Although he wasn't necessarily in the running to receive a full-season assignment this spring, that didn't stop Oakland A's outfield prospect Ryan Mathews from forcing the issue. The A's 27th-round selection in last June's draft did enough to earn a spot on the Beloit roster, and has responded with a solid first half.
Mathews approaches the Midwest League all-star break with a slash line of .271/.342/.459, and is part of an outfield nucleus that hasn't changed much through the first half of the season.
"He's been a good surprise for us this year," said Snappers manager Ryan Christensen. "Before spring training started, I don't even know if he was in the picture to be here.
"He had a good spring training, is an athletic kid and the ball makes a tremendous sound off the bat when he hits it, so we knew he was strong and had good bat speed. I'm glad that he broke with us and has earned the right to be out there."
Mathews' seven home runs are tied for fourth on the team, and 13 of his 49 hits this season have fallen for doubles. He's also played a solid left field for Beloit and has made just one error in 58 games.
The 23-year-old debuted in the AZL last season and posted a slash line of .250/.303/.483 across 21 games. Nine of his 15 hits went for extra-bases. However, he would be sidelined the last month of the season with a bone spur.
In order to stay healthy, Mathews has changed the way he prepares for every game.
"I wasn't sure what to expect going into spring training," Mathews said. "One of the main things was just staying healthy. Playing every day my first full season, I'm taking care of my body and doing the necessary stuff before and after games. I'm giving it everything I've got. I'm working every day.
"I was real excited with the opportunity to come up here with these guys at full-season ball. I'm grateful for the opportunities they've given me to be on the field proving myself."
A three-year standout from NC State, Mathews is one of the senior members on a Snappers' squad chalk full of high-school draft picks. The 6'4'' outfielder was actually a fifth-year senior choice of the A's last June. Before playing three seasons with the Wolfpack, he spent time on three other college campuses – Florida, Western Carolina and Santa Fe (Fla.) Community College.
At the very least, Mathews has plenty of stories to tell and wisdom to share.
"I'm one of the older guys on the team and just try to use all the knowledge and experience I gained," he said. "I actually went to several colleges, so I've played for many different coaches and teams. I've got to experience a lot. Anytime I can pass that on to some of the younger guys, I can help them out a little bit."
With the second half of his first full pro season around the corner, the challenge for Mathews will be making the adjustments and becoming more consistent at the plate.
"I've really been happy with the damage he's done with hitting seven home runs," Christensen said. "He's hit a few doubles and been robbed of a few other ones. As long as he continues to put the barrel on the ball, that's the big thing for him because he has a tendency to get off the barrel and break some bats."
Mathews said he's also working on the mental side of each at-bat.
"We've got [hitting coach] Casey Myers and Ryan [Christensen], who are really great with the hitters," Mathews said. "I've worked a lot on my swing and making adjustments at the plate. I still don't really feel like I've put it all together yet. I'm still working a lot on my approach mentally, as well. I'm looking forward to a solid second half."