It’s not often that a prospect’s statistics actually improve between the hitter-friendly California League and the Double-A Texas League, which tends to favor pitchers, but that’s been the case in 2015 for Midland RockHounds' shortstop Chad Pinder.
After a respectable first full season at High-A Stockton last year in which he slashed .288/.336/.489, Oakland’s competitive-balance pick in the 2013 draft has stepped it up big-time this summer. With around three weeks left to go in the season, Pinder is in the driver’s seat for a Texas League batting title, as he currently ranks first with a .322 average. His on-base percentage resides at .365 and he is slugging nearly .500 through 106 games.
"I am an aggressive hitter. I like to get ahead in the count, but if I get a fastball early I’ll be selectively aggressive. Being aggressive in the count is part of my success and at times it can be a part of my failure.” - Chad Pinder
It’s been a memorable season for Pinder, who credits his ability to stay on the field and rack-up plate appearances as a large part of his success.
“One of the biggest things for me going into the season was staying healthy and being consistent on a daily basis,” said Pinder, who with the exception of a brief 10-day stretch on the shelf with a hip strain has remained a consistent presence in the RockHounds’ lineup.
“It’s nothing really in particular," Pinder continued. "You get into that groove, get into the season, are 400 at-bats in and have faced everyone so you know what they’re trying to do to you. The adjustments they make to you, you make adjustments back. The success I’ve had of late has come with being comfortable in the box. I kind of know what teams are trying to do to me.”
The former Virginia Tech standout sounds like a player who has a firm grasp of who he is in the batter’s box.
“My approach is the same as it’s been my entire career," Pinder said. "You take little tweaks here and there, depending on where you’re at and what type of success you’re having. Different things go into it, but basically my approach has stayed the same. I am an aggressive hitter. I like to get ahead in the count, but if I get a fastball early I’ll be selectively aggressive. Being aggressive in the count is part of my success and, at times, it can be a part of my failure.”
Instead of wearing down in the final weeks of the season, Pinder has trended upward just as he has the entire season. He opened the first of a three-game set in Springfield this week by going 4-for-5 with a pair of doubles and three RBIs. Heading into Thursday night’s game, Pinder was hitting .365 with an OPS of 1018 in August. Twelve of his 27 base hits this month have gone for extra bases.
While it takes some prospects months, if not years, to make the adjustment from High-A to Double-A, Pinder’s learning curve took just a few weeks. He batted just .257 in April, but rebounded well to hit .292 the following month.
“I’ve just gotten older playing the game and getting more at-bats is one of the biggest things,” he said. “I’m not sure what I was hitting my first month, but it took until June for me to really click. Then I had to battle through an injury, but I’ve put together pretty good months in July and August.”
Even more remarkable is that Pinder’s offensive breakout has come while playing a new position in the A’s organization. With the A's trades of Addison Russell and Daniel Robertson over the past 13 months, Pinder has all of a sudden emerged as the next man up at the shortstop position for the A's.
Although he didn’t receive official word he’d be switching positions until this spring, Pinder said the writing was on the wall after Robertson was moved to Tampa Bay in the off-season.
“[Russell and Robertson] are phenomenal shortstops and I was with D-Rob last year and played alongside him at second base,” Pinder said. “I learned a lot from him and have put that into use now. When I saw he got traded, I started taking ground balls right away at shortstop back at home before I went off to spring training.
“The first person I saw when I got there was [Oakland A's Director of Player Development] Keith Lieppman and he told me to be ready to play shortstop. I didn’t know how much and what my role was going to be, but I was ready for it. When they told me I was going to be playing shortstop here, I took it as a great honor because they showed the faith in me to be able to do it at this level.”
With Midland in the hunt for a second-half championship in the Texas League’s West Division, Pinder said that both he and the team have a lot to strive for during the final weeks of the regular season.
“I want to finish strong,” he said. “You put together a good season and these last three weeks can make-or-break a great season to a good season, and a good season to an OK season. People who fall off late in the season, it can really be detrimental to your development. Most people look at how you finish over how you started.”
And for Pinder, that finish could put him in position to be a mid-season call-up as the A’s shortstop in 2016.