Back on April 21, the Oakland Athletics called up Matt Olson for what was expected to be a quick cup of coffee with the big league team. On Thursday the 27th Olson was headed back to Nasville after a total of three at-bats, two of which ended in strikeouts.
Back with the Nashville Sounds, where he spent the majority of 2016 before getting some brief playing time in Oakland in September, Olson has played in two games and is 5-for-9 with a homer, 3 RBI and two runs scored, including a four-hit night on Saturday.
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In their Prospect Handbook, Baseball America ranked Olson the A’s #17 prospect, a large drop from his top 100 status from the previous two seasons, and mentioned previous comparisons to Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles for his power and patience. They go on to mention that his inability to hit left-handers (one homer in 2016 against southpaws) makes him look like more of a platoon option at this point. Those struggles have continued so far this season as all three of his homers have been against right-handers and he is just 1-for-11 (.091) against lefties.
Olson has always been considered a bat-first prospect, and his 2014 season in the California League with the Stockton Ports sure helped propel that narrative. That season Olson led the Cal League with 37 homers while holding a walk rate of 18.5 percent and a strikeout rate of 21.6.
Since making it to Triple-A, that strikeout rate has stayed relatively consistent, taking a slight increase, but the walk rate dropped down to 13.1 percent last year and is at 12.7 percent in the early going this season. In the two full seasons since his 37 homer campaign, Olson has sent 17 over various fences in both Double-A Midland and Triple-A Nashville. It’s likely that he has somewhere in the vicinity of 15-20 homer pop in the big leagues, being that he is still just 23, but still not close to the Chris Davis comps either.
The main worry for fans of the Oakland Athletics when you hear of a corner infielder that has too much patience is that they will be another Daric Barton. Barton was seemingly with the club since they moved to Oakland in 1968, but after doing some research it turns out he came around in the Mark Mulder deal. The acquisition of Barton (plus the Tim Hudson deal) introduced a whole new crop of A’s fans to what it would be like to trade away star players still in their prime, a tradition that continues to this day! It also puts a boatload of pressure on the guys they bring in to replace these fan favorites.
The one bright side for Olson is that he is still young and is not expected to help turn around the franchise. Maybe a couple of years ago he was a bigger deal in the farm system, but after acquiring Franklin Barreto (tradition!), drafting A.J. Puk and Matt Chapman and signing Lazaro Armenteros (a.k.a Lazarito), the A’s have been adding talent to their system in a slew of different ways, which has both pushed Olson down in the pecking order, but also limits some of the pressure on him to succeed.
Olson has had a couple of sips of coffee in his young career, but for him to make it up to Oakland and stay there he’ll have to let his bat do the talking. Having more obstacles in his way could be a disguised blessing and just the motivation he needs. Bringing him up last week may have helped fuel that motivation, too.