While Boog Powell’s suspension took some of the shine off of his breakthrough season, the 2014 campaign is setting-up to be a turning point in Powell’s career.
A 20th-round pick of the Oakland A’s in 2012 out of a Southern California community college, Powell established himself as a player who could hit for average and get on-base at an above-average clip during his first two seasons as a pro. In 2012, he hit .306 with a .383 OBP for the AZL A’s and then followed that up with a .283 average and a .364 OBP for the Vermont Lake Monsters in 2013. Powell was the Vermont co-MVP with B.J. Boyd in 2013.
This season, Powell focused on learning to drive the ball. As a result of the adjustments he made, Powell’s SLG went from .315 and .344 in 2012 and 2013, respectively, to .435 in 2014. He also saw a significant spike in his batting average and on-base percentage. In 83 games for Low-A Beloit and High-A Stockton, Powell posted a .343/.451/.435 line.
“I smoothed out my swing [this season],” Powell said. “I was always really high maintenance at the plate. My head would always move up and down. I had no savvy at the plate.
“[Beloit manager] Rick [Magnante] talked a lot with me about that and worked with me on that this year. My swing has come along so far this year. I am able to drive balls now and get out in front and pull the ball without rolling over.”
Powell will continue to work on this area of his game during the prestigious Arizona Fall League. His goal going into the league is to collect more doubles.
Despite the uptick in power numbers, Powell knows that getting on-base will be his ticket to moving up the ladder in professional baseball. With the Beloit Snappers, Powell posted a .452 OBP to go along with his .335 average. That earned him a spot in the Midwest League All-Star game, where he was named the game’s MVP.
During his time with the Stockton Ports, Powell hit either first or ninth. In both slots, he focused on being on-base for the run producers in the potent Stockton line-up. His OBP remained high (.449) and he finished the season with the highest OBP of any qualified player in minor league baseball. He walked 61 times against 53 strike-outs.
“That’s my goal [getting on-base],” Powell said. “Especially here [with Stockton], I want to get on-base for D-Rob [Daniel Robertson], [Matt] Olson, and all of them. That’s the lead-off hitter’s job.”
Powell keeps his approach simple when he’s at the plate.
“I’m looking right back up the middle, right at the pitcher’s head,” Powell said. “I know that sounds bad, but that’s right where I am aiming, right back up the middle. I try to stay right through the ball.”
The A’s want Powell to keep that simple approach and focus on getting on-base. Powell is one of the best bunters in the A’s system, an asset that he used to his advantage throughout the season. During the Ports’ second playoff game, Powell reached base twice – once on an infield hit to second and another on a bunt for a hit. Although the uptick in power numbers will help Powell keep defenses more honest by forcing defenders to remain at their normal depths, the A’s aren’t looking for Powell to change his approach to become a hitter he is not.
“[Powell] is a gritty player,” A’s minor league hitting coordinator Marcus Jensen said. “He is a guy who certainly knows what his game is. He is a guy who had success in the Midwest League. He had a great year there. He put up good at-bats and understood his at-bats by being disciplined and understanding his approach. He utilized the bunt game. A lot of guys who are in that position are slow to adopt that, but he utilized it and he understood that was a strength of his. That carried him throughout the season in the Midwest League.
“He is capable of driving some balls, but first and foremost, it’s important for him to understand what his role is and if he happens to run into a couple here or there, that’s fine, but he’s not going to be a guy that we project to be a homerun hitter. That doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of running into one here and there. That’s a nice asset to have, as long as he doesn’t lose sight of who he is in the process of gaining some power.”
Powell finished the season with just enough at-bats to qualify for the overall leaderboards, but his 50 games missed meant that he finished the year with just 315 at-bats. Powell was red-hot at the plate when his suspension was announced, and he worked hard during his time away from the active roster to maintain the improvements he had made during the first half of the year. His suspension was announced on July 7th, and he returned to the Ports’ active roster on August 30th. He appeared in three games for Stockton before the end of the regular season, collecting four hits and two walks in 13 at-bats. He then went 2-for-4 in two post-season games.
“I kept my routine for practice,” Powell said of his time during the suspension. “I went to Arizona and worked out with the AZL team. I felt great the whole time. I would take BP, take infield, outfield, shag BP, do as much as I could. On the days that I didn’t go there, I went to Redline Athletics, it’s a place in Scottsdale. I went there to work out. I felt good.”
Powell is grateful for the opportunity to go to the Arizona Fall League and make up for the time he lost to the suspension.
“I’m just excited to be playing ball again,” Powell said. “My biggest thing is just seeing as much live pitching as I can. Of course, it’s a big honor to be going to the Fall League and it will be a great opportunity for me to build on what I need to work on.”
One area Powell plans to work on this fall is his defense, specifically his throwing. Powell played exclusively in centerfield this season and handled the position well. He also had 10 outfield assists in just 80 games played. Powell feels very comfortable in centerfield, but he still sees room for improvement.
“I don’t know if I have right-fielder’s arm strength but I release the ball quick and get to the ball quick,” Powell said. “I try to keep the runner’s off-balance. They think they can take the extra base and I get to the ball quickly. My accuracy has improved a lot from last year, but I still have a lot to work on with the accuracy part.”
Powell will get plenty of time with longtime A's hitting coach Greg Sparks this fall. Sparks, who has served as the A's Triple-A hitting coach the past two seasons, will be the hitting coach for the Mesa Solar Sox. Given how well Powell played in 2014, it may not be too much longer before Powell is reunited at the Triple-A level with Sparks.