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Matt Olson's adjustments paying off for Nashville

Matt Olson has had to fight through an adjustment period in his first season at the Triple-A level, but the Nashville Sounds' slugger is seeing his patience starting to pay off since the All-Star break.

This year has been a season for adjustments for Matt Olson, the slugging first baseman/ outfielder for the Triple-A Nashville Sounds.

Olson, who is just 22-years-old, was the third of three high school position players the Oakland A’s selected to start the 2012 draft. The compensation round pick has been a regular in the A’s top prospects lists ever since and came into this season as the A’s number two prospect, according to OaklandClubhouse. Olson has admittedly always been a hitter of the “three predictable outcomes” – strikeout, walk, or home run.

“That’s something I’ve always had,” he said of his walk rate. “My high school coach used to get mad at me for walking because I guess he thought I should be up there swinging at everything trying to hit a home run. But it’s something I’ve always had – it’s a curse and a blessing.”

Olson drew walks 72 times in 558 plate appearances while playing for Low-A Beloit in 2013, 117 times in 634 plate appearances while playing for High-A Stockton in 2014, and 105 times in 634 plate appearances during his time with Double-A Midland last year. He has drawn 59 walks in 427 plate appearances this year for Nashville going into Sunday.

He also strikes out a lot, registering 148 while in Beloit, 137 in Stockton, 139 in Midland, and 111 thus far for Nashville.

Strikeouts are not something the towering 6’5”, 240-lbs left-handed hitter worries about, however. His career OBP is .365.

“Until I have someone sit me down and say, ‘You need to drop these strikeouts drastically,’ I don’t worry about it too much,” he said. “There’s a lot of times I’ll drive a ball with two strikes – I’ll hit a home run or a double. I’m not worried about strikeouts; obviously I don’t want them, but you can’t go up to the plate worried about striking out.

“When I’m up there, I’m trying to drive the baseball and I don’t like to get off of that [approach] too much with two strikes. Obviously, you will a little – you’ll expand your zone and shorten up, but outside of that, I’m not worried about it.”

Olson has historically hovered around a .245 average and a better than 800 OPS due to his pop. He whacked 23 home runs and had 93 RBI while with Beloit, hammered 37 homers and had 97 RBI while with Stockton, smacked 17 home runs last year with Midland, and he has 12 home runs so far for Nashville.

Going into Sunday, Olson sported a .226/.332/.408 line in 106 games. That performance for Nashville, Olson said, was after a slow start where he had to adjust. He welcomed the All-Star break as a fresh start and is batting .256/.340/.476 since the break.

“I kind of had to just drop the past and forget about the beginning half of the season and really just move forward,” he said. “I was dwelling on the slow start, and when you’re doing that – thinking about your negative results – you’re not going to have positive outcomes. There were a few physical changes and I would mix up the routine pregame a little bit, but I think the majority of it was mental; and pitch selection out in the game.”

As Olson continues his solid second half, the possibility of a big league promotion looms. Olson has seen plenty of his Nashville teammates get the call to Oakland this season, including recently one of his good friends, infielder Ryon Healy. Olson admires how Healy fought his way to the big leagues even after a disappointing season-opening assignment to Double-A.

“I love it. The guy plays with a chip on his shoulder, and rightfully so – I think he got sent to Double-A this year for no reason. That’s my opinion and a lot of guys are thinking that, and it just happens that way sometimes,” Olson said.

“We didn’t have a spot here at first, but he played his way up here and he played his way up there. I can’t say enough about him – he’s a really and awesome guy; one of my better friends I’ve met, and I’m just happy for him. He tore it up. He’s done it everywhere he’s been this year. Even last year, he hit .300 the whole year, but this year he’s just been unconscious.”

One of the things that may help Olson reach the big leagues soon himself is his added defensive versatility. He has moved away from playing primarily first base and has ranged out to right field. The new position is another aspect of the game to which he has had to adjust.

“I played it a little bit at the end of last year,” he said. “They kind of just sprung it on me. What happened was [Rangel] Ravelo was there for two weeks and we had too many corner [infield] guys, so they told me they might put me out in right so we could have everybody in the lineup.”

Playing in the outfield was not completely foreign to Olson.

“I messed around with it in high school sometimes during [batting practice] and then in the summer a little bit, but I never actually played it in a game,” Olson said. “Once I got out there, I started getting more comfortable with it – especially with the number of games I’ve been out there this year – I feel good out there.”

Handling fly balls in the outfield is much different than playing first base, as the balls tail and spin.

“You don’t have to worry about those at first [base],” Olson said. “There was an adjustment period being able to read the balls and the way they’re moving and I think I’ve got the hang of it now.”

Olson said he did not think the adjustment to occasionally handling outfield duties distracted his mind from his approach at the plate.

“I actually had a talk with someone about that, and I don’t think it affects it at all,” he said. “I’m more comfortable at first base just because that’s what I’ve played my entire life, but I don’t think that affects anything at the plate.”

And he remains the “three predictable outcomes” hitter.”

“That’s me,” he said with a laugh. 

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