Name: Kevin Merrell
Height/Weight: 6’1’’, 180
How Acquired: Selected in the Compensation Round A of the 2017 MLB Draft.
The Oakland A’s second-overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft had a strong pro debut season despite dealing with health issues. Can Kevin Merrell deliver a healthy encore in 2018?
Although the A’s have added a significant amount of middle infield talent in recent years, they weren’t shy about bringing more in during the 2017 MLB Draft, using their second-overall pick and their fourth-overall pick on shortstops (Merrell and Nick Allen). Both players bring speed and potentially strong gloves to the organization.
Going into the draft, Merrell was ranked by several outlets as the fastest collegiate player eligible for selection. In 153 games at South Florida, Merrell swiped 56 bases in 67 opportunities. He also stole six bases in seven chances over a 14-game stint in the collegiate summer ball Cape Cod League in 2016. Merrell also flashed a promising bat for the Bulls, hitting .353 with a .429 OBP in 603 at-bats. He didn’t show much power his first two seasons for USF, but Merrell collected 22 extra-base hits and a .569 SLG in 53 games his junior season.
Although the A’s haven’t traditionally been an organization that covets speed, A’s Scouting Director Eric Kubota said Merrell’s running ability was a big factor in selecting him.
“He’s got unique athletic ability,” Kubota said in a conference call after the day one of the draft. “His speed tool is probably equal to anybody in this draft and he’s played shortstop and other infield positions and we think that the athletic ability may lend itself to being able to play in the outfield, as well.”
The A’s were also high on Merrell’s hit tool.
“[He’s a v]ery good contact hitter. If you look at his numbers in his career, that backs that up,” Kubota said on that same conference call. “We do think he is advanced as a hitter and we think that he has an outstanding speed tool. Those two things work well together.”
Merrell played shortstop and second base in college, but Kubota said the A’s felt Merrell had the skills to stick at short long-term.
Merrell signed an under-slot deal with the A’s at $1.8 million as the 33rd overall pick in the 2017 draft. Despite the under-slot deal, Merrell looked the part of a first-rounder in his pro debut season. Playing for short-season Vermont, Merrell put together a strong debut campaign. Although he was limited to 31 games thanks to a sore Achilles and a sore shoulder, Merrell made those games count. He hit .320/.362/.424 in the pitcher-friendly New York-Penn League. He homered twice and stole 10 bases in 13 chances despite battling the Achilles issue. The Lake Monsters honored Merrell as the 2017 Tom Racine Award winner, an award given out to the team’s most valuable player (as determined by Lake Monsters’ fans).
Vermont hitting coach Lloyd Turner liked what he saw from Merrell at the top of the order.
“Kevin Merrell at the lead-off spot and he has shown being able to handle that area pretty well, just putting the balls into play and not trying to do too much,” Turner told OaklandClubhouse’s Donald Moore in an in-season interview. “Then having his speed in the lineup is also a big plus. Being able to have someone on the base paths that can be a threat to run.”
Merrell played all 28 of his games in the field at shortstop. He showed some range at the position as well as a strong arm. Offensively, Merrell used the whole field well and did a solid job making consistent contact, posting a 15.7% K-rate. He hit well against both righties and lefties, although he hit for more power versus left-handers.
Merrell will participate in the A’s minor league spring mini-camp, where coaches will be able to monitor his health after the two injuries last season. Assuming he comes out of spring training healthy, he is likely to jump to High-A Stockton for his first full professional season.
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