CEDAR RAPIDS, IA - After getting a single Midwest League at-bat during the 2014 season, Beloit Snappers' catcher Lana Akau has seen more of the Low-A league as a 19-year-old this summer. As a result, the Hawaiian native is flourishing in his role as the Snappers’ number-one backstop.
Since arriving in Wisconsin on July 1st, Akau has played in 19 games and posted a slash line of .328/.429/.453. While Snappers catchers struggled mightily with the bat during the first three months of the season, Akau has been a steady presence in the lineup and is holding his own at catcher.
“It’s being more comfortable up there,” Akau said of his improvement with the bat. “The past two years I’ve just been trying to find my swing and what type of hitter I was. This year I came in with a purpose and am trying to put myself out there and separate myself from the group. I have a good approach up there, not swinging at bad pitches and swinging at my pitches. I carried it over from spring training through extended and short-season.”
The young catcher has also had the task of catching a pitching staff that includes two of Oakland’s top three picks in the 2014 draft, Brett Graves and Daniel Gossett.
“I’m out there controlling that game, controlling out pitchers and making sure I’m on the same page,” Akau said. “That’s the biggest thing. Pitching and catching chemistry has to be there every day, and I think it’s just a habit for me from when I was a young age building those relationships.”
With the exception of his lone Midwest League plate appearance last summer, Akau spent the 2014 season with the AZL A’s, where he played in 18 games and slashed just .163/.239/.203. That came just one year after he played in 11 rookie league games and hit just .133.
Not advancing out of rookie ball during his first two years in the organization was tough for Akau, but the catcher still has youth on his side, as he won’t turn 20 until August 31st.
“I’m just playing in more games than I did last year and getting more comfortable as I gain experience,” he said. “My all-around game has really improved and I’m becoming more of a leader on the field as the catcher and in the clubhouse.
“I was [with Beloit in 2014] for a two-week span and met the team in the South Bend and played my first game in West Michigan. I got a little contusion on my thumb and that kind of ended things quickly, as I had to go back to Arizona. But in that short bit of time I learned a lot from [2014 Beloit manager Rick Magnante] and it’s a new year here.”
In addition to getting his first full professional season under his belt, the 2013 20th-round selection out of St. Louis School in Honolulu said he got himself in much better shape going into this spring.
“I ate healthier and I think that’s been a big thing for me being successful,” Akau said. “As a catcher you get beat up back there, so you’ve got to take care of your legs and body.”
With roughly five weeks left to go in the season, Akau said his goals are simply to keep playing and gain more experience as he builds his game for the future.
“I just want to finish the season off strong,” he said. “A bunch of people get hurt towards the ending of the season, as it’s a long one for us. I want to finish it off strong, especially after the last couple years I had some injuries that stopped me from moving up.”