Phil Pohl has an entire community watching his every move through Oakland's farm system. As the pride of Cooperstown, NY, otherwise known as the mecca of the baseball world, he has a pretty prestigious legacy that goes with him when fans, broadcasters, and scouts alike glance at his hometown on Stockton's roster. Pohl was the first draftee out of Cooperstown in nearly a quarter of a century when he was selected out of high school. But instead of heading for the pros immediately, Pohl opted to head out to South Carolina and play for Clemson before Oakland took a chance with him as their 28th round pick last season.
Pohl is one of a few sparse names that can claim a Cooperstown heritage prior to ever stepping foot on a major league baseball field. Pohl, who grew up strolling the halls of the Hall of Fame, is beginning to take his first steps on a journey that in the end he hopes culminates in a homecoming to upstate New York as an inductee; but for now, Pohl must conquer the Cal League before he can begin to remotely think about a major league chance. So far the backstop has gotten off on the right foot for the Ports.
After being picked up in the 41st round by Tampa Bay out of high school, Pohl decided the collegiate route was better suited for him and accepted a scholarship to Clemson which allowed him to play at one of the elite big six conference programs in Division 1. And after being featured as the Tigers' backup, Pohl finally broke through in 2011, snagging the starting job en route to becoming one of the most fearsome bats in Clemson's order. By his senior year, he was one of the premiere offensive players in the ACC conference and led the Tigers to a college World Series berth, as well as hitting a memorable grand slam against Coastal Carolina in the regionals.
"Playing for Clemson was a dream come true," Pohl said. "I'm from upstate New York so being able to go down south and play big time Division 1 baseball was a great experience for me. The four years I went there we had the opportunity to go to Omaha, and I think we made the postseason every year. But overall those four years were just… awesome. I mean, it's really tough to put into words."
Pohl would also receive an extra motivational boost prior to the postseason, as the A's took him in the 28th round, their second catching selection behind Bruce Maxwell (who went in the second round). Pohl would report to Arizona and he spent most of his pro debut with the AZL A's. He would finish the year hitting .292/.381/.450 with six doubles, a pair of triples and three homers with seven walks and 22 strike-outs. The strong season put Pohl in a good place for his first off-season as a pro.
"The offseason was good," Pohl said. "It was my first off-season as a professional baseball player plus I got the chance to go back home and be with family so overall it was pretty good."
Pohl broke camp this year with Low-A Beloit Snappers, but he was sent back to extended spring training after only a handful of games. At the start of May, Pohl was sent to High-A Stockton, replacing Ryan Ortiz, who was sent to Triple-A Sacramento. Pohl is only the third A's 2012 draft selection thus far to reach the High-A level behind standouts Addison Russell and Max Muncy.
"I think any time you move up a level you're very proud and you're really excited to move up," Pohl said. "But all those guys [playing on Low-A Beloit] are great catchers and we've definitely learned a lot from each other, and I've been able to take a lot from them in the way they carry themselves and the way they play the game. It's just the way they move guys up and down, there's always a rhyme and reason to it. But being up here is great, playing up in California and I've really enjoyed it so far."
Pohl actually has some connection to California, as he moved to upstate New York in grade school from Bakersfield. With his return to California, Pohl has taken full advantage thus far, batting .333/.411/.458 in 48 at-bats. Although it is a limited sample size, it is still an incredibly encouraging beginning to the Cooperstown kid's Cal League career. One of his biggest hits of his Ports' career came in Stockton's 17- inning walkoff victory against Lake Elsinore earlier this month when he hit a game-tying solo homerun in the bottom of the 16th inning.
With a big-time reputation waiting back at home for him to live up to, Pohl is taking things one step at a time to what he believes can end with a big league shot.
"I just want to keep playing well," Pohl said about his goals for the season. "I want to just keep moving up. I think I've definitely made a step in the right direction, but if it's just to stay here then coming to the field everyday and having fun.
"I wake up everyday and think how lucky I am that I get to play baseball whereas other people need to put on a shirt and tie and do their job. Every single day has been a blessing for me and I'm just looking forward to doing this for a long time."