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Eyeball Scout Winks At Barreto, Olson, Maxwell

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Chicago White Sox
"I believe the English word is 'huzzah!!!"?"
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The Eyeball Scout recently went on a blind date, even though the word ‘blind’ is a bit upsetting to those named explicitly for eyeballs. The date turned out to be with a girl from the new AN format.

The date started slowly because she was unable to authenticate me but finally I convinced her I was really me, only to be told, once we reached the restaurant, that she felt I should check in at the restaurant even though we were already there.

Frankly she didn’t look too good but the conversation was even worse. When I tried to speak she would interrupt with "Timeout!" at random moments, which was more than a bit annoying. Then she would tell a story and I would have to point out, "You just told me that twice in a row."

Finally I just told her, "You know what? With my internet access, I’m just gonna download some porn." Authenticate that, missy.

But the Eyeball Scout is about so much more than authentication and porn. Baseball is fun again thanks to the infusion of young talent that seems to have a sense of how to play the game and also to be able to do it. Here are some small sample theatre observations on three key additions to the A’s roster...

Franklin Barreto

He’s the talk of the town, Oakland’s highest rated prospect and certainly someone who knows how to arrive with a bang. Barreto’s inaugural weekend included a HR in his second major league at bat, line drive singles to LF and RF, a bloop hit to LF that started the A’s winning rally on Sunday, and numerous opportunities to show his wares at 2B.

Of all the hits, to the Eyeball Scout the least impressive was the homerun. It came on a hanging slider from a pitcher, James Shields, who is giving up HRs like they’re going out of style because he keeps throwing hanging sliders. The HR was exciting and wonderful, but hardly evidence one way or the other as to what we can expect from Barreto.

In contrast, I was very impressed with his single to LF the next at bat because it came on a pretty good pitch and showed how quick Barreto is on the inner half. He was able to avoid getting jammed by the pitch and turned on it getting the good part of the bat on the ball, and he did it with apparent ease.

However, for me the most impressive hit was the single to RF in the 1st inning Sunday. It was a classic demonstration of "staying inside the ball" and as the bat struck through the strike zone "like Cobra," a sharp-yet-easy swing produced an off-field liner in the mold of Jose Altuve and Miguel Cabrera.

That doesn’t mean you should infer comps to Altuve or Cabrera, two freaks of nature who have few peers. Barreto has some weaknesses in his game that they don’t, such as more swing and miss than Altuve and plate discipline as weak as Cabrera’s is strong.

But the single to LF and the base hit to RF show the range of Barreto’s abilities and plate coverage, while Saturday’s HR and Sunday’s fly out to the warning track reveal his power. His speed, and natural instincts, were on display as Barreto fled around 3B before Steve Scarsone could pull another blunder and scored on a sharp single to LF with 0 outs -- in theory a risky move but a good one because Barreto knew he could make it and he was right.

All 5 tools were on display in one weekend and that’s impressive. Barreto might go as far as his patience at the plate, and fundamentals in the field, will take him, but it would be hard not to be excited at the potential this 21 year old brings. He already looks like he belongs in the big leagues and that’s a function of his confidence and belief in his skills.

Overall, the Eyeball Scout saw a raw star who has a chance to become a seasoned star. You have permission to be excited.

Matt Olson

Matt Olson is a curious case of a player who already possesses most of the attributes necessary to be an All-Star, yet who has a decent chance not even to be all that great. Olson will draw a lot of walks and he will hit a lot of homeruns. His defense, passable in RF (it looks a tick below average to me with the upside, due to lack of speed, to be average), is excellent at 1B.

The question is whether with his strong defense Olson will hit .200, yielding a somewhat pedestrian line of about .200/.300/.420, whether he will hit .250, yielding an All-Star line of around .250/.350/.470, or whether he will hit somewhere in between.

Does Olson’s swing look a little less long than it did with his old stance and swing? Perhaps a bit. Does it still look longer rather than shorter? Yes. Right now if I had to put money down in Vegas, I would bet on a slash line of .220/.320/.440, which yields a solid player if not a spectacular one. The patience, knowledge of the strike zone, and power are real, but one concern is that Olson’s swing is not going to find a lot of holes on the diamond.

