Name: Brett Eibner
H/W: 6’4’’, 225
On Saturday, the Oakland A’s acquired OF Brett Eibner from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for OF Billy Burns. Eibner takes Burns’ spot on the Triple-A Nashville Sounds’ roster. Eibner joins the A’s organization after spending nearly six seasons in the Royals’ organization.
Eibner was Kansas City’s second-round pick in 2010 out of Arkansas, where he was a two-way player for the Razorbacks. Eibner signed in mid-August and didn’t make his official professional debut until the start of the 2011 season, when he suited up for the Low-A Kane County Cougars. A thumb injury cost Eibner half of his pro debut season and he struggled in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League, although he showed some power and patience at the plate. He hit .213/.340/.408 with 12 homers and 48 walks – but also 90 strike-outs – in 76 games.
Eibner’s struggles worsened in 2012 with the High-A Wilmington Blue Rocks. He hit just .196 and struck-out 156 times in 120 games. Despite those struggles, the Royals promoted Eibner to Double-A at the start of the 2013 season. In the Texas League, Eibner found his footing again at the plate. In 114 games, he hit .243/.330/.451 with 19 homers. Strike-outs continued to be a problem, however, as he whiffed 149 times.
Eibner continued his march up the Royals’ organizational ladder in 2014, starting the year with Triple-A Omaha. A right abdominal strain cost Eibner a significant portion of the season. With Omaha, he hit .241/.317/.380 in 78 games. He also played 13 games in a rehab assignment in High-A, batting .220/.373/.366.
Eibner received a non-roster invitation to big league camp in 2015. He starred in big league camp, collecting 16 hits in 32 at-bats, and he parlayed that performance into a breakout season in Triple-A. Two separate DL stints cost Eibner 37 games, but he was effective when he was healthy, hitting .303/.364/.517 with 19 homers and 10 stolen bases in 10 chances. He was added to the Royals’ 40-man roster in November.
This spring, Eibner collected just four hits in 19 at-bats, but he walked seven times. When Mike Moustakas landed on the DL with a torn ACL in late May, the Royals recalled Eibner to make his major-league debut. Eibner got off to a red-hot start for the Royals, collecting six hits in 13 at-bats and contributing to several late-game rallies. His momentum came to a halt in his fourth big league game, when he had to leave with a sprained ankle. He spent 15 days on the DL and returned to the Royals’ roster in mid-June. Eibner spent the next six weeks with the Royals, but his playing time was erratic and his production fell off considerably. He was sent back to Triple-A on July 29 when the Royals activated Lorenzo Cain from the DL.
Eibner had yet to report to Omaha, so he will be making his return to Triple-A with Nashville. Before his call-up to KC in late May, Eibner was batting .288/.385/.518 with 11 homers and a 30:48 BB:K in 50 games in Triple-A. He hit .231/.286/.423 with three homers in 78 at-bats for the Royals.
Eibner was a college draft pick from an SEC program, but he wasn’t a typical polished product coming out of school. He split his time between the mound and the outfield at Arkansas and was up-and-down at the plate throughout his three year career with the Razorbacks. The Royals made a bet on being able to develop his tools, which include the ability to hit for power, good speed and an above-average throwing arm. It took awhile for Eibner to tap into that potential, but it appears he is finally the player the Royals’ believed he would be when they gave him $1.2 million in 2010.
Eibner’s physical abilities were never a question, but he had a tough time picking up off-speed pitches early in his career, leading to high swing-and-miss totals. He has improved his pitch recognition in recent years and has tightened up his swing to improve his contact rate considerably. He still strikes out a fair amount, but the strike-outs are within a more reasonable level. Eibner is also swinging at more hittable pitches, and he has improved his hard contact rate considerably over the past two years.
Eibner has power to all fields and he employs an up-the-middle approach at the plate. He works the count well and has the speed to be an asset near the top of the line-up, although he has never racked up big stolen bases totals in his career. He has similarities as a hitter to A’s shortstop Marcus Semien. A right-handed hitter, Eibner has hit well against both righties and lefties during the past two seasons.
Defensively, Eibner is able to play all three outfield positions. He still has the arm strength that made him a starting pitcher at Arkansas. Eibner has played mostly centerfield in the minor leagues, but can easily slide over to either corner.
Eibner is on the older side for a prospect (27), but injuries have limited him to just 576 games over the past six years. His swing mechanics and pitch recognition have improved significantly over the past two seasons. Prospects often peak at an earlier age, but baseball has had plenty of examples of late bloomers and Eibner could be one.
The A’s outfield situation is very much in flux right now. Josh Reddick may be gone as soon as Monday, and, even if he isn’t traded, he is a longshot to return in free agency in 2017. Coco Crisp could also be gone next season if his player option doesn’t vest. Khris Davis is the only very strong bet to return as a starter next year. Eibner should join Jake Smolinski, Mark Canha and other A’s minor leaguers such as Jaycob Brugman and Matt Olson in the battle for playing time in Oakland next year.
Eibner will begin his A’s career in Nashville, but he could join the A’s in the big leagues as soon as next week if Oakland does trade Reddick. If not, Eibner figures to be a September call-up and receive plenty of at-bats during a month in which the A’s will likely spend significant time evaluating their young players. Eibner is in his first option year, so the A's will have two more option years with Eibner.