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Elephant Rumblings: Could Dalton Kelly be the A’s next first baseman?

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MLB: Spring Training-Los Angeles Angels at Oakland Athletics
Mar 18, 2022; Mesa, Arizona, USA; Oakland Athletics first baseman Dalton Kelly (53) covers the bag in the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Hohokam Stadium.
Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Monday, Athletics Nation!

It’s both fair and true to note that first baseman Billy McKinney looked rather Olson-esque in Sunday’s Spring Training game against the Cleveland Guardians. He homered, batted in three runs, and wore number 28, after all. McKinney, who started the game at first base, obviously can’t be ignored as Matt Olson’s potential replacement. But Matt Kawahara of the San Francisco Chronicle is wondering if non-roster Spring Training invitee Dalton Kelly might be the man for the job.

Kelly signed a minor league deal with the A’s after a strong 2021 season with the Tampa Bay Rays’ AAA affiliate, slashing .244/.350/.512 with 27 homers in 110 games. He was originally drafted in the 38th round by the Seattle Mariners in 2015, traded to the Rays a year later, and worked his way to AAA in 2019. But in 2020 he failed to make the Rays’ 60-player pool ahead of the pandemic-shortened season.

Kelly confronted the challenge by consulting the Rays analytics staff, who pointed out that he was making contact two to three inches deeper (farther back) than most big-league hitters. That year, he fixed up his batting cage back home and focused his drills on getting wood on the ball quicker:

“So basically, all my drill work (that year) was getting comfortable hitting the ball a little farther out. The thought process was, the farther out you can make contact, the better angle and the more speed your barrel is going to have. So you’re going to start hitting balls in the air more and hit balls harder more.”

The approach appears to have paid off in 2021. Kelly also has some speed on the basepaths, having stolen 93 bases in his minor league career, including 17 steals in 20 attempts last year. His defense has been reliable, too: he has only committed three errors in 1,184 chances the past three seasons.

Kelly has competition this Spring Training besides McKinney for the first base starting job. It may be a good fit for Seth Brown, whose power bat should keep him in the lineup this year — though he could also slot into the outfield, which has been his primary role with the A’s, or at DH. Big league veteran and non-roster invitee Eric Thames is another intriguing possibility, though he is 35 years old and coming off Achilles surgery.

What say ye, AN? Could Kelly be the one to step into Oly’s cleats this year?

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Can’t argue that! But I liked him better with the A’s. All the best nonetheless.