After selecting Max Kuhn out of high school in the 24th round in 2011, the Oakland A's liked Kuhn enough to draft him 11 rounds earlier out of Kentucky in last June's draft. The organization will get a good look at the coveted prospect this season at Low-A Beloit.
Although he played for three years at the highest level of college baseball in the SEC, Kuhn said he will be pushed during the 2015 Midwest League campaign.
"I’m hearing from guys that the first full season will really test you," Kuhn said. "It’s not like college or a half-season where you’re playing 56 games in college with three or four a week and 70-75 in short-season. This will be a real test, but I’m excited and love the game. I’m excited to show up every day and play."
In order to become more valuable to the organization, Kuhn started working out at multiple positions during the off-season and will play a utility role with the Snappers. He even spent time behind the plate during the A's Fall Instructional League.
"We’re using him in all different roles," Beloit manager Fran Riordan said. "He played a lot of first base in spring training and has played some corner outfield and third base as well with the organization and in college. He’s got a lot of versatility and is working hard to improve in all aspects. He’s just a good, hard-working kid that loves baseball and takes what he does seriously."
The biggest thing that will keep Kuhn on the field is his bat and power potential. A second-team All-SEC selection as a junior, Kuhn wrapped up his college career with a .289 batting average. He hit 27 doubles, two triples, 13 homers and drove in 90 runs in 121 career games. He posted an OPS of 847 with the Wildcats.
"You play three years in the SEC and nothing intimidates you," Riordan said. "You’re playing against the best-of-the-best that the country has to offer. He’s seen all the velocity that he’s ever going to see in pro ball and has seen all the secondary stuff he’s going to see in pro ball. That’s a big advantage when you have those at-bats under your belt. He’s very confident in his ability."
After signing with the A's last summer, Kuhn debuted with the AZL A's and recorded hits in five of 20 at-bats before heading to short-season Vermont. He appeared in 52 games with the Lake Monsters and posted a slashline of .277/.348/.418 with four homers and 23 RBI.
"I really like his bat and he has a lot of ability," Riordan said. "I think he’s going to grow into some power production. He’s got a really good idea of what he’s doing in the batter’s box. He’s got good strike-zone discipline and knows how to get the barrel to the ball. He’s still a young hitter and growing into who he’s going to be, but he has a tremendous amount of potential."
The 5'11'' utility man has gotten off to a slow start this spring with the Snappers. Through the season's first week, Kuhn has just three hits in his first 19 at-bats. He’s managed to draw six walks, but has struck out seven times. In a game of adjustments, it’s Kuhn that will need to prove he can make his own to Low-A pitching.
"You’ve got to show up to the park every day ready to play and improve in all aspects," Kuhn said. "I have struggled a little bit learning that I’ve got to be more ready with my body and getting that front foot down.
"The SEC has some really good arms and programs, but pro ball is always going to be better than college. Hitting against some of those SEC pitchers helped a lot and here you’re facing better arms than in college more consistently. That’s testing me – being ready in the box every at-bat and not just one or two at-bats. Instead of getting 15 at-bats a week like in college, I’ll be getting 25 to 35 a week."
This season will be a homecoming of sorts for Kuhn, who grew up in Zionsville, Indiana, which is a short drive from several of the MWL parks in the Eastern Division.
"The Midwest feels like home to me since I'm from Indiana," he said. "I'm familiar with the area and it's cool to play in the stadiums and lead the road life."
Kuhn got used to traveling around playing baseball in college and over the summer with the Willmar Stingers of the Northwoods League.
"Getting the college experience and going off to the summer league helped me a lot," Kuhn said. "It was a short-season schedule and we played 75 games, so that helped me learning how to be on my own taking care of myself. I know what I need to work on."