The past two seasons for Anthony Recker with Triple-A Sacramento could be described as quietly solid. In a part-time role, Recker posted OPSs of 782 and 837 for the River Cats in 2009 and 2010, respectively. This year, there has been nothing quiet and nothing part-time about Recker's role with Sacramento. The Oakland A's 18th round pick in 2005 has been a main cog in the heart of the Sacramento line-up and he has produced big numbers. Through Sunday, Recker was batting .327 with 11 homers, 29 RBIs and a 998 OPS in 55 games.
Recker has improved in every facet of his game offensively this season. He is currently hitting for the highest average of his career. The Pennsylvania native is also getting on base at his best rate as a pro. He has walked 29 times in 205 at-bats and sports a .413 OBP. Recker has even added a speed element to his offensive production. After stealing only 11 bases in 19 chances over his first six professional seasons, Recker has six stolen bases in eight attempts this season after swiping a bag on Sunday. He is 15th in the PCL in OPS.
Recker credits a better mental approach, rather than a familiarity with the Pacific Coast League, for his success this season.
"Pitchers change and teams change, so I don't know that it is familiarity with the league or anything. It's just being mentally strong this year and knowing where I am at," Recker said.
"Things have been going good for me at the plate. I'm just working to make sure that I keep it because I have had success thus far. I'm trying to keep my same approach and mentally, I'm in a good place right now. I think that is the biggest part."
Playing regularly has helped, as well. During his first four seasons in the A's system, Recker was the everyday catcher on whichever team he played on. He made the mid-season All-Star teams in 2006, 2007 and 2008 for the Midwest, California and Texas Leagues, respectively. However, starting in 2009, he found himself in the back-up role behind Josh Donaldson and Landon Powell. Although his overall numbers were still strong in 2009 and 2010, Recker struggled to maintain a consistent rhythm coming off of the bench.
"I think [playing regularly] is a huge part of [his success this year]. Previous years [in Sacramento] I never got to play much or at least sparingly. This year I have been playing very consistently so that has helped a lot," Recker said.
Part of the reason Recker has been able to get into the line-up on a more consistent basis this season has been his increased versatility defensively. Before this year, Recker had exclusively appeared as a catcher or a designated hitter, save for a handful of appearances at first base last season. Now Recker is getting more regular work at first, giving Sacramento manager Darren Bush another way to get him and Donaldson in the line-up at the same time.
Playing first has been a learning process for Recker, who didn't even play the position in high school.
"It's been going really good. I'm just doing my best over there and trying not to hurt the team. I played over there two or three times last year, but this is my first time over there on any kind of consistent basis at any level," Recker said.
During his time in the organization, Recker has developed a reputation as a tireless worker. Considered an offense-first catcher during his early pro years, Recker has improved his defense steadily over the past six seasons. Scouts coming through Sacramento have noticed the improvement.
"I feel really good about calling pitches and controlling the game right now. As always, there are always things that you can work on," Recker said.
"I don't feel like I am receiving the ball as well as I can. I have received the ball better in the past. Even earlier this year I was receiving the ball better. So there are a couple of things I want to work on, but otherwise I'm having a good season behind the plate too."
For the past several seasons, Recker has been a regular presence at the A's major league spring training camp, something that he believes has helped him improve his defense, as well.
"Catching [the big league staff] is always a little bit of a challenge, so it's good to get that opportunity," Recker said.
"It's definitely been a good thing for me defensively."
At the end of this season, the Alvernia College season will be a minor league free agent unless the A's add him to their 40-man roster at some point during this season. If he continues to play at this high level, it is likely that he will be playing for a spot in the major leagues next spring.