Injuries robbed outfielder Brett Vertigan of most of the 2014 season. The Oakland A’s 2012 10th-round pick appeared in just 47 games last year and never got an opportunity to get into the flow of the season. The 2015 campaign has been a different story for Vertigan. The UCSB alum began the year with Low-A Beloit and forced his way up to High-A Stockton with a .293/.421/.337 line for the Snappers.
Since joining the Ports on May 8, Vertigan has been even better than he was with Beloit. In 52 games in the California League, Vertigan has a .322/.379/.472 line. Overall, he is batting .314/.393/.431 in 78 games in A-ball this season.
Vertigan says that good health has played an obvious role in his success, but that there have been factors in play that have helped him put together career-best numbers thus far.
“Being healthy has helped, definitely,” Vertigan said last week. “But I also just started out the year knowing that I was going to be in the line-up every day. I think that really helped. There is a lot less pressure [on each at-bat]. I put in a lot of work during the off-season on my swing and worked on hitting the ball lower and not getting it into the air as much.”
Vertigan was part of that 2012 A’s draft class that has produced top prospects Addison Russell, Daniel Robertson, Matt Olson, among others. The A’s were drawn to Vertigan coming out of Santa Barbara for his ability to set the tone offensively at the top of the order and track down baseballs in the outfield. When healthy, Vertigan has demonstrated many of those attributes as a pro. He has always played solid defense and offensively, he has been a patient hitter who doesn’t strike-out a lot and who is very efficient on the base-paths. In 315 career games, Vertigan has a 163:131 K:BB and 60 stolen bases in 78 chances.
Vertigan’s natural approach at the plate is tailored towards the lead-off role.
“Usually when I start the game, I’m going to see some pitches,” Vertigan said. “I try to walk a lot. I haven’t had my walks up yet. It’s been kind of tough [to do that] because I have been thrown a lot of strikes, but I just try to wait for my pitch and be as patient as possible. When I get it, I try to take advantage of it.”
Through 78 games this season, Vertigan has 43 walks. He has increased his line-drive rate from 14.4% last season to a career-best 22.2%. His outfield flyball rate has gone down to 23.1% from 26.6% last year. When Vertigan has hit it in the air, he’s made it count. He already has four homeruns, which is four times as many as his previous season-high of one. He also has 14 doubles and five triples.
On the bases, Vertigan has been one of the few players in the A’s system who has run frequently this season. He leads all A’s farmhands with 21 stolen bases. That total already matches Vertigan’s career-high and has come in 26 chances. Vertigan credits his success on the base-paths to preparation as much as pure speed.
“Usually we know all of the times that the pitchers have to the plate and stuff like that,” Vertigan said. “If I feel like I can read a guy, it’s based on their first movement. If they have an easy give of what they are doing, then it’s easier to take the bag. We also know the catchers. There is so much that goes into it. Counts too. If it is a curveball count, I’m more likely to go.
“There is a lot that goes into it, but it’s really about being fearless. You just have to go and not really care if you get thrown out.”
After spending his first three seasons split between the New York-Penn League and the Midwest League, Vertigan is enjoying his first opportunity in the California League. The Southern California native has been able to play in front of friends and family on a regular basis for the first time in his professional career.
Vertigan is also enjoying the camaraderie that has developed among the Ports’ players. Stockton has played well since the middle of May and currently sports a 44-36 overall record.
“I think winning and having fun goes hand-in-hand and we have loosened up a little and the wins are just coming,” Vertigan said. “We are getting along well. We have a good group of guys.”
With the second half of the season in full swing, Vertigan isn’t thinking about statistical goals or the possibility of reaching Double-A. Instead, he is focused on his routine and the day-to-day California League battles.
“I’m trying to keep up what I am doing,” Vertigan said. “I’m going to try to keep the blinders on and stay focused.”