There aren't too many Midwest League hitters more sizzling hot right now than Beloit's Boog Powell. To be exact, through Tuesday, only two other hitters in the entire league had posted higher batting averages than the Snappers' leadoff man.
A small 5-foot-10 slap-hitter when he was drafted by the A's in the 20th round of the 2012 draft, Powell has always been in the business in proving people wrong. His fast start battling through cold conditions in what is traditionally a pitcher's league has gotten the attention of many.
"I was drafted later on, so I'm not a high prospect," said Powell, whose .348 batting average through Wednesday was behind only Joey Curletta of Great Lakes and Marcus Littlewood of Clinton in the Midwest League. "I'm just trying to do as well as I can to become a top prospect.
"In spring training, I just tried to learn as much as I could from the older guys. I played with Double-A for the first half of spring training, so I asked a lot of our hitters for advice and the pitchers about what they'd throw in certain situations. All I'm trying to do is hit the ball as hard as I can and I'm hitting it well right now."
A simple approach instituted by Beloit hitting coach Lloyd Turner in mid-April has helped Powell sustain his run. Snappers' hitters are instructed to take all off-speed pitches until there are two strikes in the count, which leads to a focus on pitch recognition and feasting on opposing fastballs. Powell is also getting more walks out of this approach and currently ranks second in the MWL with a .455 on-base percentage.
"[Twelve] games ago is when he told us to start taking it until two strikes," Powell said. "Before that, I was striking out and didn't have the right approach. Ever since then I have started seeing the ball well and hitting it. Surprisingly I haven't seen many off-speed pitches and am mainly getting fastballs here."
Powell has also started adding another dimension to his game: driving the ball the other way in order to take advantage of his speed.
"I'm focused most on hitting it to the opposite field," Powell said. "[Beloit manager] Rick [Magnante] gave me a new stance, so I'm trying to work that stance and hit opposite field. I'm hitting the ball to right field really well, but I haven't hit it hard to left field. If I hit a ground ball in between third and short, there's no way they're getting me out."
Not many other coaches in the Oakland organization have had the influence on Powell that Magnante has. Ever since scouting and recommending the A's draft Powell nearly two years ago, Magnante has played a pivotal role in the centerfielder's development.
"I drafted and signed him out of Orange Coast College in Southern California and a couple things really stood out to me: his foot speed, athleticism, and ability to defend and throw," Magnante said. "But he was also just a ping hitter that would just touch the ball and rely on his foot speed.
"The thing that's really allowed him to grow is that he still implements the small game and understands that's a part of who he is, but he's also developing with the bat and starting to drive the ball and use all fields. He's using the entire field and getting incrementally better every year as he progresses through the system."
Oakland has afforded Powell the luxury of time in his ascent through the lower level of the minors. After breaking in with the A's rookie league team in 2012 and posting a .306/.383/.315 slash line in 35 games, Powell spent all of last season with Magnante's Vermont squad. Powell's slash line remained much the same at .283/.364/.344 in 59 New York-Penn League games.
"Coach Magnante is like a grandfather for me and we're really close," Powell said. "We've been close ever since Vermont. He says I remind him of himself when he played. He loves to play small ball and loves the way I play. That pays off in the long run, because he can be aggressive with me and tell me when to steal."
Magnante sums up Powell's chances honestly, saying there are a few keys to his continuing to move up the chain.
"He's a dark-horse kid and what's going to keep him on the map is his on-base percentage, ability to score runs, steal bases and defend," Magnante said. "He's a Brett Gardner-type of player. He's a very courageous player that's fearless out there."