At the start of the second half, the Oakland A’s announced that they were turning the page on their season with the promotion of prospect Ryon Healy to the big leagues. Healy’s arrival in Oakland signals the start of what is expected to be an emphasis on younger players during the final months of the 2016 season.
Since Healy’s promotion last Friday, the A’s have won four of six against American League playoff contenders and are among the league leaders in several offensive categories since the All-Star break. Healy has played an important role in the A’s recent run of success. In his first six games as a big leaguer, the University of Oregon alum is batting .286/.318/.524 with a homer, two doubles and six RBI. He has also played well defensively at the hot corner.
Healy’s promotion was the culmination of three outstanding months of play at the minor league level. In 85 games, Healy hit .326/.382/.554 with 14 homeruns and 28 doubles. He then put an exclamation point on his performance with an impressive 2-for-3 showing in the MLB All-Star Futures Game on July 10. He was called up to Oakland just five days later.
Healy says the past two weeks have been a “whirlwind.”
“Once Sunday night hit, my friends and family all left and I was able to let it absorb and wrap my head around everything,” Healy said before the A’s took on the Houston Astros on Wednesday. “The guys have been great about helping me settle in and get used to the routine.”
Healy’s dream 2016 season didn’t get off to a memorable start. The Oakland A’s 2013 third-round pick hit .302 with 10 homers for the Double-A Midland RockHounds in 2015, but that wasn’t enough to prevent Healy from being sent back to Midland at the start of the regular season.
Healy responded to the disappointing assignment by terrorizing Texas League pitchers. In 36 games, Healy hit .338/.409/.628 with eight homers and 34 RBI. He said he used the assignment to fuel him.
“I focused on channeling my energy in the proper ways,” Healy said. “There were really only two choices: I could mope about it or I could push to prove people wrong. I chose the latter there. The coaching staff in Midland did a great job in helping me stay positive and focused.”
Once Healy reached Triple-A on May 17, he joined a talented Sounds’ team that had gotten off to a slow start. Things turned around quickly for Nashville when Healy and fellow Midland teammate Jaycob Brugman earned promotions in May. The Sounds are currently 53-45 and have a five game lead in their division.
Healy believes that the Sounds have fed off of each other’s success.
“I think winning is contagious. Success in contagious. I think throughout baseball if you see one player having success, it kind of trickles down,” Healy said. “Not to give myself credit for all of the success, by all means, but it has been fun to have some success and pick the team up on any given day. It was never really just one guy carrying the squad. It just shows how good quality our farm system can be top to bottom.”
Healy is one of two players who began the 2016 season in Double-A on the A’s current 25-man roster; starter Daniel Mengden is the other. Healy and Mengden not only began the year in Double-A, they weren't even part of the A’s non-roster invitee group for big league camp this spring. Healy says that the rise of both he and Mengden is a positive sign for those still in the A’s minor league system that the front office is paying attention to their performance.
“I think it is a testament for how hard guys work [to start in Double-A and reach the big leagues mid-season],” Healy said. “It’s also nice to see the organization reward success and putting some faith in the younger players. That makes it a lot more fun and enjoyable and it fuels the entire farm system to work even harder. We’ve had a lot of fun experiencing this ride, but we aren’t satisfied where we are.”
A’s manager Bob Melvin says that the organization is keeping close tabs on the players doing well in Triple-A.
“If guys are playing well, we want to get them up here and we want to put them in the line-up right away,” Melvin said.
The A’s are in the midst of a 10-day homestand to start the second half. Healy says being in Oakland for an extended period to start his big league career has helped him make the adjustment.
“I think that was a great first scenario for me just to get used to the home routine and see how the guys go about their business,” Healy said. “I’m trying to fit in my stuff when I can and blend in with the veterans around here.”
Healy has been putting in plenty of early work since arriving in Oakland last Friday. He has started every game since his call-up at third base. Mostly a first baseman in college, Healy has split his playing time between first base, third base and DH during his minor league career. His time at third has been irregular, as he has shared the hot corner with fellow prospects Renato Nunez and Matt Chapman. Since joining the A’s, Healy has been a daily participant in A’s infield coach Ron Washington’s pregame infield sessions. Healy has responded with several outstanding plays at third.
Melvin says the early work with Washington has been key for Healy’s ability to be in position to make the plays he has made at third thus far. He has been impressed with Healy’s work with at third given how inconsistent his playing time was there in the minor leagues.
“He’s a fighter over there,” Melvin said. “A lot of times you’ll see a guy playing out of position and he’s a little apprehensive. That’s not the case with him. He’s not afraid to go get a ball in the hole. It’s impressive to see. He’s not perfect, but he’s been really good over there and I’m impressed with how comfortable he has looked at the position.”
Healy says that he is happy to play wherever the A’s need him in the field.
“I wouldn’t say I’m comfortable knowing that’s my position [third] yet, by any means,” Healy said. “I just show up at the yard every day ready to play any position that the team needs and will put the team in the best position to win.”
One of Healy’s strengths as a hitter has always been his ability to use the whole field. His field coverage (see chart below) since the start of 2015 shows how well he is able to hit the ball to all parts of the field.
Ryon Healy's MiLB heat map for 2015-2016, courtesy of MLBFarm.com
Healy admits he got away from his right-centerfield focus during his first few days in the big leagues.
“When I got here, the first two or three days, my body was going a lot faster than my mind. My mind was saying right-center and my body was saying pull everything,” Healy said. “I was a little frustrated with that. I got in some early hitting this Monday and Tuesday and got comfortable driving the ball to right-center gap. Fortunately I saw some production from that right away.”
Since he took those early hitting sessions, Healy has hit two doubles, both to the right-centerfield gap. Both doubles came during rallies that helped the A’s overcome deficits against the Astros.
Healy has had a knack for big hits during his brief stay in the big leagues thus far. His first career hit was a three-run homerun off of Cy Young award-winner R.A. Dickey that turned a 2-1 A’s deficit into a 4-2 A’s lead.
Healy says his mind went blank as he circled the bases after the homerun.
“It was kind of a fog when it just happened,” Healy said. “It kind of all came clear when I reached homeplate and [Stephen] Vogt and [Marcus] Semien were there to greet me. I saw my family going crazy in the stands. It was great.”
Healy has seen a variety of quality pitchers in his first six big league games, ranging from soft-tossers such as Dickey and Dallas Keuchel to harder throwers like Ken Giles, Bo Schultz and Marcus Stroman. Healy says the variety in pitching styles and quality of stuff aren’t much different than what he saw in the minor leagues, but he notes that big league pitchers are able to use their pitches more effectively than many minor leaguers.
“Guys have really good stuff up here. Guys have really good stuff in the minors, also, but I think guys here have a better idea of where the ball is going,” Healy said. “The movement of the pitches, nothing is really that different. Some guys have a lot more control over their movement. I have seen a couple of really good two-seamers that have come over the outside corner. Seemingly unhittable pitches, but it’s a matter of knowing what pitches are coming in what counts. The veterans are helping me out a lot with that.”
On Wednesday, Healy hit seventh, the highest he has been in the line-up since his promotion. Melvin says Healy could continue to move up if his production merits it.
“We are willing to do anything to try to get the best production out of our line-up,” Melvin said. “He’s swinging the bat well. He’s a competitive at-bat against righties and lefties and he’s driven some runs in. If you perform, you have a chance to move higher in the line-up.”