After struggling at the plate during his senior season at Houston, all Josh Vidales wanted was a chance in professional baseball. The Oakland A’s gave him one as a 28th-round pick and he has taken the opportunity and run with it. In his pro debut season, Vidales hit .345 and won the Arizona Rookie League batting title. This year, the A’s have given Vidales another opportunity, jumping him to High-A Stockton to begin the season.
After batting .300 with a .397 OBP as a junior with Houston, Vidales’ senior season got off to a rocky start when he broke his hamate bone that February. When he returned to the Cougars’ line-up, he wasn’t the same hitter he had been in previous years. He batted .229 with a .293 OBP. When Vidales reached pro ball after the draft, he used it as an opportunity to start his year anew. The switch-hitter posted a .345/.437/.507 line in 41 games for the AZL A’s.
“I tried to come into the professional game with an open mind and learn a couple of tricks here and there,” Vidales said on Sunday. “In reality, it’s the same game: you see the ball, you try to hit the ball as hard as possible, you run the bases hard. It kind of helped not having to put as much pressure on myself because I was a new guy.”
One area Vidales has never struggled offensively is controlling the strike-zone. In four years at Houston, Vidales walked 133 times and struck-out just 87 times in 836 at-bats. He posted a 20:16 BB:K in 146 at-bats with the AZL A’s last year, and through his first five games with the Ports, Vidales has yet to strike-out and he has walked three times. His bat is starting to warm up, as well. After an 0-for-7 start, he is four-for-his-last-11.
While winning a batting title will get a player noticed no matter what level he is playing at, Vidales’ defense is what has the A’s minor league coaching staff most excited. He has already made an impact at second base with his glove in the early season with Stockton. In an interview with the Houston Chronicle last season, UH head coach Todd Whitting called Vidales “the best defensive second baseman [he’d] had in 20 years.”
Vidales says that with the up-and-down nature of hitting in baseball, being a strong defensive player is the most effective way to contribute day-in and day-out.
“There are two sides to the game and you have to take pride in everything that you do,” Vidales said. “Hitting is definitely a streaky thing, especially professionally, but defense you can take a lot of pride in and whenever you are not doing so well at the plate, it can carry you until the offense turns around for you. When you have both sides going, it’s a fun time.”
The A’s are experimenting with the idea of expanding Vidales’ defensive abilities to the other side of the second base bag. For the first time since his senior year of high school, Vidales saw time at shortstop during the final two weeks of the A’s fall Instructional League. He also saw time there during spring training. Vidales has yet to appear in a regular season game at shortstop, but he says he feels confident that he can handle the position when the opportunity arises.
“The angles and footwork are a little different, but the throws have been fine,” Vidales said.
After impressing in Arizona during the Rookie League season and then again at the fall Instructional League, Vidales had a strong spring training. He was rewarded with the opportunity to join the A’s big league spring roster for a game in Glendale. He played half of the game and got two at-bats. Vidales says that there wasn’t a noticeable difference in the speed of the big league game as it compared to the minor leagues, but the atmosphere was significantly different.
“It was great playing in front of a couple thousand people in Glendale. It was a lot of fun,” Vidales said. “The big league guys definitely made you feel like you belonged. It was the same game, but the environment around you changes.”
Vidales spent his big league game experience observing how the more experienced players handled themselves both in-game and before it started. He says it reinforced the idea that building routines is a key element to success in professional baseball.
“Before you get on the field, everyone had their own little routine that they went through. Coming up through the levels, it seems like developing a routine is the most important thing to learn to do,” Vidales said. “Not superstitious things but a series of different things you need to work on to get ready for the game.”
Vidales is one of eight members of his A’s draft class on the Stockton Opening Day roster. He is also reunited with former Houston teammate Chris Iriart, who joined the A’s in the 2015 draft. Vidales says Iriart helped him get acclimated after the draft when he first arrived in Arizona. He says strengthening old relationships and making new ones has been a fun part of his professional career.
“Just knowing people and meeting different people when you get into the organization is a good feeling because you can really piggyback off of them,” Vidales said.
Vidales is excited about the opportunity to play in the California League, but he is keeping his jump to High-A in perspective.
“It’s a great feeling to skip the Low-A level and short-season in Vermont, but it’s the same game,” Vidales said. “I’m just thankful for the opportunity to get out here and be with a great group of guys in the clubhouse and play with game that I love.”