Name: Matt Olson
Height/Weight: 6’5’’, 230
How Acquired: Selected in the compensation A round of the 2012 MLB Draft
It may seem like Matt Olson is a grizzled veteran given how long he has been on the prospect radar, but the first baseman/corner outfielder is just starting his age-23 season. Armed with a taste of the big leagues and a full year of Triple-A experience, is this the year it all comes together for Olson at the plate?
Olson’s journey through the minor leagues has been steady, but not without hurdles. The 47th pick in the 2012 MLB draft mashed 103 homeruns and reached the big leagues in four-and-a-half seasons, but he has also had to make significant adjustments at nearly every level he has played. As the 2016 season demonstrated, Olson isn’t done making adjustments, but he could be nearing that breakthrough moment.In many ways, Olson is a classic A’s prospect. He has the best batting eye in the A’s system and has the power to homer out of any ballpark, but he doesn’t hit for average and doesn’t run well. Olson is a talented defender at first, but, in what recently has become commonplace in the A’s system, he finds himself playing out of position in right field. Olson has handled himself as well as one could have hoped for in right, but it remains to be seen whether he is truly an everyday option there in the big leagues.
As Olson enters his age-23 season, he comes armed with experience at every level of minor league baseball, as well as a month in the big leagues (albeit with limited at-bats). Over the past two seasons, Olson has struggled during the first half of the year (first in Double-A and then in Triple-A) before finishing strong. Barring any significant injuries ahead of him in the depth chart this spring, Olson is likely to return to Triple-A and repeat a level for the first time in his career. His experience with Nashville last year could propel him to a much more successful run through the Pacific Coast League this time around.
Matt Olson Stats
Olson’s 2016 season got off to a very slow start. He hit .161 for the month of April with a 629 OPS. Things picked up for Olson in May, but he slumped again in June before finding a groove around the All-Star break. He hit .218/.328/.389 before the break and .263/.345/.475 with nine homers in 47 games after the break. Olson also hit .263/.391/.474 in five post-season games with the Sounds.
The A’s recalled Olson to the big leagues at the conclusion of the Sounds’ PCL playoff run. He appeared in only 11 games with the A’s after his call-up, collecting 21 official at-bats. Olson had only two hits in those 21 at-bats, but he walked seven times for a .321 OBP. Olson actually hit the ball pretty hard during his big league stint, averaging 93.31 MPH on his exit velocity (4 MPH over the MLB average), but he didn’t have much to show for it, posting a .118 BABIP.
What Olson demonstrated during his brief MLB stint is that his command of the strike-zone is well above-average. He drew seven walks in 28 plate appearances and he got himself in several favorable counts. However, Olson was pull-happy, something that he had worked to get away from during the second half of his season in Nashville. Defenses were able to shift on him with great effect, as only one of the seven groundballs he hit to the right side went through for a hit.
Sounds’ hitting coach Eric Martins has worked with Olson each of the last two minor league seasons. Martins believes Olson was starting to figure out how to use the whole field better during the latter stages of the 2016 season, and that that will be key for the Georgia native moving forward.
“You look at Matt Olson, he’s also 22-year-old. Still has the beautiful swing. Still has the good approach. Now we are starting to try to open up the field for him a little bit. Allow him to use left-center field,” Martins said. “He is starting to get that huge shift against him. We need to allow him to get some hits to the left side to get him that confidence and maybe have teams thinking that they shouldn’t use the big shift on him that much anymore. It’s going to continue. Last year was probably Olson’s draft year if he had gone to college. Here he is a step away from sticking in the big leagues, and he still hasn’t yet done what he will eventually be able to do. He is going to control the strike-zone, hit homers and he’s going to walk a ton. I don’t see him being a high average guy, but he’s going to be a high walk guy with power.”
A’s Assistant General Manager Billy Owens agrees.
“The adjustments he has made using the whole field and centering the baseball a little bit more early in the count has allowed him to still have those gaudy walk numbers and it’s going to make his swing a lot more viable,” A’s Owens said.
Olson will also need to improve against left-handed pitchers to be an everyday player in the big leagues. Last year, Olson hit just .162/.256/.243 versus southpaws. Historically, Olson has hit significantly worse against lefties, which has brought down his overall statline. If Olson can learn to keep his lead shoulder in longer and work the opposite field, he could find significantly more success versus lefties.
In some ways, Olson is a very similar prospect to former A’s DH Chris Carter. Like Olson, Carter was younger than the league-average player throughout his minor league career. Also like Olson, Carter was a hitter who gave up batting average for power and saw his production level off in Triple-A for a time. It took time for Carter to find his way at the big league level, but he has developed into a prodigious MLB slugger.
Sluggers like Olson and Carter can be frustrating to watch develop. When they struggle, their bats look slow and they appear overmatched. However, over time, those with the ability to hit for power and walk a lot in the minor leagues often have their moments in the sun in the big leagues. The A’s missed out on Carter’s moment, trading him too soon. Hopefully they won’t meet the same fate with Olson.
Unlike Carter, Olson does offer defense value, which will make it easier for the A’s to find a place for Olson to develop in the big leagues. Olson is an above-average defensive first baseman and he has turned himself into a passable right fielder. He has below average speed, but Olson has solid instincts in the outfield and his throwing arm is above-average. The A’s have a lot of corner infielders to juggle into the first base rotation, so being able to play right field will increase Olson’s chances of making the major leagues significantly.
At the outset of the 2017 season, Olson is likely to have to wait his turn in Triple-A. While there, he will focus on continuing to use the whole field and on his approach versus left-handed pitchers. If the A’s struggle during the first half of the season, trades should open up an opportunity for Olson in Oakland by mid-season.
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