In the 2010 MLB draft, the Oakland A's made a conscious effort to select more players who profiled as power hitters in the professional ranks. More hitters like their 2009 11th round selection, corner infielder Michael Spina.
Spina came to the A's after breaking Kevin Youkilis' school homerun record for the University of Cincinnati, and Spina has carried his homerun and run-producing tendencies into the professional ranks. After signing with the A's, Spina spent most of his first stint in pro ball with the Low-A Kane County Cougars. In 184 at-bats, Spina hit seven homeruns for Kane County, an impressive total in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League.
The Florida native has already surpassed that total in 2010. In 256 at-bats, Spina has hit 12 homeruns and has driven-in 55 runs. Both totals lead the Stockton Ports and put him among the top six in the California League.
Spina has put up those numbers while learning a new position. The longtime third baseman was moved to first base this season. It has been an uneven experience for Spina thus far, as he has 12 errors, but he has shown improvement, committing only two errors thus far in June after making eight during the month of May.
We spoke to Spina just before the All-Star break about his first full professional season and more…
OaklandClubhouse: Has your first full season been what you expected?
Michael Spina: Yeah. Earlier I was struggling. I have been working on a couple of different swings. Swings that will help me get to the big leagues. Our hitting coordinator Sparky [Greg Sparks] and our hitting coach Timmy [Tim Garland] have been working a lot with me this first half. I feel like it is coming along great. I still have a lot of RBIs and homeruns. I just need to get my average up and be more consistent in getting base hits right now.
OC: You've been at first base a lot this year after playing third base last season. Is that a big adjustment for you?
MS: It's a huge adjustment. I had never played first until coming to the Ports this year. I didn't even play first in spring training. When I first got here, we had [Stephen] Parker at third so I had to move to first to get a lot of playing time and get my at-bats in. It's been an adjustment. First base isn't easy, I'll tell you that much. You are in the action every play. Picks. Flyballs come down differently on than they do on the left side of the infield, so it's a huge difference.
OC: Have you seen any time at third?
MS: It's been mostly first. That's where the guys in our organization want me and so I have been trying to play there and get better at it.
OC: Have you noticed a big difference between the Midwest League and the California League?
MS: There's a huge difference [in leagues]. The ball flies a little bit better [in the Cal League], but there is a lot better pitching here, too. Last year we faced a lot of young guys who didn't know where the ball was going or who threw a lot of balls, but out here there are guys who can pitch. And they are throwing hard. It's definitely a bigger challenge and I'm enjoying it. I love it.
OC: You are already in double-digits for homeruns. Would you describe yourself as a homerun hitter, or as a different kind of hitter?
MS: No, that's my game. I am a power hitter, definitely. That's why they have me at the corner spots. I'm a guy who needs to drive the ball and hit homeruns and hit doubles and get runners in. The big thing is getting RBIs, which I have been doing a lot, and hopefully I can keep doing it.
OC: What was your off-season preparation like now that you were out of school?
MS: I actually went back to school. I finished my degree at Cincinnati. And I didn't go to Instructs last year. I finished school and then I went home to Florida and started conditioning and working out and getting ready for spring training. I actually went to spring training a month early and was there and got used to the weather and stuff in Arizona. I got to hang out with the big leaguers there and got to learn a little bit more and it helped me a lot.
OC: Was there anyone in particular who helped you?
MS: Yeah, I hung out a lot with Jake Fox. I know that we [the A's] don't have him anymore, but he is a great guy. Great guy to be around and he taught me a lot about what we need to do to grind everyday out on the field. In the minor league system, it is a long year.
OC: He's also a right-handed power hitter. Did you take away anything from his swing, or was it more that he gave you advice about playing professional baseball?
MS: More advice than anything. Our swings are a little bit different. I like to elevate the ball a little bit more than he does. He likes to hit line drives in the gaps. But being around all of those guys was great. They have great guys up there in Oakland and hopefully someday I'll be able to get up there with them.