NASHVILLE — Sheldon Neuse knows how to hit.
Last year, the 23-year-old infielder had a slash line of .291/.349/.469 for an OPS of 818 for the Washington Nationals’ Low-A Sally League team in Hagerstown for which he earned an All-Star birth.
His performance caught the eye of the Oakland A’s scouts, and along with Jesus Lazardo and Blake Treinen, he was included in last July’s trade with Washington for Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson.
That is when he really began punishing baseballs, although he is not sure exactly why.
“I don’t know…everything just started clicking,” he said, adding it was not due to a change in organizations. “I loved playing for the Nats; [there are] a lot of good people over there – I actually stay in touch with a lot of the players. I was excited for the opportunity the Nats gave me to start my professional career and then the A’s showed an interest.
“I came over to open arms and the A’s were very welcoming. I took three or four days off, and it took me a couple of games to get back in my groove, and when I did I felt like I was locked in the whole time. I had some success early on and was able to drag that out the rest of the year.”
When Neuse came to the A’s organization, he was assigned to High-A Stockton and had seven home runs and 22 RBI in just 22 games. That and his overall slash line of .386/.457/.675 for a 1132 OPS quickly earned him a promotion to Double-A Midland.
He continued his torrid hitting there – in the 18 games to round out his regular season, he had a slash line of .373/.427/.433 for an OPS of 860.
His year earned him an invitation to the Arizona Fall League, which is similar to a graduate school for top prospects where several MLB teams each send a couple of prospects to form a full team for extra work.
Neuse said he really enjoyed the experience on several levels.
“It was a blast,” he said. “There were a lot of good players out there and getting to play with the Nationals on that same team in Mesa was actually kind of cool; [I] got to reunite with some of those guys after not seeing them for four months or so and catch back up with them.”
Just like everywhere else last year, Neuse excelled in Arizona; he hit five home runs and had 23 RBI in 22 games with a slash line of .314/.366/.570 for an OPS of 935.
The offensive barrage he launched on opposing pitchers in the league got him named to the league’s All-Prospect team.
“The experience was great,” he said. “It [made for] a long season. Fortunately, I was able stay healthy throughout the whole thing and was able to have a good fall league and carry it into spring training.”
In spring training, Neuse hit .310 with five home runs, 15 RBI and 36 total bases in 58 at-bats over 28 big league spring games. At the end of camp, he was assigned to Triple-A Nashville.
But for some reason, that’s when the A’s #13 prospect stopped hitting.
Through his first 57 games for Nashville, Neuse has a slash line of .197/.258/.247 for a mere 506 OPS. He has yet to hit a home run this year.
Neuse said he does not feel overwhelmed by the pitching at the higher league, although he did say Triple-A pitchers are more challenging.
“They’ve got better stuff; they’re not missing out over the plate as much,” he said. “The pitching is good here, don’t get me wrong, it’s good, but I’m still getting pitches that I can hit and I’m just not hitting them, and we’re trying to figure out why.”
Neuse has always been prone to the strike out – he had 112 in 442 at-bats last year and 83 in 198 at bats this year; he said he’s not so much worried about the number as to the why.
“When I look at my strikeouts and why I’m striking out, it’s because I’m missing pitches early in the count,” he said. “I’m missing some pitches to hit, chasing some pitches out of the zone. You can’t strike out until you get to two strikes. I was being a little over-aggressive early on or I’d miss a pitch early in the count and it caused me to expand my zone – get into a two-strike count. I’m trying to eliminate some of that, which I have done recently.”
He is also hoping some minor adjustments will help him get back on track.
“I made a couple of changes mechanically just to get me in the right spot and put me in a better position to get to the baseball, and then just staying mentally positive,” Neuse said. “I’ve been doing some early work, but it’s all about just getting to the baseball on time with everything – I was late on some fastballs and early on off-speed, so I was caught up in between, so I’m trying to put myself in the best position to attack the zone with any pitch that comes and be on time for anything.
“I feel like I have that right now. The numbers aren’t there, but I’m up there and I’m competing every at-bat. I feel good. I feel confident. I’m controlling my at-bats. I’m managing them. It’s [been] more of me getting myself out, so we’re just trying to tone that back some and get back to that mindset and mentality of when things were going good and try to take that approach into the games.”
Defensively, Neuse has spent the majority of his time at third base and shortstop; he has also played one game in his professional career at second base and two innings at first base.
“When I was with the Nationals, I played third, but our shortstop got hurt, so I played shortstop from that point forward [that season],” he said. “I’ve played a little bit of second base – maybe a handful of games over there – but with the A’s, for the most part, it’s been third.”
At 6’0 and 195 lbs., Neuse projects to be a third baseman going forward, but he tries to stay well versed at all of the positions he has played.
“In spring training, I worked out at different positions,” he said. “I just want an opportunity to play. I feel comfortable anywhere. I still do my work around the diamond, so if I do get put somewhere else it’s not unfamiliar to me and I’m confident there … but right now I think the priority is third base and I’m completely happy with that. But if they tell me to play [another position], I’m going to be able to play that position with confidence that I can make the plays and deal with anything that can happen.”
Neuse is also confident that the work he is putting in will also carry over into his plate appearances.
“I’ve scuffled here a little bit, but I’m on the right track and feeling better,” he said. “Last year … when everything is going good, everything is hittable. When you get in a little slump, it feels like you’re up there battling every time. I’ve been able to come out of that a little bit. Right now I’m just trying to stay in a positive mindset, which I am, and just trusting the work that I’m putting in will carry over into the games.”
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