When Ken Rosen-troll falsely announced to the Internet that the A's had acquired a package of Marcus Semien, Trayce Thompson (younger brother of Klay) and Chris Beck last week, I was one of the suckers who took to Twitter to gush about the Oakland-bound Semien. He was the centerpiece of a big deal and also happened to be from the East Bay (El Cerrito). How could I not be excited?
So here I am blathering on about Semien, his skills, makeup, upside ... yada, yada, yada. I eventually realized the whole thing was a farce and felt like a complete moron.
Later that night, however, when the real deal went through, I felt mild vindication. I crosschecked my sources this time -- different prospects, but Semien was still there. Phew.
The now infamous @SportsCenter tweet:
You may be thinking: Why all the fuss over a player who only once appeared on any industry-wide prospect list? (He began 2014 as Baseball America's No. 92 prospect, just in case you were wondering.)
Well, in 2013 Semien had a massive breakout at the minor league level. Between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte, he batted .284/.401/.479 with 19 home runs and 24 stolen bases. If you're not fully convinced, he also drew 98 walks and struck out just 90 times in 625 plate appearances.
His name first penetrated my consciousness when prospect writer Mike Newman cautioned about the helium Semien was receiving in fantasy baseball circles in the wake of his aformentioned high-minors dominance. The point of the article wasn't that Semien didn't have a chance to be a good major league player, but rather that a certain, saber-friendly subset of baseball folk were treating him like an elite prospect. He was right -- the helium was probably too much. But at the same time, how many guys hit for power, steal bases and walk more than they strike out? It's a rare skill-set, no matter the level of play.
The "Cult of Semien" was founded when he was featured on Carson Cistulli's "Fringe-Five" on Fangraphs. For those of you unfamiliar, Mr. Cistulli curates a shortlist of prospects who show excellence at the minor league level, but fail to garner significant prospect buzz. Corey Kluber wasn't eligible for the list, but Mr. Cistulli was the President and Chair of the Corey Kluber society before he was a thing.
Semien is one of the list's prominent alumni, and Mr. Cistulli himself took the time to write a pride-filled piece musing at the thought that Semien, a former 6th-round draft pick out of Cal, was the most-searched player on Fangraphs the day of the trade.
After pulling the trigger on the deal, Billy Beane, in an interview with Comcast, intoned (not surprisingly) on the unique and quintessentially A's skill-set of Semien.
"We've liked him for a long time. One of the unique skill-sets he has is that he's got power in the middle infield and that's hard to find at the shortstop position. We had targeted him early, and once he was on the table we were having quite a bit of conversation."
Hidden within that same interview is another, perhaps less-obvious nugget.
"One thing we always do with young guys is allow them to fail a little bit. One thing we try to not do with young guys like Marcus is make them feel like they can't make a mistake, because they're going to."
Semien was unequivocally "meh" in his first year of significant major league action. He hit a pedestrian .234/.300/.372 and rated below-average on both offense and defense (he also walked just 21 times against 70 strikeouts). Yet, in spite of their lackluster 73-89 record, the White Sox sent Semien back to Triple-A for June, July and August rather than let him work through the ups and downs of a full MLB season. As is the case with many young players, he brutalized minor league pitching (again), but struggled to produce at the highest level.
Maybe Beane got the feeling the White Sox viewed Semien as a minor league phenomenon. The "let young guys fail" quote sounds like shorthand for "they didn't give the kid enough time." If this is the case, the A's may have plucked Semien away at just the right time. One sign of hope: he batted .273/.333/.485 with three homers in 74 PAs upon his recall in September,
In the helium piece mentioned above, Newman left readers with this fascinating rhetorical question:
"Do you think Semien has what it takes to become the next Tony Phillips? Has there even been another guy worthy of being compared to Phillips since he retired in 1999?"
If Marcus Semien compares favorably to a player who was worth 46.6 fWAR over the course of his career and led the major leagues in walks on multiple occasions, the A's may just look back upon this trade with the type of s***-eating grin that says, "I told you so." Count me among those pre-ordering their "Semien" shirseys when pitchers and catchers report in February.
I'll leave you with a majestic grand slam he hit against the Tigers last season. Enjoy.