Athletics

Melvin praises A's top prospect Barreto: 'Not much this guy can't do'

Melvin praises A's top prospect Barreto: 'Not much this guy can't do'

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — If this is audition time for Franklin Barreto, the A’s top prospect is making the most of it.

Barreto connected for his first spring homer Thursday against Cleveland, an opposite-field blast to right-center that showed his deceiving power for a player who measures a compact 5-foot-10. The middle infielder is now hitting .480 (12-for-25) in 15 games, doing nothing to dispel the speculation of when he might get his first major league call-up.

“He’s just a baseball player — defensively, offensively. He runs the bases,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “There’s not much this guy can’t do. Really, the only question is when, not if.”

Though A’s general manager David Forst is preaching patience with Barreto, who just turned 21 last month, there’s a good chance he reaches the bigs sometime this season. He’ll begin with Triple-A Nashville, where he’s likely to get time at both shortstop and second base.

Shortstop has been his primary position since the A’s acquired him from Toronto in the Josh Donaldson trade of November 2014. But they gave him plenty of time at second last season at Double-A, and he also got innings there during the Arizona Fall League.

The A’s aren’t inclined to move Marcus Semien off shortstop at this point, so second base appears the quickest route to Oakland for Barreto, a native of Caracas, Venezuela. But while he remains in the minors, the A’s want him to keep playing on the left side of the infield too.

“I think the determining factor overall is the efficiency and accuracy of him throwing,” said Grady Fuson, an A’s special assistant who scouts the farm system extensively. “He’s got a strong enough arm. The footwork continues to get cleaned up. There’s no panic in this (decision of) where he’s gonna play. He’s getting very good at both, so time will tell.”

Jed Lowrie is the A’s incumbent starter at second base, but he’ll turn 33 next month and he’s in the final year of his contract, so he’s not the future at the position. If Lowrie is playing well as summer rolls around, it’s easy to envision him being dangled in a trade if the A’s aren’t contending.

“I feel really comfortable at second. I also feel comfortable at short,” Barreto said through interpreter Juan Dorado. “I’m just kind of learning and doing my job wherever they have me.”

The A’s also have Adam Rosales, and, as far as younger players, Joey Wendle, Chad Pinder and Max Schrock as part of their second base depth. But it’s Barreto who projects as a top-of-the-order talent with speed, a player who could be a cornerstone piece by the time the A’s hope to be moving into a new Oakland ballpark.

“I just feel bad for him, only 21 years old and hitting ‘oppo' homers in spring training,” catcher Stephen Vogt joked. “No, he’s some kind of special talent. He’s obviously shown what he’s capable of and is going to be a very, very good player for a long time. He’s just a confident, quiet, really nice kid. It’s fun to watch him play.”

A's catcher Bruce Maxwell becomes first MLB player to kneel during anthem

A's catcher Bruce Maxwell becomes first MLB player to kneel during anthem

OAKLAND — A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell took a knee in protest during Saturday night’s national anthem at the Coliseum, believed to be the first major league baseball player to do so during the playing of the anthem.

Maxwell, stationed at the far left of his row of teammates and coaches in front of the A’s dugout, knelt with his hat over his heart. Outfielder Mark Canha stood next to Maxwell with his hand on Maxwell's shoulder, a show of support that's also been demonstrated by NFL players when their teammates have knelt during the anthem.

Athletes around the country have been hitting social media heavily Saturday, taking President Trump to task for a series of inflammatory tweets in which the President withdrew an invitation for the Warriors to visit the White House while also criticizing NFL players who kneel in protest for the anthem. Then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was the first pro athlete to draw attention for kneeling during the anthem last season, doing so as a manner of protesting racial discrimination in the country.

Maxwell, who’s been out of the lineup the past couple days as he undergoes concussion protocol, lashed out at Trump in a series of tweets Saturday afternoon:

Maxwell was born in Germany while his father, an Army officer, was stationed there. He grew up in Alabama.

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

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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.