Noah Frank is the new Media Relations Director for the Fresno Grizzlies. He happens to know Eric Sogard, the infielder the A's recently acquired along with Kevin Kouzmanoff, very well. As he offers the most detailed and comprehensive report I've seen so far, I think I can safely say you're going to like what you hear...
"So Gard, So Good" (Headline by Nico, the rest by Noah)
It is understandable, given the sudden flurry of off-season activity involving the Green and Gold, if some of you have not had time to fully explore the details of each and every happening. I am writing today to make sure that one little nugget didn't slip past you.
Whatever your reaction to the Kevin Kouzmanoff trade might have been, I am here to make its projection a little rosier in your mind. When I first heard about the deal, I wasn't exactly jumping for joy. I wasn't thrilled to have given up three players to get Scott Hairston, only to flip him back along with Cunningham for a less-than-spectacular third baseman. I felt like the maybe Oakland hadn't gotten great value out of the deal, a rarity in the Beane era. But the next day, when I ascertained the name of the mystery minor leaguer also coming to Oakland, I finally understood.
You see, that minor leaguer is second baseman Eric Sogard, a name you might as well file in your mental Rolodex right now. I got to see Eric play a full season in the Texas League last year. I saw him play through a couple minor but nagging injuries (groin pull, bruised hand after HBP) that kept him from having quite the season he was capable of putting together. That being said, he still finished the year at .293/.370/.400, with 25 doubles, playing in perhaps the worst hitting park in all of professional baseball. To give you some perspective, the year before he led the hitter-friendly California League with 42 doubles.
The numbers that really define Sogard as a hitter, though, were his 58 walks compared to only 47 strikeouts. Countless scouts, visiting broadcasters, beat writers and fans would remark about his patience at the plate. I can say that, after three seasons in professional baseball, he is the most disciplined hitter I have ever seen. I wish we had access to the pitches/at-bat metrics that they keep in the Majors (and internally in the Minors), because I flat out guarantee you that he led the Texas League last year in that category. It isn't just that he takes bad or borderline pitches; it's his ability to recognize those pitches so early in their flight to the plate that separates him from other hitters. He'll see a pitch coming in three inches off the plate and never flinch at it.
When he gets to two strikes and has to defend the plate, he'll swat borderline pitches away time and again, working deeper and deeper into the at-bat. He is truly a joy to watch hit, so I was not at all surprised to see Beane, in the MLB.com article about the trade, say that Eric was "a guy that we wanted to draft (out of Arizona State), and since he's signed, he hasn't disappointed."
Besides the great eye at the plate, Sogard fits the Beane mold in almost every other way as well. He doesn't look like a ballplayer at first glance, and is often underestimated as a result. Our home clubhouse manager in San Antonio would post photos of celebrities that he thought looked like each players above their lockers as a joke, something to keep the mood light as players came and went throughout the year. He put two photos above Eric's locker to best describe his physical appearance: John Denver and Harry Potter.
But much like other overlooked players, Sogard has the kind of work ethic you simply can't teach. He is always striving to improve his game, going about his business with an understated confidence. Now, there is one main knock on the 23-year-old at this point in his career: his range. Every scout who asked me about him claimed he heard from someone else that Sogard's defense was suspect. Luckily, I had the benefit of watching him all season, and I know that this is a gross generalization. While he does not have the greatest natural range, he puts a glove on anything he gets to and makes good decisions in the field.
He is also working this off-season specifically to improve his agility and make himself a more complete player. That's just the way he approaches the game. However, lest you think he takes himself too seriously, get this -- he actually dressed as Harry Potter for Halloween this year.
How do I know this last part, you may wonder. Well, Eric is one of the few members of the team with whom I am still in contact. I had lunch with him in Tempe about six weeks ago as I drove from Texas to California. While I am not one to put a huge amount of stock into the importance of clubhouse personalities when it comes to clubhouse chemistry, I can say without hesitation that any team would benefit from having someone like Sogard around. He sets an example of how to succeed as a professional ballplayer.
While I am excited to see him in the A's system, I hope he doesn't wear my poor Grizzlies' pitching staff out too much this year while he's in Sacramento. He's a prototypical #2 hitter, a lefty that can place the ball, hit-and-run, hit with two strikes and bunt for a sacrifice or basehit. It's hard to predict where he fits into the A's future plans in the middle infield, but there will always be room for a guy with Sogard's tools somewhere. It would not surprise me if, as we have seen in so many past Beane trades, Sogard turns out to be the real prize in the deal.