Since being drafted by the Oakland A's in the fifth round of last year’s draft, and later signing with the organization, JaVon Shelby has faced one test after another.
First were the struggles last summer at short-season Vermont, where he slashed just .180/.277/.302 in 56 games. Then came the news of a position change during his first day in Instructional League, where the Kentucky product was asked to move from third base to center field.
During the offseason, Shelby was given an ultimatum from his father, former big-leaguer John Shelby: change your swing or prepare for a short stay in professional baseball. The latest challenge for Shelby has already presented itself in the Midwest League, where he has just two hits in his first 15 at-bats for the Beloit Snappers.
The 5-foot-11 Shelby appreciates the opportunity to start 2017 with a full-season affiliate and hopes his work during the winter months will help him overcome
“I was just happy to make a team,” said Shelby, who did show some signs of life late in the summer when he homered three times for the Lake Monsters during the final week of the season. “There were some guys that got released and some guys who are still in extended that would love to be in this position. I’m just trying to get in the swing of things and ready to attack this full season.
“Offensively, I came in and wanted to show them that I could be calmer in my approach at the plate. Early on in (spring) mini-camp during BP, I would just spray the other side and let my hands work and not be too jerky like I was last year. Defensively, with me moving from infield to outfield, that kind of came natural to me. I wanted to show that I polished up my skills in the off-season.”
Shelby says he welcomed the position change, saying he saw more potential to ascend through the organization in the outfield.
“We do have a lot of infielders, but [Keith Lieppman and Grady Fuson] brought me in the office and said they saw me in the future as a centerfielder,” Shelby said. “I couldn’t agree more with my body type and my arm. Now I’m able to use my legs a little more. I was completely up for the job. I played a little bit of outfield in high school. It was going out there and getting more reps and polishing my skills.”
The 21-year-old has seemed to adapt more quickly to his position change than to professional pitching thus far. Luckily for Shelby, he has a resource like his father John, who played 11 seasons in the majors with the Orioles, Dodgers and Tigers.
“I’ve always been focused on my offense, because that’s one thing that I’m still trying to get it to come around,” Shelby said. “I didn’t do too well last season. It was a change going from college to professional. I’m feeling a lot better at the plate right now.
“My dad helped me a ton this offseason. He told me if I do the same thing I did at Vermont, I won’t last long. He got with me and calmed my approach down. I had way too much movement and was jumpy at the plate. I am still a little bit now, but it’s way less than it was last season. Now I’m quieter in my setup and it’s up to me to see the ball and trust my approach.”
JaVon Shelby Batting Practice Video
As a junior at Kentucky, Shelby played in 54 of Kentucky's 57 games last spring and led the team with 12 home runs, a total which also ranked third in the SEC. He finished third on the team with 35 RBIs. Shelby also held his own on the base paths, going 6-for-6 in steal attempts.
Now in his first full professional season, Shelby hopes to once again tap into that power-speed potential in the A’s organization.