Returning to one of your previous destinations is never a desirable outcome when camp breaks at the end of spring training for any minor leaguer, much less one like Brett Vertigan, who is back with Beloit after spending the 2013 season there. But after a frustrating summer at short-season Vermont that ended prematurely with broken ribs, the Oakland A’s 10th-round selection in the 2012 draft is just happy to be back with a full-season affiliate of any kind. So the Snappers of the Midwest League will have to do for now.
“I didn’t think I would skip two levels really (from last year) and am happy to be playing a full-season,” said Vertigan, who will play centerfield and bat leadoff in Beloit. “I thought if I did really well in spring training that I’d have a chance at maybe breaking with Stockton, but I’m happy that I’m here. I didn’t get my hopes up.”
The former UC-Santa Barbara standout played much of spring training with the High-A squad, but roster numbers dictated his return to southern Wisconsin. Vertigan hasn’t looked back and got off to a hot start with seven hits and a pair of walks in his first 15 plate appearances.
Vertigan's open to the season has been all that Fran Riordan, a first-year manager in the A’s organization, could hope for.
“Offensively, he’s been a catalyst for us and been on base two or three times every single game,” Riordan said. “He’s hitting the ball hard. Even his outs are loud. He’s looking to take his game to the next level this season, so he can open up some guys and hopefully start climbing the ladder at a rapid pace.”
Two years after making his first foray into full-season ball, Vertigan is approaching every at-bat a little differently than before.
“I’ve definitely gained a lot more experience,” he said. “I feel a lot more comfortable and might have been a little nervous fighting for a spot. I feel like I’ve earned a spot. I’m playing my game. I might have got caught in the bigger picture of moving up, but I’m just going game to game now.
“As a result, I think I’ve been putting the ball in play harder. I’ve been making better contact with the ball. I simplified my swing in the off-season and in the spring, so it’s come together and feels good. I’ve tried to keep it simple up there.”
Vertigan is happy to be in a better place after a frustrating 2014 season that saw him split time between extended spring training and the New York-Penn League. He didn’t make a full-season affiliate when camp broke, and once he got out of Arizona to Vermont, Vertigan had his season end early due to injury.
After playing 123 games as an everyday player in 2013, Vertigan would get into just 47 games with the Lake Monsters, posting a slashline of .265/.309/.364.
“I went to extended and just stayed there before going to Vermont,” he said. “I was playing pretty well at short-season and splitting time with their outfielders, but ended up breaking my ribs at the beginning of August. I played about a month and a half. It was a setback.”
Although Riordan has only coached Vertigan for a limited amount of games this spring, he said the centerfielder is the steady presence a young Beloit team can lean on.
“I only had him in spring training for the last three or four days,” Riordan said. “We got him and he’s been nothing but great since he’s been here. He’s a complete player and plays a very solid centerfield. He’s a mature kid that’s been in Beloit and around for a couple years. He’s a good leader and his skills are something that’s great for the ball club.”
The Snappers' centerfielder hopes a strong start will get him back on the ascent within the A’s organization, and that a simple approach in the batter’s box will get him there.
“I am working the pitcher and am staying on my pitch,” Vertigan said. “I’m not letting the umpires bug me because sometimes they’re tough. I focus on what I can control, like waiting for my pitch and hitting it. If I don’t get it, then maybe the pitcher beats me.”
If Vertigan continues to beat Midwest League pitchers at his current rate, his second go-around in Beloit might not last as long as the first.