Before the start of the off-season, one of the biggest questions facing the Oakland A’s was who would take over as the team’s everyday shortstop. Jed Lowrie, the A’s starter at short the past two seasons, was a free agent and not expected to return. Until mid-December, the A’s had only two true shortstops on their everyday roster: Tyler Ladendorf – who has yet to make his major league debut – and Andy Parrino – who has played a utility role for the A’s the past two seasons.
That all changed on December 10 when the A’s traded right-handers Jeff Samardzija and Michael Ynoa to the Chicago White Sox for a package of players. The most well-known player in the group was Marcus Semien, an infielder with strong ties to the Bay Area. While the A’s haven’t guaranteed Semien anything, he is far and away the favorite to take over as the A’s shortstop this season.
Semien’s journey from St. Mary’s HS in Albany to the A’s has taken some interesting turns. He appeared in 27 games as a freshman at Cal and then took over as the Bears everyday shortstop as a sophomore in 2010. Semien had a standout season that year, batting .328/.389/.497. Going into his junior season, Semien had the look of a possible top-three round draft pick. Instead, Semien had an uneven year at the plate in 2011, batting .275/.364/.415. He dropped to the sixth round of the draft, where he was selected by the Chicago White Sox.
Semien says that despite the drop in offensive production, his junior year at Cal helped to set the foundation for his future success as a pro.
“From my sophomore year to my junior year, my numbers went down, but I feel like I made a lot of improvements in college defensively, which I think helped me in pro ball,” Semien said last week during a post-FanFest media session.
The White Sox showed a lot of confidence in Semien immediately, assigning him to Low-A Kaanapolis for his professional debut in 2011. He appeared in 60 games and hit .253/.315/.376. Semien says that playing everyday helped him make improvements quickly.
“You’ve got a lot more coaches paying attention to you because it is about developing the player,” Semien said of professional baseball. “I learned quickly that if I get my routine set and go out there every day, instead of playing three times a week, I can get a lot better, a lot faster playing every day. I saw that really quickly once I got to my next full season.”
In 2012, Semien made the jump to the High-A Carolina League, and he quickly established himself as a legitimate prospect for the White Sox. In 107 games, he hit .273/.362/.471 with 31 doubles, 14 homers and 55 walks. Semien took an even bigger leap forward in 2013, when he moved up three levels, starting the year in Double-A and finishing the season in the big leagues. Between Double-A and Triple-A, Semien batted .284/.401/.479 with 19 homers and 98 walks. He also stole 24 bases. In his first taste of the big leagues, Semien hit .261/.268/.406 in 69 at-bats.
Last season, Semien hoped to establish himself as an everyday player for the White Sox. He began the season with Chicago, but he was batting only .218/.287/.327 when the White Sox sent him back to Triple-A at the start of June. He spent the next three months with Triple-A Charlotte before returning to the big leagues for September. Semien hit .267/.380/.502 with 15 homers in 83 games with Charlotte. When he returned to the White Sox, Semien looked much more like the player he has been throughout his minor league career. In 66 at-bats in September, Semien hit .273/.333/.485 with three homeruns.
Semien says he learned a lot from his initial struggles in the big leagues.
“I definitely made some mistakes and I learned from them,” Semien said. “I made sure that I got my work in everyday, no matter what, no matter what mood I was in or how I was playing. I was the same guy out there. I got my work in. I want to be the same, confident player I know I can be every time I go out there. I just want to help my team win games.”
Semien takes pride in being a sparkplug at the top of a line-up. He views his role in the offense as someone who can generate offense by getting on-base and using his legs to take extra bases. His career minor league OBP is .374. Thus far in the big leagues, Semien has managed just a .293 OBP, but he believes that will change now that he has had some experience against big league pitching.
“Throughout the minor leagues, my walks were up. I was scoring a lot of runs,” Semien said. “I was hitting at the top of the order and I took pride in scoring a lot of runs. That factors into a lot of wins. Once I got up to Chicago, I wasn’t walking as much. I was a little bit anxious up there.
“I had to figure out what I need to do against this higher level of competition. I made sure to watch video a little bit more because I had never faced these guys, I had just seen them on TV. That’s a lot different than stepping into the box against them. I made sure I watched a lot of video and read a lot of scouting reports and then trusting myself and my ability, as well.”
During his two stints with the White Sox, Semien has played 50 games at third base, 29 games at second and only six at shortstop. Despite that experience, the A’s view Semien as their shortstop of the present and future. A shortstop almost exclusively in the minor leagues, Semien moved around the White Sox infield because of the presence of Alexei Ramirez at short in Chicago. He has no doubts that he can move back to short without missing a beat.
“That’s my favorite position,” Semien said of shortstop. “That’s what I grew up playing my whole life. I started moving around in 2013, but before that, it was always shortstop. I’m just going to come out here and work hard every day and be the confident player I know I can be and go from there.”
Semien spent the A’s FanFest weekend getting to know his new teammates with the A’s. He says it has been a learning experience to be traded for the first time, but he is excited for what’s ahead.
“It’s great. I’m just happy to be part of this organization,” Semien said. “They are giving me an opportunity here. It’s nice to get to know my teammates now. The new faces have been really welcoming to all of us.”
Semien says he picked the brains of former A’s outfielder Michael Taylor and longtime A’s coach Todd Steverson to learn about the A’s organization.“They told me what to expect. It’s all a learning process with a new organization, but the ultimate goal is to play ball and win games,” Semien says.
Semien will be focused this spring on improving his base-running and maximizing scoring opportunities.
“If I can steal some bases or create some runs with my legs, I feel like I can help our club that way,” Semien said. “Swinging the bat well, hitting the ball well with runners in scoring position, doing the things that create winning baseball. That’s what I want to work on.”