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Prospect watch: Jonah Heim gets first career hit in MLB debut

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The catcher reached base twice in four trips

Oakland Athletics v Texas Rangers Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s had an MLB debut on Tuesday, by catcher Jonah Heim. The 25-year-old made the Top 10 of our preseason Community Prospect List last winter, after breaking out with the bat in 2019 and rising up to Triple-A. He was added to the 40-man roster after the season, and now he’s getting his first look in the majors after seven long years in the minors.

Click here to read a full scouting report for the switch-hitting backstop, who rates as glove-first with his plus defense and arm but also offers strong on-base potential at the plate.

Heim was called up on Monday, and found himself in the starting lineup on Tuesday. The opponent was the Texas Rangers, at their new home park of Globe Life Field, and Heim would be catching teammate Sean Manaea and hitting against Kyle Gibson of the Rangers. The right-handed opponent meant he would be batting lefty to start off.

At the plate, Heim came to bat four times, and he immediately demonstrated his offensive game by reaching base in half of them.

PA #1: In his first plate appearance (3rd inning), Heim drew a four-pitch walk. That description belies how quality of an effort it was, though, as none of the four pitches missed by that much and each of them looked tempting in its own right — a sinker with good height but just a few inches outside; a decent curve that tumbled down below the inside corner but didnt draw a chase; a mistake slider that missed high enough to not be a hanger; and a sinker that barely missed the outside edge, the closest pitch of the at-bat.

As a rookie in his first career plate appearance, you could have understood if Heim was eager to swing at something and prove himself. But patience is the name of his game at the plate, and he stayed perfectly on brand by spitting on all four pitches and insisting on getting something good to hit before playing along. That’s mighty impressive poise for a player’s first-ever trip to the plate.

The A’s already had Tony Kemp on base, so Heim’s free pass pushed Kemp up 90 feet and made it two on with none out. Unfortunately Heim was soon eliminated in a double play, but Kemp reached third on the GIDP, and then scored on a wild pitch. Give Heim a hockey assist for that run.

PA #2: The next time up (5th inning), with Kemp once again on first base and nobody out, Heim deviated from his script a bit. He did come out swinging this time, at the very first pitch, which was a nearly identical outside sinker to the first offering of his previous walk. It almost came back to bite him, but for a bit of halfway-good luck.

He hit a soft grounder right back at Gibson, but the pitcher biffed it. He snared the grounder, but upon transferring it to his other hand it flung out of his glove and sailed away. Luckily for Gibson it squirted directly toward first base, so by the time he collected it he only needed a quick flip to the bag to salvage an out on Heim — if it had gone the other way, everyone may have been safe.

It should have been a double play. It could have been a full reached-on-error. Heim settled for the middle ground of a productive out that moved up the runner. The next batter, Marcus Semien, hit a homer, so it’s a good thing the Rangers weren’t able to complete the GIDP or else it would have cost a run.

PA #3: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Kemp was on first base, this time with one out in the 7th inning. Gibson’s first pitch was a sinker just above the dirt for an easy take, Ball 1. The second pitch was one Heim will remember for the rest of his life.

He got a sinker in the vicinity of the low-outside corner, and poked it the other way for a single — his first career hit! It wasn’t hard contact, at 79.6 mph exit velocity, but it was a perfectly executed doink, with enough loft to get over the infielders and perfect placement to land in front of the outfielders. That piece of contact falls for a hit 93% of the time, per Statcast, so this was a well-earned milestone.

Kemp managed to move to third base on the hit, even though he wasn’t running on the pitch and the ball went to left field, which is basically third base’s backyard. From there the A’s pieced together a five-run rally to put the game away, and Heim scored his first career run when Mark Canha was hit by a pitch shrewdly leaned his elbow into a pitch with the bases loaded.

In other words, Heim got on base and then his teammates drove him in. Sounds like a table-setter to me!

PA #4: Heim’s previous single knocked Gibson out of the game, and when he came up again in the 8th it was against lefty Taylor Hearn. That meant he batted righty this time.

Heim laid off a pretty good slider that broke just below the zone, and then, for the first time in his career, he saw a pitch in the strike zone. It was a sinker all the way in the upper-inside corner, and wasn’t really where Hearn was trying to place it (down and in), but hey, still counts. Heim swung and fouled it off behind the plate. The third pitch missed badly inside, causing him to jump out of the way.

On the 2-1 count, he got another pitch on the inside corner of the zone, and fouled it off again. This time, though, it stayed in play and catcher Robinson Chirinos was able to squeeze it for the out.

Here are the pitches he saw in his four plate appearances:

Credit: Baseball Savant

Defense: As for his work behind the plate, that’s not as easy to analyze. However, the A’s did hold their opponent to three runs, just one of them earned, with eight strikeouts and no walks, and all of the pitchers seemed generally on their games. How much of that was him? Who knows; surely more than zero, but either way he didn’t mess anything up back there.

He did get to make one nice play. In the 1st inning, with a runner on and two out, slugger Joey Gallo dribbled a swinging bunt about 15 feet up the third-base line. The ball might have harmlessly rolled foul, but with two outs on the board Heim saw an opportunity. He hustled out, picked it up, and fired a perfect throw to first base, plenty inside the basepath to ensure the ball wouldn’t get blocked by hitting the runner.

MLB: AUG 25 Athletics at Rangers
THAT HAIR
Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

All in all, this was a successful debut that perfectly showed off Heim’s game. He didn’t thump dingers, but that’s not what he’s here for. He posted a .500 OBP out of the eighth hole, helped set up two run-scoring innings, caught a good game, and played strong defense. If you clicked the scouting report above, you might have wasted your time. Just watch this game and you’ll see exactly who Heim is.

If all goes well, we could be looking at the A’s new long-term catching duo, with Jonah backing up fellow rookie Sean Murphy. It’s Heim Time.

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As much fun as it was to finally see Heim play in the bigs, it was even more fun to watch his father enjoy it. James Heim is quickly becoming a fan favorite at Athletics Nation.

The fam was ready to watch Jonah’s debut

This is one proud papa

In her story at The Athletic, Alex Coffey tells of how James took a night job delivering pizza to help support Jonah’s baseball dream.

Embracing the hashtag!

Jonah said the following about his debut.

His manager was impressed as well

Welcome to the Show!