The Oakland A's welcomed their eighth MLB debut of the 2016 season on Friday, with 24-year-old Ryon Healy playing third base against the Blue Jays. Unfortunately Healy went 0-for-4 at the plate, but on the bright side he made all his plays at the hot corner. That might not sound like much, but it's a breath of fresh air for the team that ranks third in MLB in errors at the position.
Let's take a closer look at Healy's debut. He faced Toronto starter Marcus Stroman, a 25-year-old who is one of the bright young talents in the game but is currently having an inconsistent season -- and indeed his outing turned out to be a rocky one. Healy is a big guy, measuring 6'5 with a solid frame, and he stands at his full height at the plate until dipping into an understated crouch after the pitcher has already started his windup. A quick look through his at-bats:
1. 2nd inning, 2 out, bases empty. Healy works a 2-2 count, but swings through a nasty slider for strike three. To be fair, it was a great pitch by Stroman.
2. 4th inning, 2 out, runner on 1st. Healy again works a 2-2 count, and shoots a fastball back up the middle. With some luck it could have snuck through, but it wasn't hit that hard and Tulo fielded it with only moderate effort with a flip to second for the force out.
3. 6th inning, 1 out, runner on 1st. Jesse Chavez pitching (hi old buddy!). Healy fouls off a fastball, then bites on a changeup and pounds it on the ground to third. Donaldson fields it for the 5-4-3 double play. D'oh.
4. 8th inning, 1 out, runner on 1st. Bo Schultz pitching. Healy falls behind 1-2, and then you can see the rest for yourself:
Once again, bit on a slider, but this time made enough contact to pound it into the ground. Fortunately Devon Travis flubbed the throw (replay exonerated Jake Smolinski's slide) and so it was just a forceout instead of a double play.
As you can see, it didn't go so well at the plate in Healy's debut, but it's just one game and you can never discount the first-day jitters. He's shown what he can do all season long in the upper minors, so we'll see what he can bring on Saturday in his next attempt.
* * *
Healy's defense, on the other hand, elicited no complaints. He split his time between 1B and 3B throughout the minors and spent most of 2016 at first, so it was tough to know what to expect. But he looked like he knew what he was doing out there and he made all the plays.
The incumbent at the position had been Danny Valencia, who also happens to have the best hitting stats on the team. But Valencia's defense had become untenable, despite his excellent arm, because he doesn't have much range and he flubbed too many routine grounders. His DRS of -17 ranks dead last out of 139 MLB players who have played any amount of time at the position, and that's nearly twice as bad as the next-worst mark (Nick Castellanos at -9). It's the same story in DRS, with his mark of -12.1 registering twice as bad as the next-worst (Castellanos and Yunel Escobar at -6.3). The small sample sizes make these metrics quite volatile, but at some point the numbers are so extreme that the message still can't be ignored.
The point is, the bar was set low and Healy cleared it easily. His first play was actually mildly impressive, as he had to charge in on a slow grounder and then throw across his body to first base. He fielded the ball cleanly with both hands, got his footwork right on the run, and while his throw wasn't amazing it was more than enough to get the job done. It wasn't any kind of web gem, but it was certainly a good first impression.
His next couple plays involved throws to second rather than first. In the 3rd inning, Ezequiel Carrera hit a routine grounder to him with a runner on. Healy flipped to second for the force, but it wasn't hit that hard and Carrera has some speed so that's all they got. In the 8th inning, he built on that success by corralling a smash off the bat of Josh Donaldson, then delivering a perfect throw to second to start the easy 5-4-3 double play and get a bit of payback for his own GIDP earlier on. You can't see it well in this replay, but the ball was slightly to Healy's left (glove side) and he had to react quickly to get to it:
Again, it's not that the play took a lot of range or any next-level skill, just solid ability and good clean fundamentals. That would be a big step up for the A's at third base, and if Healy can be an above-average hitter then some good ol' average work at the hot corner would be plenty good. He made one more play in the 9th, another routine but well-executed chance on a grounder by none other than Edwin Encarnacion, who once carried the nickname E-5 for his own porous glovework at third (don't worry, it all worked out well in the end for Edwin).
It wasn't the best MLB debut in history, but at least Healy was good on one side of the ball, even if it wasn't the one we expected. In fact, it's even better that it's not the one we expected, because many of us have faith in his bat anyway but a player who is competent on both sides of the ball has a much better chance of contributing on any given day. And now, just as he gets a mulligan for his bat on his first day, he'll have to prove that he can be an acceptable fielder for more than one evening.
Welcome, Ryon, and we look forward to seeing Day 2 of your big league career!
Ryon Healy profile
For anyone not up to speed on who Healy is, here's a quick rundown. The SoCal native was Oakland's 3rd-round pick in 2013 out of Oregon, but he didn't hit much in his first couple years in the pros and so he never generated much buzz. It wasn't until halfway through 2015, at Double-A, that he started to figure things out. But with a logjam of corner infielders on the depth chart, he had to stay in Double-A to start this year while higher-profile prospects like Matt Olson and Renato Nunez (deservedly) took the spots in Triple-A.
However, Healy built on his 2015 success and annihilated the Texas League in his second go-around, earning a quick promotion up to Triple-A. Once there, he leapfrogged all the other more prominent prospects and established himself as the best hitter on that team too. His meteoric rise earned him a berth in the All-Star Futures Game, featuring much of the best talent in the minors, and he even hit well in that game. With nothing left to prove, the A's finally called him up and got an early start on their second-half prospect auditions.
Here's a timeline of Healy's whirlwind 2016 season:
June 19, 2016: Why are we not hearing more about Healy?
July 10, 2016: Healy goes 2-for-3 in Futures Game
July 15, 2016: Healy called up to Oakland