In a game that will be mostly remembered for futility, Oakland Athletics prospect Sheldon Neuse (pronounced “noisey”) made a memory that will last a lifetime. In his first game as a member of the A’s organization, Neuse singled with one-out in the bottom of the 10th to give the Stockton Ports a 1-0 win over the Modesto Nuts.
Neuse joined the A’s organization last Sunday as one of three players sent to Oakland from the Washington Nationals in a deal that saw Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle head east. With the Ports on a quick three-game roadtrip to Rancho Cucamonga at the time of the trade, the A’s decided to give Neuse a little extra time before he connected with his new team.
On Thursday, he made his Stockton debut in a game that featured a record-breaking 33 strike-outs between the Ports and Nuts. Neuse, likely a bit rusty after the four-day layoff, had three of those strike-outs, but his two-out single in the bottom of the 10th ensured that his first day with the Ports would be one he’d always remember.
Before the game, Neuse admitted that he had mixed emotions when he was told of the trade last Sunday. A 2016 second-round pick out of Oklahoma, Neuse had only one year in the Nationals’ organization before the trade.
“We had actually just gotten finished with batting practice on the field and we were coming back in to get ready for the game. I got called in there by the manager and was told that I had been traded to the Athletics. I got a call from them shortly after,” Neuse said. “At first, I was like, ‘dang’. I was comfortable with everyone over there and had made some good friendships and relationships, but I couldn’t be more excited for the opportunity that is ahead of me. I’m ready to put on the uniform and play again. I’m excited that the Athletics have given me the opportunity to do that.”
The trade not only presents Neuse with a new opportunity with the A’s, it also gives him a chance to move up a level in competition. After making his pro debut last year with the short-season Auburn Doubledays, Neuse opened the 2017 campaign in the Low-A Sally League. In 77 games with the Hagerstown Suns, Neuse hit .291/.349/.469 with nine homers and 12 stolen bases. He was a mid-season Sally League All-Star.
Much like his trade counterpart Doolittle, Neuse was a two-way player in college. As a junior with the Sooners, Neuse hit .369/.465/.646 with 10 homers in 55 games as a shortstop and third baseman. He also served as Oklahoma’s primary closer, posting a 1.40 ERA and five saves in 19.1 innings. Neuse struck-out 19 and walked five.
While Neuse says he misses some aspects of being on the mound, he’s happy to be focused solely on hitting and infield defense.
“Putting all of my focus away from the mound and into my offense and defense has been easier than I thought it was going to be,” Neuse said.
A versatile athlete, Neuse was a two-sport star at Fossil Ridge High School in Keller, Texas. He started two seasons as the Panthers’ varsity quarterback before focusing solely on baseball as a senior. Neuse says that his time at OU helped him complete the transition from two-sport athlete to full-time baseball player.
“I got to focus all of my energy on baseball. I felt like I found out who I was as a baseball player and I trained the right way,” Neuse said. “I think it’s helped me to make the transition to pro ball.”
Neuse has an above-average throwing arm that has been featured on the left-side of the diamond as a pro. He played 33 games at third base and 43 games at shortstop for Hagerstown before the trade. Neuse says he’s equally comfortable at both positions.
Stockton manager Rick Magnante says it remains to be seen where Neuse will get the bulk of his innings in the field with the Ports.
“We are going to put Sheldon on a little five game production here where he’ll DH [in his debut],” Magnante said before Thursday’s game. “He’ll then play two games at short and he’ll play a game at third and then he’ll DH. After that, I’ll get the official word from Keith [Lieppman, A’s Director of Player Development] on how we’ll proceed from there. That’s how we are going to introduce him to the A’s. It’s my understanding that he’ll get an opportunity to play short, but that he will also play some third.”
Magnante liked what he heard from Neuse in his first meeting with his new infielder on Thursday.
“I spent about a half hour with him just getting a little background on him: where he’s from, his college career, his parents, his hobbies, his siblings, things of that nature,” Magnante said. “I just tried to give him a little bit of a feel of what we are doing here in Oakland, what is expected of a player here in Stockton and answered any questions that he might have. He made a favorable first impression on me.”
That favorable impression only grew when Neuse sent a 3-2 pitch from Nuts’ reliever Matt Walker in between the shortstop and third baseman, sending home Nate Mondou with the game-winning run in the 10th inning. The base-hit ended the 3:33 minute marathon and snapped a five-game Ports’ losing streak. For Neuse, it was a good start for the next stage in his career.
“I’m excited for the new adventure,” he said.
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