A player's first full professional season can be a learning experience, and Oakland A's prospect B.A. Vollmuth says he got an education last year. The A's 2011 third-round draft choice played 132 games. The first half of the season, Vollmuth was with the Low-A Burlington Bees. After the All-Star break, he was promoted to High-A Stockton, and he would spend the rest of the season with the Ports.
Vollmuth had, by no means, a terrible first full season. He hit .261/.336/.405 with 14 homeruns and 73 RBI. More was expected of the talented right-handed hitter, however. He struck-out 144 times and didn't hit for as much power as his talent would suggest.
The Southern Miss alum believes that he didn't handle the rigors of a full season well last year and that he comes into the 2013 season much better prepared for a 140-game schedule.
"The mental grind [was the biggest challenge] and making sure that you are prepared for every situation. It's a grind to take an eight-hour bus ride and then wake up the next morning and play a game," Vollmuth said.
"The grind is something that you always hear about from all of the players. It's tough, but it is something that can be managed a lot better than I managed it last year. It's something that is very easy to overcome if you watch what you eat and are not going out and all of those types of things.
"For me, it's all about just playing as well as I can. My work ethic last year kind of wasn't the best, so really this year, just work hard and focus on my practicing and have fun during the games."
Vollmuth played in 65 games for the Ports last season. He returns to Stockton this season and he is expected to be the Ports' everyday third baseman. The Biloxi, Mississippi, native is looking forward to tackling the California League once again.
"Whenever you get a chance to go up a level and see what it is about and see the pitching and understand all of the environments and see all of the ballparks – I think I went to all but one last year – you already know what to expect, so there are no surprises, really," Vollmuth said.
Vollmuth's slashline with Burlington was almost identical to his slashline with the Ports. He didn't see a dramatic difference in the level of competition between the notoriously pitcher-friendly Midwest League and the hitter-friendly California League.
"The jump in competition isn't really that bad. Players are a little more consistent [in the Cal League]," Vollmuth said. "I feel like that is pretty much how it is as you go up, people just get more consistent. It's not like Midwest League guys are throwing 89 and then people up here are throwing 91.
"I think just the environment is different. In the Midwest League, it was 30 degrees the first half of the season, but you come out here and it is sunny and the wind is blowing out in most of the parks. It's definitely much easier to get ready to play as a hitter in this league."
During his sophomore and junior seasons at Southern Miss, Vollmuth hit for both average and power. In 2010, he hit .386/.493/.729 with 20 homers and 76 RBI. Vollmuth struggled with a hip pointer injury during his junior season, but he still managed a .301/.408/.548 line with 12 homeruns and 49 RBI in 55 games. The A's drafted him with the belief that Vollmuth would develop into a profile third baseman. Vollmuth, however, had somewhat of an identity crisis last season.
"Last year I fell into a situation where I wasn't sure if I wanted to be a power hitter or a hitter for average," Vollmuth said. "I kind of struggled back and forth between those. This year, it's more about just focusing on barreling balls."
Defensively, Vollmuth spent much of his collegiate career at shortstop, but the A's have kept him at third and occasionally first base since he turned pro. Vollmuth struggled at times with the glove last season, committing 36 errors in 112 games at the hot corner. Vollmuth admits that he is still learning the position, but he feels he is making improvements. The A's believe he has the arm strength and athleticism to be a solid third baseman down-the-road.
"I'm getting there," Vollmuth said about his comfort level at third. "I feel very comfortable there now. When I came out of college, I was mostly a shortstop. I'm trying to stay on that side of the field, though. I like throwing the ball. First base kind of gets boring after awhile. Third base is my most comfortable position."
Vollmuth is off to a slow start in the early going. Through three games, he is still looking for his first hit and he has struck-out seven times in nine official at-bats. However, he has also walked four times. The Ports are 3-0 to start the year and, given Vollmuth's talents, it's likely only a matter time before the hits start falling in.