Doolittle Starting To Find Rhythm For Cougars

With their second pick in the 2007 draft, the Oakland A's selected 1B/SP Sean Doolittle out of UVa. Although Doolittle was an accomplished starting pitcher at UVa, the A's picked him for his bat. He started his pro career off well for Vancouver and was moved quickly up to Kane County. He struggled initially for the Cougars, but has been coming around lately. Matt Bailey profiles Doolittle.

Sean Doolittle was recently drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the supplemental first round (41st overall) of the June 2007 draft. After originally turning down money when he was drafted out of high school in the 39th round by the Braves in the 2004 draft, Doolittle played three seasons at the University of Virginia. At the completion of his career, Doolittle ranked first all-time in the school's history in RBIs (167) and wins as a pitcher (22).

However, he has had some difficulty transitioning to the professional level. While Doolittle has typically hit around the .300 range his whole life (.301 in his final season for Virginia), currently his batting average is .221 through 19 games with the Kane County Cougars, the low-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics.

After being promoted through the ranks at a rather fast rate, (Doolittle only played 13 games for short-season Vancouver before being promoted to Kane County and he hit .283 with a .421 OBP for the Canadians) Doolittle has struggled at the plate due to lack of aggressiveness.

"Earlier when I was moved up I was looking for one pitch and one spot and I found myself in the hole a lot with two strikes," Doolittle said of his former strategy in the box.

Adds Cougars' manager Aaron Nieckula, "He was trying to impress to fast and got himself into a slump."

Recently, Doolittle has found his groove and he has driven-in four runs in the last four games. It seemed only a matter of time before Doolittle figured out the pitching in the Midwest League. As far as competition goes, very few at this level have as much experience against high-level competition as Doolittle does. In addition to playing in the ACC for three seasons, Doolittle was also a member of the US national team that traveled to Havana, Cuba, to play in the World Championships.

"I played two summers with team USA and there was great competition there," Doolittle said. "Playing in the ACC, I feel like there isn't pitching I'm seeing now that I haven't seen in school."

It's no secret Doolittle can knock runs in. While playing for Virginia in college, Doolittle said his coach preached hitting in the situation. Now a professional player in the minors, Doolittle hopes to transfer what he learned as a Cavalier.

"I can handle the bat and if I need to move a runner or bunt I have done that all through college," Doolittle said. "If there's a guy on first I am capable of hitting doubles and if there's a guy on second I can do a lot to get him in. I feel like I'm capable of manufacturing a lot of runs."

Nieckula currently has Doolittle hitting in the sixth spot in the line-up, a position ideal for him for multiple reasons. Although Doolittle's average isn't quite up to par, he already has 10 RBIs for the Cougars.

"At this point in time we decided to drop him down to the six spot," Nieckula said. "He's seeing more pitches and getting chances to knock runners in. And if he continues to knock people in, I have no reservations about moving him to the three or five spot."

Of all the decisions he's made during his baseball career, Doolittle points to going to college as one of his best. When he was drafted in the 39th round, Doolittle wasn't very well known and had told teams he was unsignable. Even though he was 100 percent positive he was going to college, at the time, Doolittle thought he could have handled life in the minors. However, in retrospect, he looks at things a little differently now.

"I probably wouldn't have admitted it at the time, but I'm not sure if I would have been able to handle the ups and downs and being on your own in the real world," Doolittle said.

"I wanted to go to school to and get 3-4 years under my belt, get stronger and learn more about the game. I wouldn't have done anything different."

Doolittle was also a talented pitcher for Virginia. He holds the school record for wins in a career, and Doolittle finished his junior season with an 8-3 record and a 2.40 ERA. However, don't expect to see him on the mound anytime soon.

"If the hitting doesn't work out, [Doolittle knocks on wood] they said they wouldn't hesitate to move me back to the mound," Doolittle said. "But that's three or four years down the road. For now, that's in the rear view mirror."

A turning point in Doolittle's stay with the Cougars came on July 23rd in a game against the Dayton Dragons. The game was tied 1-1 in the bottom of the 10th when Doolittle strolled to the plate. With two-outs and a runner on second, Doolittle was in a position he seems to thrive at.

"You're nervous a little bit but that's just because you care so much about being in that situation," Doolittle would say later. "You have to channel that nervous energy into controlled aggression. You can't wait for your perfect pitch."

On a 1-1 pitch, Doolittle connected on a fastball left up in the zone and hit a game winning walk-off double to halt the team's two-game losing streak.

"We only needed one run and I got a pitch I was looking for and once I hit it there was never a doubt," Doolittle said of the at-bat.

Since then, Doolittle has been playing his best ball for the Cougars. As far as Nieckula is concerned, the ceiling is very high for this youngster.

"He's a young man that has a good idea at the plate," Nieckula said. "Everyone goes through 1-12 or 0-8 slumps, but if you minimize that, and get back on track, that's how you hit .300. He's going to be a high RBI guy later as he matures in his career."

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