Name: J.P. Sportman
Height/Weight: 5’9’’, 190
How Acquired: Selected in the 27th round of the 2014 draft
J.P. Sportman opened eyes early in 2015 during a standout spring training that included two homeruns in big league camp. After an excellent April with the Stockton Ports, Sportman looked to be headed to a breakout campaign. Instead a hand/wrist injury curtailed his season. After off-season surgery, Sportman is on-track to be healthy for the start of the 2016 season, ready to resume his rise through the A’s system.
A 27th-round senior selection in 2014, Sportman’s arrival in pro ball received little fanfare. In four years at Central Connecticut State, Sportman posted excellent numbers, but at 5’9’’ and with no standout tools, Sportman was often overlooked by scouts.
The A’s started Sportman in Rookie ball in 2014, but before long, his performance forced the A’s to move him up to short-season Vermont. He hit .321 with a .414 OBP in 22 AZL games before heading to Vermont, where he continued to shine with the bat. In 38 games with the Lake Monsters, Sportman batted .301 in a league that is difficult to hit in. Sportman had a strong fall Instructional League camp to finish off an impressive professional debut season.
J.P. Sportman Stats
Sportman did nothing to curtail the momentum he generated in 2014 when he arrived in spring training this year. He was one of the A’s better hitters in minor league camp and he earned some late spring at-bats in big league games thanks to his performance. Sportman rose to the occasion in big league camp, collecting three hits, a walk and a hit-by-pitch in five official at-bats. Two of those hits were homeruns and the third was a double.
That spring performance put Sportman on a faster track through the A’s system. He began the year on the High-A Stockton Ports’ roster, as he skipped over Low-A entirely. During the month of April, Sportman served as the Ports’ lead-off hitter for much of the time. He hit .302/.330/.465 with two homers, two triples, four doubles and four stolen bases.
Unfortunately, Sportman injured his hand/wrist in early May. The injury was initially feared to be a broken hamate bone, but the x-rays came back negative. He rehabbed the injury and returned in June. Sportman hit .303 with a .378 OBP in nine games for the Ports before experiencing a set-back that landed him on the DL once again.
Sportman continued to rehab the injury and returned to the field in August with the AZL A’s. After seven games in Rookie ball, Sportman returned to Stockton for the final week of the regular season. He had four hits in 15 at-bats for the Ports during that stretch. Sportman also appeared in two post-season games for Stockton and was on the Midland roster for the Texas League Championship Series, but he didn’t play.
Once the season was over, it was determined that Sportman’s hamate bone needed to be surgically repaired after all. He had the surgery in mid-October. Recovery from hamate bone surgery is generally four-to-six weeks, and Sportman is expected to be at full strength at the start of spring training.
Some players have struggled to regain their power for a time after hamate injuries, but Sportman will be more than four months removed from the surgery at the start of spring, so the impact on his power may be less pronounced than if he was coming back from the surgery during a season. His power numbers did go down in the limited at-bats he had after the initial injury as he was dealing with the pain, but he still hit for average (.306 in 72 at-bats) and he walked more.
As mentioned earlier, Sportman doesn’t have any one tool that jumps out as being plus. At 5’9’’, 180, he doesn’t have the size of a prototypical outfielder. He also doesn’t have the plus speed of a Billy Burns or Boog Powell, two other under-sized outfielders who came through the A’s system and over-achieved scout’s expectations. However, Sportman has above-average speed and he has an excellent feel for the game, both on the bases and in centerfield. He takes good routes to balls, gets good reads on pitchers and generally maximizes his physical tools. Sportman also has a solid – though not spectacular – throwing arm. He was an infielder in high school and appeared in a few games at second base with the Ports at the end of the year.
“His instincts are strong and he’s got a little bit of speed. His instincts are really starting to show,” Oakland A’s Special Assistant to the GM Grady Fuson said during spring training.
Despite not having plus tools, wherever Sportman has played since turning pro, he has performed.
“Some guys tell you who they are on the field,” Oakland A’s Assistant General Manager Billy Owens said. “Last year, he played well wherever he was in the organization and this year it is more of the same. This kid is very similar along the lines to a Jaycob Brugman in that he is not surprising anyone anymore. He is a legit prospect.”
Offensively, Sportman has a good approach at the plate. He isn’t afraid to wait for his pitch, which has led to high strike-out numbers, but also has put him in good position to take advantage of pitches in his hitting zone. For lack of a better phrase, he is “patiently aggressive” at the plate. Sportman has batted lead-off a lot in his career, but he may be best suited in a second spot in the line-up. He doesn’t have prodigious power, but Sportman has shown that he can drive the ball and could mature into a double-digit homerun hitter in the upper-levels. He hits left-handed batters very well and could be a platoon fourth outfielder in the big leagues. If he can play a passable second base, Sportman will be even more valuable as a utility player.
Because Sportman was a senior sign, he is already 23 and will be 24 before the start of spring training. He may need to return to High-A at the start of next season thanks to the time he missed with the injury, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Sportman move to Double-A by mid-season if he gets off to a good start.