the A’s this season.
Olson’s always been known for his combination of power and plate discipline. And at Nashville this year, his 21 home runs are currently the second-most on the squad, while his 44 walks are tops on the team, and his .550 slugging percentage and .913 OPS are best among current Sounds. The left-handed hitter has also struck out 80 times in 280 at-bats for Nashville this year. The 23-year-old has primarily been playing first base this season, where he’s a defensive standout, but he spent most of his time in right field last year, where he’s more than capable of doing the job.
With the A’s youth movement in full swing, we’ll surely be seeing more of Olson in Oakland before the season’s through. A’s Farm first spoke with Olson in Stockton back in 2014, and we took the opportunity to catch up with him again last weekend in Nashville…
AF: Well, it’s certainly been an interesting year for you. I think you’ve probably been back and forth between here and Oakland about a dozen times now!
MO: Right around there, yeah!
AF: So, has it been an interesting ride for you this year? And how’s it been adapting to all the back and forth?
MO: Yeah, definitely. It’s definitely different than what I’ve been accustomed to. These past few years, I’m in the lineup every day playing 130-135 games and I’m getting five at-bats a day. Obviously, it’s an honor that they want me up there when I can get a spot. But it’s been a little bit of a transition having to kind of get a little more sporadic at-bats…but I’ve been working with it. It’s been good, a good experience, just getting as much time as I can under my belt.
AF: I’m sure you’re happy to hop on a red-eye flight to Oakland anytime they call, right?
MO: Yeah, definitely.
AF: So, how comfortable were you able to feel during your time in the big leagues this year?
MO: This year has gone a lot different compared to last year. Last year, with getting up there the first time and it being the end of the year, it all happened quick – it was a little bit of a whirlwind. Anytime I got in a game, obviously there were some nerves. And this year’s been a lot better. It’s been more about just being able to be out there playing the game, especially when I was up there for that week or week-and-a-half span where I was playing right field a lot, almost every day, and in the lineup a lot. It was good – it was nice to get into a rhythm and get that comfort level.
AF: Well, you put a few out of the park during that stretch, so obviously you must have been feeling pretty comfortable then! How different was the quality of the major league pitching you faced compared to what you may have been used to seeing in Triple-A?
MO: You can tell that guys have a little finer stuff. They’ll throw anything in any count. I wouldn’t necessarily say there’s a completely different way I’ve gotten pitched. But I faced a lot of guys I hadn’t faced before. So, I’m just kind of building a book with those guys and knowing what they like to do to me and take notes for when I face them further down the road.
AF: Are there any things you’ve taken away or learned from your time in the majors?
MO: Whenever I’m up there, I’m trying to learn better how to approach my day, the way I go about my routines – just finding the right thing that clicks for me. Everybody has their own things they like to do in order to get ready for the game mentally and physically. And I’ve really been able to figure out for myself what gets me ready for the game.
AF: Has anyone on the big league squad been particularly helpful to you there?
MO: You know, everybody’s been really helpful. The guys who have been around, like Jed Lowrie and Matt Joyce and Yonder Alonso, some of the main position guys, kind of take a little extra time to explain things to the younger guys. Anytime they can offer a little bit of advice, they’ve done a really great job of helping us out. Even if it’s just a little minor thing, it’s nice to have those guys kind of helping you along. It kind of takes a little bit of the behind-the-scenes stuff off your chest and you can just go out there and play the game.
AF: So, now that you’re back in Nashville, is there anything in particular that you’re focused on here?
MO: Just having that same hunger that I had when I showed up at the beginning of the year. I felt like I had a tough year last year and I kind of had something to prove, and I came in ready to get after it and ready to start off strong. And I’ve just been trying to continue that all year long.
AF: You’ve had the chance to spend some time in the big league camp in spring training. How helpful has that experience been for you?
MO: It’s very helpful. Just from having seen the guys, met them, hung out with them a little bit. It makes it a whole lot easier to make that transition. Ryon Healy last year got called up without ever having set foot in the clubhouse, except when he would come across [from minor league camp] for a couple games. So, I’m sure that was a bigger transition for him trying to meet the guys and be able perform for his first time in the big leagues. So, there is a factor to that. A lot of it, going up for the first couple times, is being able to put all the other stuff aside and just playing baseball.
AF: Your first major league game was last September. So, what was it like for you the first time you stepped onto the field in a major league park?
MO: It’s just one of those feelings that you can’t describe. It’s something that you’ve worked your whole life for, to be able to be out there, with my family and girlfriend up in the stands watching. It’s definitely a special moment, one I’ll never forget.
AF: I know your family’s not that far from here in Georgia. So, do they get a chance to come see you much in Nashville?
MO: Yeah, they’ve come up here a lot. It’s only a four-hour drive, so they’ve been up here four or five or six times already this year.
AF: Having to go back and forth between Nashville and Oakland so many times this year, where have you been living here in Nashville and where have you been staying when you’re up in Oakland?
MO: I’ve just been living right over here by the field. I started out as roommates with Chad Pinder, and then I was roommates with Matt Chapman, and now I’m in the place by myself right now. Luckily, Ryon Healy’s renting a house up there that has some spare bedrooms just in case guys were coming up and down. So, there’s a room there that I’ve stayed in all the times that I’ve been up there.
AF: Well, I’m sure his spare room’s gotten plenty of use this year – I’m sure it hasn’t gone to waste! It must be nice to know that whenever you do go up to Oakland, there are plenty of familiar faces around, plenty of guys you’ve known and played with for a while.
MO: Yeah, it goes along with that comfort level that I was talking about. It makes it a whole lot easier to be able to go out and play the game. When you’ve got guys like that you’ve played with a long time, it just makes it a smoother transition.
AF: Speaking of familiar faces, you’ve got Ryan Christenson, whom you go all the way back to Beloit with, here as your manager in Nashville this year. So, what’s it like for you having him around this year?
MO: It’s great. This is our fourth season together, so we know each other well. He’s awesome. I love having him as our manager. He knows the right time to get on somebody if they need it, but at the same time, he jokes around with us. He’s a good mix.
AF: And he must know you and your game as well as anyone. He’s probably seen you play more than any other human alive!
MO: Yeah, he definitely has!
AF: So, as we head into the final part of the season here, what are you focused on at this point?
MO: Just keeping that hunger. I understand there are a lot of moving parts, and this year I’ve been moving up and down those four or five times. And my goal is to just kind of block it all out and do what I have to do on the field. A lot of that stuff’s out of my control. The main thing is to go out there and keep that hunger and just perform on the field.
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