Name: Lana Akau
Height/Weight: 5’11’’, 180
How Acquired: Selected in the 20th round of the 2013 draft
Since the Oakland A’s signed Lana Akau away from a commitment to play at the University of Hawaii in 2013, Akau has been a player to watch because of his potential. In 2015, Akau started to show that potential on the field.
Going into the 2013 draft, Akau was considered one of the better prep catchers available. However, he missed some of his senior year with an injury and had strong commitment to stay near home at play collegiately at Hawaii. Akau’s draft stock fell as a result and he was selected by the A’s in the 20th round. When second-round pick Dillon Overton wound-up signing under-slot due to an elbow injury, the A’s were able to allocate some of that slot money to sign Akau to a $375,000 bonus.
Lana Akau Career Stats
Akau’s first two professional seasons were spent mostly in Arizona, where he worked with A’s minor league coaches on finding a consistent swing and on his defense. He did leave Arizona once in 2014, when he was assigned to the Low-A Beloit Snappers. Unfortunately, Akau was hit in the thumb during his first game and wound-up being sent back to Arizona with a bruised thumb and one Midwest League at-bat to his credit.
Going into the 2015 season, the A’s player development staff considered sending the then 19-year-old Akau out to Beloit on Opening Day. However, they ended up keeping him back in Mesa for extended spring training, and that decision may have led to a career-changing breakthrough for Akau. A’s Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman said that Akau used his time at extended spring training to remake his swing and the results were very encouraging. He homered in a game for the first time in his professional career in extended and was one of the A’s top hitters during the program.
“It was definitely beneficial for [Akau] to stay in extended and work on his swing for six weeks there,” Lieppman said in a mid-season interview. “He has come back as a completely different hitter and he has done a great job receiving.”
Video of Lana Akau's first professional homerun (video by Kimberly Contreras)
The A’s assigned Akau to short-season Vermont at the end of extended spring training, and Akau kept up his hot hitting when he arrived in Burlington. In 27 at-bats with the Lake Monsters, Akau hit .296/.387/.444 with a homer, a double and two walks. When a spot opened up in Beloit, the A’s sent Akau back to the Midwest League.
During his first month with the Snappers, Akau was one of Beloit’s top hitters. He batted .301/.409/.425 in 73 July at-bats. As the season wore on, Akau appeared to tire and he struggled during the final two weeks of the season. He finished his stint with the Snappers with a .252/.339/.367 line in 147 at-bats.
Defensively, Akau was solid with both Beloit and Vermont. He threw out 31% of would-be base-stealers and worked well with his pitching staffs. Akau’s “pop time” (his time from receiving a pitch to delivering it to an infielder covering second) was reportedly clocked at 1.85. Dating back to his high school days, evaluators have always been enamored with Akau’s athleticism, ability to move his feet and his arm strength.
A’s minor league field coordinator and Vermont manager Aaron Nieckula saw Akau during spring training, extended spring and with the Lake Monsters, and then again during fall Instructs. He was impressed with the improvements Akau made during the year, but says that Akau still has more work to do with his glovework.
“He is a tremendous athlete. For as young as he is, I think he has a good knack and knowledge of the game,” Nieckula – a former catcher himself – said. “He handles the pitching staff extremely well. He probably has some of the best hands in the organization in terms of the catching position. He calls a good game and handles the umpires well. Blocking is probably the weakest part of his game. I think that is something that he is going to have to really work on, especially keeping the glove down.
“He is a hard-working young man. He sets a good example for the pitching staff and they like throwing to him.”
Offensively, Akau started to show some power in 2015, but he is more likely to be a gap-to-gap hitter than a homerun hitter. He has added good weight to his 5’11’’ frame since he turned pro, but he will never be mistaken for a Matt Wieters-type physically. There is still a lot of swing-and-miss to his game, but Akau became much more patient at the plate this season. Akau uses the whole field well and his spray chart was fairly evenly distributed this season. He runs well for a catcher, although he isn’t likely to be a stolen base threat.
Defensively, Akau has the tools to be a special player. His ability to call a game is advanced for a player his age (he turned 20 in late August). Akau has the arm strength and athleticism to catch in the big leagues. He still needs to round out the rough edges with his mechanics, but he has demonstrated a strong work ethic and he is coachable.
Akau’s days staying back in Arizona are likely over (barring an injury). Depending on how the A’s decide to spread out their lower level catching prospects, Akau is likely headed either back to Beloit or out to High-A Stockton for 2016. He won't turn 21 until the final week of the regular season.