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Views from Arizona: Fowler, Powell, Neuse, and other hitters

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My analysis from a weekend of Cactus League baseball comes to an end with a look at some interesting young Oakland hitters.

Dustin Fowler leads off against the Seattle Mariners.

Monday I wrote about some of the more notable pitching performances from the past weekend of Oakland A’s spring training baseball. Today, I wrap up with a look at some hitters who caught my eye, two of which are battling for the Opening Day center field job.

Dustin Fowler

Fowler was my main focus entering the weekend, as the 23 year-old is just getting back into game action after his 2017 season was cut short. First and foremost, I wanted to see if Fowler’s knee was truly back to 100% after the injury. In his two games this weekend, I saw nothing that would indicate otherwise. He seemed to be moving just fine, and while I could tell he wasn’t doing anything that would unnecessarily stress his knee, if I hadn’t known about the injury prior to seeing him I wouldn’t even be able to tell he had it.

Next, I wanted to see if Fowler could hold his own in center field. He only had two real opportunities that weren’t routine. On Friday, he ranged far into left center to make a running catch on a ball over his head. It was nothing spectacular, but he looked smooth and took a nice route. However, on Saturday, he froze on a hard line drive directly to him. He caught the ball, but didn’t have enough time to set his feet and make a strong throw home, allowing a runner on third to score with ease. Every outfielder says that the fly ball hit right at you is the hardest to judge, and Fowler did still make the catch, but his initial hesitation cost the A’s a run.

With the bat, Fowler seemed a bit pull-happy. In his first two at-bats on Friday he hit fly balls to the warning track, one caught in center and one that bounced over the right-center field wall for a ground rule double. I didn’t see him hit a ball well to the opposite field on either day. However, his swing did look smooth overall, and he showed better plate discipline than I expected.

My opinion on Fowler hasn’t changed - long term, I see him as a stronger fit in a corner than in center field, but while he is in his prime he could hold down center at an adequate level. I remain of the belief that he could use a bit more seasoning in Triple-A to begin 2018, but should still make an impact at the Major League level by June or so.

Boog Powell

Powell’s successful 2017 came with a .345 BABIP (.390 while in Oakland) and I think Billy Burns has taught A’s fans that even with speed, it is unwise to call a BABIP that high sustainable. However, I like everything that Powell brings to the table, and while he is best suited for a fourth outfielder role in the long run, I strongly believe he should open 2018 as the team’s primary center fielder against righties.

Boog had a strong weekend on both sides of the ball. He played all three outfield spots and looked nearly flawless at each, making every play that came his way. He even turned a great double play in right field on Friday (that I unfortunately missed while I was in line for popcorn). Defensive metrics were fairly neutral on his performance in center field in 2017, but by the eye test he looks to be an above average defender at all three spots.

Where Boog impressed me the most this weekend was at the plate. He showed no power and probably never will, but he is still able to drive the ball and has a line drive approach. Most impressive was his Sunday at-bat against Chicago White Sox flamethrower Michael Kopech. He fell behind 0-2 but battled back, eventually driving an opposite-field single to left to load the bases. He also stole a base on Friday, getting a good jump off of Cleveland righty Carlos Torres. I like his chances at winning the center field job to begin the year, and he could serve as a second leadoff hitter at the bottom of the order.

Below is another shaky video of the Powell at-bat. Skip to 3:50 to see Matt Joyce’s grand slam!

Sheldon Neuse

I was able to see Neuse quite a bit in the Arizona Fall League, so I was excited to get another look at his swing. I was not disappointed. Since joining the Athletics organization, Neuse simply has not stopped hitting.

I saw Neuse pinch-hit on Friday and start at third on Sunday (he played in the away game on Saturday). On Friday, in his one at-bat he hit a rocket to left field for an out. On Sunday, he homered to left center - of course - but it was his next at-bat that stood out to me. In my AFL reports, I noted that Neuse was a very aggressive hitter that rarely made it to a full count. However, just like Powell, Neuse fell behind 0-2 to Kopech, horribly late on his fastball. I expected a quick strikeout, but instead, Neuse battled to a full count before fighting off a fastball down the right field line for a two run single. I was impressed by his quick adjustment, and remain very high on Neuse as a hitter.

Defensively, Neuse entered the game at shortstop after pinch-hitting on Friday and immediately let a routine grounder to his left roll under his glove for an error. He isn’t a shortstop, and probably shouldn’t play the position at the Major League level with any regularity. At third base on Sunday he made a few nice plays and showed off his plus arm - nowhere near Matt Chapman level, of course, but certainly above average. With his plus arm and athletic body type, I like him as a fit in right field if the A’s are willing to try him there. He could be in Oakland before the 2018 season ends.

Others of note

  • Mark Canha missed a ground ball at first base that he might have been able to get to on Friday. It’s seeming less and less likely that he’ll make the Opening Day roster, in my eyes.
  • Bruce Maxwell looked decent at the plate, hitting an opposite field home run on Friday. I am still unsure how I feel about his defense and he is noticeably larger and slower than he was last season.
  • Austin Beck battled for a walk against interesting White Sox righty Matt Foster, almost four full years older. Beck did have a bad read on a strange pop-up in center field.
  • Greg Deichmann, another one of my favorite prospects, took some ugly swings to put himself in a 2-2 count against Foster. He then turned on an inside fastball and drilled it down the right field line for a double. As an older, advanced prospect, I like his chances to move quickly through the system.

The A’s future is bright. It might be a bit before players like Fowler and Neuse are regular contributors in the lineup, but we’ll be able to watch them grow and develop starting this season. This is the most stacked the A’s farm has been in a very long time, and that’s in addition to a fairly strong Major League club. Get excited.

Poll

Which two outfielders should make the Opening Day roster?

This poll is closed

  • 47%
    Boog Powell and Jake Smolinski
    (225 votes)
  • 38%
    Dustin Fowler and Jake Smolinski
    (182 votes)
  • 7%
    Boog Powell and Mark Canha
    (36 votes)
  • 5%
    Dustin Fowler and Mark Canha
    (26 votes)
469 votes total Vote Now