Failure is a big part of the game of baseball, but until the 2014 season, B.J. Boyd had experienced less failure than most players. The Palo Alto native starred at Paly High and put up impressive numbers during his first two pro seasons. He was the co-MVP of the 2013 Vermont Lake Monsters and looked poised to race through the minor leagues.
Then Boyd ran smack into the Midwest League.
The Midwest League is notorious for being a pitcher’s league, with its cold weather and spacious ballparks. It isn’t uncommon for young hitters to experience significant ups-and-downs in the league. Boyd experienced mostly downs in 2014. For the first time in his career, he was unable to put together a significant hot streak. Mired in a season-long slump, Boyd hit only .226/.300/.319 in 125 games for the Beloit Snappers.
It would have been easy for the A’s to send Boyd back to Beloit in 2015, but the A’s decided a change of scenery might be a positive for Boyd. The outfielder rewarded the A’s for that decision with a solid season with the Stockton Ports. Playing nearly everyday, Boyd hit .277/.344/.389. He established career-highs in doubles, triples, RBI and stolen bases.
Boyd says he learned a lot from his experiences the last two seasons.
“I had never really failed in this game until I got to Low-A,” Boyd said. “In this game, you are supposed to fail. When I see something that gives me success, I’m going to keep trying to do that every time.”
Despite the solid season with Stockton in 2015, Boyd has returned to the California League to begin the 2016 campaign. Boyd is one of the three Ports’ position players (along with Tyler Marincov and John Nogowski) who were caught in a roster crunch and forced to repeat the level despite having good seasons in 2015. Boyd isn’t resting on the success he had in the Cal League last season. He has specific goals for what he would like to accomplish for as long as he is still in the Port City.
“For this year, I want to get my batting average higher than .270 and basically work on stealing bases more,” Boyd said. “I’m back in center now, so working on controlling the outfield and playing my game.”
A two-sport star in high school, Boyd is one of the fastest players in the A’s system, but it has taken some time for him to develop into a base-stealer. He stole 16 bases in 20 chances in Rookie ball in 2012, but managed only eight stolen bases in 14 chances with short-season Vermont. Boyd has worked closely with the A’s base-running coaches to improve his base-stealing. That work has paid off with incremental improvements each season. In 2014, Boyd was successful on 64% of his attempts (16-of-25). In 2015, he improved that percentage to 78% (18-of-23). He plans to run more in 2016.
Boyd says confidence has played a key role in his improvement on the base-paths.
“Before I was getting a short lead and was worried about getting caught,” Boyd said. “Now I’m back to having the confidence to run.”
The Ports have plenty of speed in their outfield this season with four players capable of reaching double-digits in stolen bases – Boyd, Marincov, James Harris and Seth Brown. Like Boyd, Brown and Harris are both natural centerfielders. When all three are in the outfield together, they cover a lot of ground. Boyd says the trio has worked closely together on communication to ensure that their range doesn’t overlap too much and result in any collisions.
“Whoever says ‘I’ve got it’ that’s who gets it first,” Boyd said. “If you keep saying, ‘you’ve got it’, we might crash into each other, so we go with the first one to call it.”
Boyd, Harris and reliever Joey Wagman are all playing close to home this year. Harris is a native of Oakland and Wagman is a native of Walnut Creek. They all had connections to each other before becoming teammates. Wagman is friends with Boyd’s high school teammate and current Dodgers’ outfielder Joc Pederson, while Harris and Boyd bonded while playing against each other in the New York-Penn League in 2013.
“James came over and introduced himself to me during short-season [in 2013] and ever since then, we’ve been close,” Boyd said.
Being so close to home makes returning to the Cal League less of a disappointment for Boyd.
“It’s a big deal to us [to be playing in Stockton],” Boyd said. “We’re close to home and our families keep coming out. The other families are our fans, too, because we are from a similar area.”
Boyd says his connection to Harris has made playing with him in the outfield and hitting behind him in the order even easier.
“We always talk to each other. Even when one of us is on base and the other is hitting, we have keys to let each other know what we are going to do,” Boyd said.
During the off-season, Boyd tapped his Bay Area roots in a single he wrote and performed about Golden State Warriors superstar Steph Curry. Boyd says music has been an interest of his since high school.
“Over the off-season, my boys were like ‘man, you’ve got to do another song.’ I see Steph Curry and we are both with Under Armor, so I figured I’d see what I could do for him,” Boyd said.
Boyd said the response to the song has been positive, but he doesn’t have any current plans for an encore.
“Yeah, people were telling me to keep doing it, but right now I’m focused on baseball.”