A Look at the Oakland A's Arizona Mini-Camp

The Arizona Rookie League season is almost upon us. Kimberly Contreras stopped by the Oakland A's minor league complex to meet several of the A's newest members, as well as connect with several rehabbing A's farmhands.

The final name of 2015 MLB Draft was announced just over one week ago. In that short time, young men from all over the country have, with little notice, packed a bag, said goodbye to friends and family for the summer, and jumped on a plane to begin living a dream they’ve had all their lives: being a professional baseball player.

The newest members of the Oakland Athletics arrive at the Lew Wolff Training Complex at Fitch Park in Mesa, Arizona, where they complete paperwork, sign contracts, and undergo physicals. Then, finally, they receive their official Oakland A’s gear/ uniforms / equipment, and they take to the fields for the first time… in 110 degree heat. But no one seems to mind. They’re too busy living their dream!

I love this time of year. The excitement of dreams unfolding, the embodiment of potential contained within each Baby A, and witnessing the growth and development of each young man that will take place during just a few months – it doesn’t get much better than that.

In the days before June 20th, when each plate appearance or inning pitched becomes real, the boys are taking batting practice, running drills, and playing in simulated (or practice) games at the same time the games will soon be played. AZL A’s manager Ruben Escalera understands the importance of acclimating the team to the desert temperatures, which averages 108 degrees at the 7pm first pitch.

This inaugural group at Fitch Park also includes rehabbing players at various stages, as well as many from Oakland’s Dominican Summer League team who participated in Extended Spring Training, and newly signed free agents. Included in this group on Wednesday: rehabbing Rangel Ravelo and newly signed minor league free agent Dayan Viciedo, both of whom participated in the sim game.

I caught up with RHP and 2014 draftee, Branden Kelliher, as well as LHP and 2013 draftee Chris Kohler at Fitch on Wednesday. Kelliher’s rehab is progressing nicely and he should be the starting pitcher for an AZL game in the next week. Kohler is on the Vermont Lake Monsters roster, but did not travel with the rest of the team to Burlington. He is in his brother’s wedding this weekend and will head for Vermont next week.

Ryan Gorton, 2012 draftee, spent the first three years of his professional career as a catcher, but as we shared in April, he is at Fitch working on his conversion to a right-handed pitcher.

Tom Gavitt, a catcher drafted in 2014, underwent Tommy John surgery and is now working his way back to make his professional debut this summer.

Among the newest Baby A’s, I didn’t speak with 2015 second-round pick Mikey White, but I watched him in the simulated game where he played SS. Made a couple of great defensive plays. He’s fun to watch!

I caught up with several of the 2015 additions, as listed below. Each one, to a man, was very nice, excited to begin living their dreams, and greatly appreciative for the opportunity to do so. They are all very personable, especially in a brand-new environment where no one is even sure of the names of their teammates. I like the chemistry this group produced, the vibe that was in the hot-as-a-dryer air, and of course, all the GREAT NAMES!

Notes on the 2015 Picks in Camp

4th round pick, Skye Bolt
Just arrived Wednesday. First impression, aside from the awesome name, is the manners, respect, and charm that are apparently in the DNA of those born in the South. Talking with others around the complex, their impression of Mr. Bolt echoed mine.

5th round pick Kevin Duchene
First player I talked to, as we walked around to the cages. Smart, well-spoken, impressive young man, whose appreciation for where he is and who helped him get there is blatantly obvious.

6th round pick Bubba Derby
Even cooler than his name! His birthday is the day before mine, and I overheard (then joined) a conversation between him and fellow Southern California native, Chris Kohler. I learned Derby is from Duarte, CA, the town where my daughter was born, and Bubba went to LaSalle High School.

(Keep in mind: It’s the first day and the pitchers didn’t pitch, so I can’t elaborate on their performance…besides, there will be plenty of time for that!)

7th round pick Kyle Friedrichs
Free and easy confidence as he talked to his new teammates about the game he pitched against Cal State Fullerton and Thomas Eshelman. Nice young man. Even when I had to ask his name…again. He’s got a great story; easy to root for, too!

9th round pick Jared Lyons
Just a brief introduction, but his easy smile didn’t change one bit when I asked if he was enjoying the heat. It was as if he had no idea what I was talking about. He was sitting on the bleachers outside in the sun at the time. He’s happy to be here!

11th round pick James Terrell
He was playing in the game but as he waited his turn to hit, all he talked about was hitting. Great energy!

19th round pick Seth Brown
Quick introduction but the theme of self-confidence was front and center. Also, I learned that he was college teammates with former A’s farmhand (or farm-arm?) A.J. Burke.

24th round pick Heath Bowers
Heath and I chatted about a favorite of both of ours: his former Campbell University teammate and good friend (former Vermont Lake Monster) Ben McQuown. Heath’s gratitude and appreciation to be here living his dream is obvious by his word choices and body language.

For the four below, it was just a quick introduction with no other conversation, but I believe you can tell a lot about a person by how that person shakes hands and / or how he or she looks you in the eye during an introduction. All reflected the most positive behavior, as well as clear pronunciation of their names.

20th round pick James Nalle
30th round pick Brendan Butler
32nd round pick Mike Murray
34th round pick Shane Conlon

Can’t wait to see what Thursday brings!


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