Olson’s batting average will be suppressed at the outset by a lot of strikeouts -- that’s just part of his game. If defenses can shift against him, they will take away a fair number of hits on even hard hit balls as we saw happen with Matt Joyce throughout April and early May. Of course we’ve seen with Joyce the past 6 weeks that you can thrive hitting into the shift if your patience, eye, power, and line drive stroke are good enough.

The Eyeball Scout currently sees, in Olson, a hitter who can excel against pitchers who don’t throw especially hard because Olson’s biggest gift is his ability to recognize pitches and if he doesn’t have to start his swing too early he is well equipped to handle fastballs, breaking balls, and changeups alike. Against hard throwers, though, Olson is going to have to commit earlier and is going to be late on fastballs, early on changeups, more prone to expanding the strike zone against curves and sliders. He is also inherently going to be victimized by the shift.

I don’t think you can try to make every player the same, and Olson is never going to stay inside the ball, unleash a short, quick stroke, and line balls to LF the way Barreto masterfully hit behind the runner yesterday. What I do think, though, is that Olson will need to have a better plan to handle fastballs away than "bounce it sharply to 2B!" I think in order to be a complete hitter, even as he is, Olson needs to be able to find a shorter and quicker (think Carlos Delgado at the ‘holy grail’ end of that spectrum) swing he can use to drive outside pitches hard the other way.

That might also be a potential two-strike approach, though I’m ok with Olson being one of those hitters who simply strikes out a lot but is a big power threat even with two strikes. Mostly I’m focused on having a way to succeed on pitches away, maybe against pitchers who throw 95+MPH — perhaps it would be an approach to bring out in certain situations, such as a runner at 3B and less than 2 outs or even with a runner at 2B and 2 outs when a hit is more useful than a walk.

Bruce Maxwell is a great example of a hitter who has a terrific "hard off-field swing" to beat pitches away, and as a result he is much tougher at bat than Olson — though also a less scary and dangerous one. Speaking of Maxwell...

Bruce Maxwell

The Eyeball Scout been really impressed with Bruce Maxwell’s at bats, even though in his most recent two he has tried, with varied success, to bounce into DPs. To me, Maxwell is one of those batters who fills me with confidence that he will routinely attack hittable pitches, lay off bad balls, hit the ball where it’s pitched and focus on hard contact, and allow pitchers to work themselves into a hitter’s count. The frequency with which I see a "good at bat" is refreshingly high on a team that has been awfully prone to hacking, getting themselves out, and bailing out pitchers. Maxwell rarely does any of that.

As for his batted ball profile, what stands out so far is that most of Maxwell’s hits have been to the left of 2B. What is unusual is that those off-field hits have been hit hard, some of them truly smoked. Given that for most hitters, they pull the ball the majority of the time and hit the ball hardest to the pull side, it’s a pretty good sign to see a batter hit so many balls hard the other way.

Can Maxwell complete his game by turning on pitches and driving them to RF? If his body is any indication, that’s a resounding yes because Bruce Maxwell is one big, strong dude. Listed at 6’1", 251 lbs, having seen him in the clubhouse I have to say those numbers are, if anything, conservative. He hasn’t hit for much power in the minors (.375 career slugging percentage), but given his size and how hard he hits the ball to LF, I have to think he is maturing into a hitter who can hit for ample power on pitches middle-in.

I’m pretty bullish on Maxwell and think a slash line of .250/.330/.400 is totally realistic, with an outside chance of suddenly developing and harnessing power and slugging more like .420-.450. That goes with defense that I think is pretty solid overall, from smart pitch calling and good leadership work with the pitchers, to excellent pitch framing (sorry, "presentation") skills, to a reasonably strong and accurate throwing arm. He’s not the most agile backstop and he has some work to do on blocking balls in the dirt, but I think he’s a fine defensive catcher with room to grow — remember that Maxwell is relatively new to catching.

Now we have ourselves a team!