June 2012

MOSS CAPITALIZING ON GREEN-AND-GOLD OPPORTUNITY

Brandon Moss has been looking for an opportunity like this his entire baseball life.  Since being drafted in the eighth round by Boston in 2002, the A’s new first baseman has been trying to land a permanent job with a Major League team.  But despite hitting 134 home runs and driving in 612 runs in 10 minor league seasons, when the 28-year-old Moss knocked on a big league team’s door, it seemed Fats Domino greeted him with an all-too-familiar refrain: “I hear you knocking, but you can’t come in”…

Oh sure, there was that one season—2009—when he played in 133 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates, hitting .236 with seven homers and 41 RBI.  Then a month after the season, he and wife, Allison, welcomed their first child, son Jayden, into the world.  At age 25, Brandon probably felt like everything was falling into place and he had, indeed, made it to The Show for good.  Unfortunately, the Pirates had other ideas, returning him to Triple-A the following year, and he’s been struggling ever since in hopes of rekindling the promise he once had.  In what appeared to be a under-the-radar transaction back in November, Moss was signed to a minor league contract by Oakland.  He joined a jam-packed outfield during Spring Training, clearly a long-shot to make the club.  But while he was assigned to Sacramento when camp broke, the big left-handed slugger left quite an impression in the desert.  He led the A’s in batting (.500, 11-for-22) and lashed three doubles, a homer and seven RBI in seven Spring Training games.  Anyone who watched his at-bats then had to think, “Hey, this guy can really hit.”

That was the last I saw of Brandon Moss until the middle of May, when I accompanied the River Cats on a road trip through Albuquerque and Round Rock—a trip necessitated by media interest surrounding Manny Ramirez joining the team.   While most of my time was spent with Manny and the local journalists, it also gave me a chance to reacquaint myself with some of our minor league players.  What I observed of Moss was a player with a sweet stroke to all fields, and someone who could drive the ball out of any Pacific Coast League ballpark.  I also saw an extroverted personality who seemed to be the life of the clubhouse.  Yet, among the levity, you had to wonder if the veteran outfielder was starting to wonder if his professional days were numbered.  Sometimes, though, your opportunity arises not so much because of you—although he had launched 15 home runs in Sacramento’s early season—but more because of outside forces.  As A’s fans are keenly aware, except for Daric Barton’s solid 2010 season (.273 BA, 100 walks, .393 OBP), the team has been searching for a bona fide run producer at first base since Nick Swisher manned the post in 2007.  In the past year, the club has tried behemoth Chris Carter there, acquired Brandon Allen from Arizona (Brad Ziegler trade) and Kila Ka’aihue (free agent, Kansas City), and welcomed back a fully-healed Barton, with hopes one of them might finally seize the position for good.  Unfortunately, none did, and Moss was asked to transition from outfield to first base at Sacramento.  It was a position he had played briefly during his minor league career, but it was asking a lot for him to play flawless first base on the big league level when he was called up June 6.

But that’s exactly what he has done thus far with the A’s, digging throws out of the dirt, making good decision on grounders hit between him and Jemile Weeks, and overall, playing the position in a fashion that would belie his experience there.  And even better, he has swung the bat like a corner infielder should.  He’s hitting .308 with two doubles, five home runs and nine RBI in his first eight games with the team.  In fact, he’s batting a more robust .438 with two doubles, four homers and eight RBI over his past five games.  Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised by his early success.  After so many bus rides, early hotel wake-up calls and minor league ballparks, it would seem that Brandon Moss simply said no mas.  He had had enough.  Maybe he knew full well that another opportunity may not come his way.  So, this Sunday when the A’s host San Diego on Father’s Day, it will be Jayden Moss’s father who has every reason to be thankful.  He’s in the big leagues in Oakland and he’s in the starting lineup.  That’s all he ever asked for.

DOOLITTLE BREAKING NEW GROUND WITH METEORIC RISE

Being a player on the fast track to the big leagues is one thing.  But being Sean Doolittle?  Now that’s an entirely different story.  You want to know how much territory this erstwhile first baseman has covered this year as the A’s new pitching phenom?  Well, let’s start in Stockton, California.  That’s where Doolittle was assigned after an eye-opening Spring Training.  Once an elite first base prospect for Oakland until knee surgery in 2009 appeared to have ended his promising career, he decided to give it the old college try before hanging up his cleats for good.  And when we say college try, that means Doolittle returned to the mound, where he once pitched at the University of Virginia.  So, all he did with the Single-A Ports was post a subterranean 0.87 ERA in six games while—and get this—striking out 21 batters and walking just two in 10.1 innings.  Clearly, this newly-transitioned hurler was already too good for Single-A.  In rapid fashion, he was promoted to Double-A Midland on April 26.

In Midland, Doolittle just continued to pump strike after strike, hitting the speed gun at 94 and 95 MPH.  After eight games with the Rockhounds, his pitching line was remarkably similar to his numbers in Stockton:  0.82 ERA, 19 strikeouts and four walks in 11.0 innings.  Many in the organization had to be wondering, “Is this kid for real?”  Well, it only gets better.  On May 27—only a month since he made the step from Single-A to Double-A, Sean was promoted again.  He appeared in two games with Triple-A Sacramento, allowing no runs, one hit and fanning eight while walking only one.  Clearly, this guy was making an undeniable case for a higher league.  And as we know, the only one higher was the one our A’s play in.

So, Monday, in strolled Sean Doolittle into Steve Vucinich’s clubhouse off 66th Avenue.  And then in the fifth inning Tuesday night, he took another stroll, this time to the Coliseum pitching mound, where he proceeded to strikeout Nelson Cruz and go on to register 1.1 innings of scoreless relief.  Yesterday, he was the A’s media darling, as writers and TV stations flocked to his locker or the field for one-on-one interviews. You would think his head would be spinning, considering how far he’s come in such a short time.  But instead, he seems to be just soaking it in.

Traveling secretary Mickey Morabito asked him yesterday if he needed to drive to Sacramento to pick up any of his belongings.  With no exaggeration, Doolittle responded, “I have no belongings in Sacramento.  I wasn’t there long enough.  My belongings are still in Midland.”  And then he added, “And my car, it’s still in Stockton.”

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