Coming off of a breakout campaign with the High-A Stockton Ports, during which he hit 37 homeruns and moved near the top of most prospect charts for minor league first basemen, Matt Olson’s off-season was not without adversity. The Oakland A’s top prospect injured his shoulder during a collision at first base in an Arizona Fall League game. In that instant, Olson’s off-season changed its focus from preparation to rehabilitation.
Olson worked hard to get back to full strength before the start of spring training, and he was rewarded with a non-roster invitation to big league camp.
“Obviously it was a little tougher to get the upper body strength to where I wanted to,” Olson said of his off-season. “I kind of had to rush that. As soon as I was healthy, I kind of had to pick it up a little bit. Other than that, it didn’t really throw me off too much. I was out here [in Arizona] on my own a little bit. Other than missing some time with family and friends, [the off-season] was pretty normal.”
Olson has been playing without restrictions this spring.
“I feel the shoulder every once in awhile, but it feels completely strong,” Olson said. “It hasn’t stopped me at all.”
Despite the injury, Olson enjoyed his time in the Arizona Fall League. He had a 1120 OPS in 11 games before he was hurt and was named to the AFL All-Star game, although the injury prevented him from participating. Between the AFL and the 2014 regular season, Olson hit 41 homeruns in 547 at-bats last year. He led all minor leaguers in walks with 117 during the regular season and added 10 more during the AFL.
“It was fun to play [in the AFL],” Olson said. “I think probably half of those teams I haven’t even played against or met those guys. It was nice to play against them and see what some of those East Coast teams have to offer.”
Olson came into spring training as the A’s consensus top prospect and he is considered one of the top power hitters in minor league baseball. Although still at least a year away from being major league ready, Olson spent more than a month in big league camp, lasting on the A’s spring roster until March 22. He collected 50 plate appearances during the Cactus League and made a handful of starts for the A’s. Olson relished his time in big league camp.
“It was awesome,” Olson said. “Just to be able to make connections with those guys and see how they go about their day and see what they do. Routines, whatever it may be. I just tried to sit back and watch what they do and soak it all up.”
Olson said that facing more advanced pitching forced him to up his game.
“There was some difference [between High-A pitching and what he faced in big league camp],” Olson said. “I can’t say – except for maybe [Clayton] Kershaw’s slider – that there was one specific pitch that I hadn’t seen before. The guys had more of a complete package and they knew what they were doing better. That kind of made me elevate my approach at the plate.”
“I have definitely seen better pitchers to hit [than Kershaw],” Olson said with a laugh. “It was very cool to face the MVP of last year.”
Olson was the A’s third overall pick in the 2012 draft. Much of that draft class had been brought through the A’s system together. Over the past six months, however, several of Olson’s fellow draft class members have been traded, including Addison Russell, Daniel Robertson, Nolan Sanburn, Boog Powell and Austin House. Many of those traded were Olson’s close friends, but he says that his outlook for the 2015 season is the same as it was last spring.
Olson was part of a 2014 Stockton Ports team that finished with the most wins in the California League and was arguably the most talented squad in the league. Although some of the 2014 Ports are no longer with the organization, Olson is optimistic about what the remaining group has in store for the 2015 season. Many of the remaining 2014 Ports' players are expected to suit up for Double-A Midland in 2015.
“It’s a great group of guys again,” Olson said. “We are just trying to build off of what we did last year. I think all of us knew we had a good season and came out of it feeling good about ourselves. We just plan to build on that.”