Oakland A's Prospect Q&A: Matt Sulentic, OF

Going into the 2007 season, Matt Sulentic was one of the more promising young hitting prospects in baseball. However, almost nothing went right for Sulentic last season. Coming into spring training, many pundits had all but written off Sulentic as a prospect. Sulentic is changing many of their minds after a fast start for Stockton.

After being selected in the third round of the 2006 draft out of a Dallas-area high school, Matt Sulentic made an immediate positive impression on the Oakland A's by hitting .354 with a .409 OBP in 38 games for short-season Vancouver that season. That earned Sulentic a promotion to a full-season affiliate (Low-A Kane County), where at 18-years-old, he was one of the youngest players in the Midwest League.

Sulentic hit only .235 in a 30-game stint with Kane County in 2006, but most dismissed those struggles as mere growing pains for a hitter playing against pitchers mostly two- to three-years his senior. As it turned out, Sulentic's struggles in the Midwest League in 2006 were a harbinger of things to come in 2007.

The outfielder began the 2007 season back in Kane County and he and his Cougars' teammates got off to a horrific start. Kane County won only four games in April, while Sulentic slumped to a .159 batting average. The season didn't get much better for Sulentic. He hit only .175 in 56 games for the Cougars. At the start of the second half of the season, the A's sent Sulentic back to Vancouver. He hit better there (.261 in 71 games), but never reached the levels with the Canadians that he did in 2006.

Throughout the entire ordeal in 2007, Sulentic received high marks from the A's coaching staff for keeping a positive outlook throughout the season and for continuing to work hard. Sulentic earned more praise when he arrived in spring training this season in great shape, ready to exorcize last year's demons.

The A's showed faith in Sulentic by sending him to High-A Stockton at the start of the 2008 season despite his struggles in Low-A in 2006 and 2007. He has responded by getting off to a strong start with the Ports. Through Thursday, Sulentic was batting .293 with a .377 OBP and an 842 OPS in 29 games as the Ports' everyday right-fielder.

We spoke to Sulentic last weekend about his strong start, how he dealt with last season's struggles, his off-season preparation and more…

OaklandClubhouse: Obviously you are off to a much better start this year as opposed to last year. Was it important to you to get off to a good start after what happened last year?

Matt Sulentic: Yeah, definitely. I just killed myself in the off-season so that I would give myself the best chance to have that happen. My hard work is kind of showing through right now and I am playing well.

OC: Was there anything that you took from your experience last season that you think will help you as a ballplayer in the long run?

MS: I took a lot of things out of it, actually. For one, I just learned a lot about the mental toughness perspective of the game, the way that the ups-and-downs in this game happen. I really got to experience that first-hand.

OC: You are someone who sees a lot of pitches at the plate. Is that something that you are doing consciously, or are you just naturally a selective hitter?

MS: No, I work on that a lot. I do different things. In the off-season, I did some creative drills to allow me to really get a good grasp of the strike-zone. I worked on seeing the ball well and just did a lot of drills that other guys weren't doing that I thought would give me an edge, and so far it has.

OC: Do you worry at all about power numbers, or are you concentrating mostly on getting on-base and letting the numbers fall where they may?

MS: No, I don't really care about my power numbers, to be honest with you. I can hit the ball as far as I need to hit it. I have always been able to do that. As long as I am hitting, the power is going to come. It happened to me in high school, it happened to me in middle school and it is going to happen to me in pro ball, as long as I keep hitting.

OC: I know that your defense in the outfield has improved a lot over the past year-and-a-half. Was that a lot of work to try to improve defensively over how you were playing in high school?

MS: Really, I didn't play the outfield all that much in high school. I pitched a lot and I played shortstop and I played some outfield. I worked with a guy, Matty Young and he is with the Braves minor league system, and he is a really good outfielder. He helped me a lot over the past few off-seasons with a lot of repetitions. I have also been doing early work pretty much every day in the field with our hitting coach Timmy Garland. Stuff like that has all lead to me becoming a better outfielder.

OC: How much does confidence help a player both offensively and defensively?

MS: It's huge. Offense plays into defense and vice versa. You make a good play in the field and you feel better in your next at-bat. You have a good at-bat and you feel better the next inning in the field. Once you get that good feeling and confidence from something, you've just got to try to feed off of it and hold it and take it with you as long as you can.

OC: Has it been fun to be on a team that is winning so much?

MS: It's been unbelievable. You know, I never had this great of an appreciation for winning. After last year, I know how much it means and I know how hard it is to do sometimes. It feels so good after every game when we get to walk that line and shake hands. I'm just cheesing from ear-to-ear after every time we win because I just have so much respect for winning and how awesome that feels. It's great. I love it.

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