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The return of Mark Canha, again, again

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Against all odds, Canha is back for his fourth try at a breakout year.

The Canha came back, the very next year.
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Last May, I wrote an article called, “The return of Mark Canha, again.” Canha had just rejoined the Oakland A’s for his second stint of the year, after missing nearly all of 2016 to injury, and in eight games after his callup he’d gone 11-for-25 with three homers. It seemed like he was finally getting his chance to shine after a rocky road behind him. However, his bat went quiet after that initial hot streak, and a couple weeks later he was out of the lineup until late-season garbage time.

Now he’s back again, again. Entering 2018 he seemed completely buried on the depth chart, but one thing led to another and here he is. This time he’s playing every day in CF, which for some reason isn’t weird at all and is working out completely fine. At the plate he’s off to another sizzling start: 14-for-41 with three dingers, a four-digit OPS, a 185 wRC+, and his lowest strikeout rate in years.

Will it last this time? What should we even make of Canha anymore, after his roller coaster career path? A reminder:

  • 2015: Acquired as Rule 5 pick, made lineup in August and raked
  • 2016: Made team, but had season-ending surgery in early May
  • 2017: Made team, but couldn’t stick in several stints in Oakland
  • 2018: Didn’t make team, but quickly found his way up as injury replacement

Canha is 29 now, and for the fourth season in a row he’s something of a breakout candidate. It didn’t work out last summer, when he finally aligned health with several big league opportunities, and perhaps this is just another brief mirage in a Quad-A career. But if nothing else, you’ve got to give the guy credit for fighting his way back to the majors year after year. At the very least, Canha is proving his value as a quality depth piece, able to fill all kinds of different roles based on team need.

It’s easy to root for Canha, just as it has been throughout his tenure in Oakland’s organization. Let’s do the list again:

  • Classic A’s misfit-toy origin story, as underdog no-name Rule 5 draft pick
  • Local guy from San Jose, college in Berkeley
  • Dingers
  • More personality than the average athlete
  • Above-average sideburns

As for what he’s doing on the field, the major change has come on defense. We all laughed when the A’s began trying him in CF last year — he has more speed than he gets credit for but had never exactly been an agile gazelle in the corner outfield. However, he’s looked completely adequate in center this time around, and he’s even made a couple of downright impressive plays.

This new capability to handle CF, not just for emergency duty but for an extended stretch of viable everyday play, dramatically changes Canha’s profile. Down the road, if/when a hotter name like Dustin Fowler or Boog Powell is ready to take over the position full-time, Canha can be a fully functional fourth outfielder rather than just a corner/platoon guy. In the present day, being able to play up the middle means he has a chance for the kind of everyday at-bats he’s rarely been able to find in the bigs at more crowded positions like LF or 1B.

Canha is making the most of those at-bats. He’s started 11 games so far and hit safely in 10 of them, including the last eight straight. When the Red Sox came to town last weekend, he patiently took a Drew Pomeranz curve the other way for an RBI single, he barreled up Chris Sale for a double, and he notched a hit off David Price. This week in Texas, he’s doubled off Matt Moore and homered off Cole Hamels.

That list of mostly excellent pitchers is coincidentally all lefties, but he’s been good against righties too. That’s not meant to draw grand small-sample conclusions about platoon splits, but merely to point out that Canha is hitting everybody right now and contributing something every day. His power has never been in doubt, but this time he’s doing the little things too. With runners in scoring position, he’s 4-for-6 with two walks.

Of course, we’ve seen this before. He was this level of hot for a couple weeks last year, and then the clock struck midnight and it all disappeared. Even if all goes well he won’t keep hitting .341 for long. We shouldn’t get too ahead of ourselves yet, and for now the story is that Oakland identified a quality stopgap while Fowler finds his groove in the minors.

But it’s hard not to keep yesterday’s hopes in the back of our collective mind. For the last three years Canha enjoyed varying levels of breakout candidacy, with the hope that if he could just get a month or two of consistent playing time then maybe he’d hit enough to prove himself and stick long-term. Now we’re on to a fourth year that no one really saw coming, still at a prime age, and this time it’s going better than ever. Is it finally real?

One way or other, it’s amazing that we’re even talking about him at all in 2018. After years of navigating roster logjams, and getting sidetracked by injuries, and frankly missing some opportunities that did arise, this is finally happening and there’s no specific reason to expect it to stop anytime soon. Mark Canha is back, again. Again.