Fiorentino Looking To Make Impression

PHOENIX – During the Oakland A's 2008 FanFest event at the Coliseum, fans were peppering A's GM Billy Beane with questions about whether the team was done acquiring talent. Beane responded that the team was constantly looking to improve itself and he pointed to the A's acquisition of outfielder Jeff Fiorentino off of waivers the day before as proof positive of the A's efforts to get better.

Many fans in the stands that day wondered just who Beane was talking about. Jeff Fiorentino was a well-known name among Baltimore Orioles fans, as he had been a top prospect in the Orioles system for the past few seasons. However, his acquisition flew under the radar for most fans of the Oakland A's.

The outfielder was a third-round selection by the Orioles out of Florida Atlantic University in 2004. After clubbing 12 homers in only 53 games during his 2004 pro debut season, Fiorentino was sent to High-A to start the 2005 campaign.

The Florida native got off to a fast start for High-A Frederick and by May of 2005, Fiorentino was playing in the big leagues, filling in for an injured Sammy Sosa. He collected five hits in his first two games for the Orioles and would hit .250 with one homerun in 44 major league at-bats that season.

Fiorentino had a strong season for Frederick in 2005, posting an 854 OPS. Despite that success, many pundits questioned whether the Orioles impaired Fiorentino's development by rushing him to the big leagues. When he slumped at the start of the 2006 season, those questions grew even louder. Fiorentino disagrees with the idea that the time he spent in the big leagues did anything but help him develop, however.

"I learned so much. A lot of people talk about how it was too early and it hurt me. No. I definitely think it helped," Fiorentino said.

"I learned so much from it and about what it takes to compete at that level. Now I've had three years more experience just to learn what it takes to get there and stay there."

After the early season struggles for Double-A Bowie in 2006, Fiorentino put together a strong finish to the season and earned a September call-up with the Orioles. He appeared in 19 games for Baltimore, batting .256 with a .375 OBP. Despite that strong finish, Fiorentino was sent back to Double-A to start the 2007 campaign.

"I didn't mind starting back at Double-A. I saw that we had a couple of older guys and so I had a pretty good idea I was going to be sent there even though they didn't tell me that," Fiorentino said.

His second stint in Double-A went almost the same as his first time through the level. Fiorentino got off to a slow start, but rallied during the second half of the season and finished with a respectable .282/.346/.445 line. Unlike the 2006 season, however, Baltimore did not give Fiorentino a September call-up in 2007.

"It was a little bit frustrating," Fiorentino said when asked about whether he was upset that he wasn't called up in 2007.

"I got off to a really, really rough start, but I turned it around and I had a solid last few months, so I was really hoping that they would give me another chance up there, especially with the team out of playoff contention."

The lack of a call-up was likely a signal that Fiorentino was no longer in Baltimore's long-term plans. He was dropped off of the Orioles' 40-man roster in early January. Fiorentino was claimed off of waivers by the Cincinnati Reds on January 4th. He was put on waivers once again later in the month and was claimed by the A's on January 24th.

"I didn't really see [being dropped from Baltimore's 40-man roster] coming. I was given a second chance with Cincinnati and now I have a third chance with Oakland. I'm just going out there and trying to do what I need to do to make a good impression," Fiorentino said.

"It didn't work out [with Baltimore], but I have a new opportunity here. I'm 24 years old and I am playing baseball. It's my career and I'm really happy."

Fiorentino said he is enjoying his first spring with the A's.

"It's going well. I'm getting a chance to play and I'm just going out there and competing," Fiorentino said.

Thus far, Fiorentino has made a solid first impression with the A's this spring. He has struggled at the plate, batting only .179, but he has six walks in 19 games. Most importantly, Fiorentino has played stand-out defense in the outfield, making a couple of spectacular catches. That effort earned Fiorentino a spot on the A's 30-man traveling crew to Japan.

"I'm a hustler. I work hard and I try to play the game the right way. I think if you go out and play the game the right way, you'll open some eyes," Fiorentino said.

"I love to hustle, I love to dive and I love to make things as exciting as possible."

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