Ronnie Merrill excited about new opportunity

During the Winter Meetings, the Oakland A's bypassed selecting any players in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft. However, they did add to their minor league system by drafting four players in the minor league portion. One of those players was SS Ronnie Merrill, who comes to the A's from the San Diego Padres organization. We caught up with Merrill to get his reaction to joining the A's.

Ronnie Merrill knows a thing or two about changing teams. The 27-year-old shortstop will be joining his fourth organization in only six seasons of minor league baseball.

"Every organization is different, right down to how they run spring training and what food they serve," Merrill said with a laugh.

Merrill began his career in the Detroit Tigers organization after being taken in the 7th round of the 2000 draft out of the University of Tampa. He was immediately sent to the New York Penn League and he had a strong debut, hitting .311.

Merrill really hit his stride in 2001 with the low-A West Michigan White Caps, where he hit .317 with 8 HR and 53 RBI in only 83 games. That performance earned Merrill a quick promotion to AA, where he continued to swing the bat well, hitting .293 with 4 HR in 38 games. However, his progress would hit a speed bump the next off-season when, just before Opening Day, Merrill was dealt to Colorado with reliever Victor Santos for pitcher Jose Paniagua.

"The biggest shock in my baseball career probably came when I was traded after my first full season in Detroit," Merrill said.

"Looking back, it was disappointing that I was traded because there were some real opportunities to move up in the Detroit organization due to injuries."

Merrill's disappointment became more acute when the Rockies decided to send him back to Single-A, despite his success at the AA level in 2001. It was a tough pill for Merrill to swallow. Merrill kept his chin up, however, and he continued to hit well at A-ball, posting a .282 average and swatting six homers in 76 games.

He was rewarded with another promotion, although this time it was all the way to AAA. The two-level jump made for a hard transition for Merrill, who struggled at the plate for the first time in his career, hitting only .190 in 19 games with AAA-Colorado Springs.

"It was really disappointing to be sent down to A ball [in 2002]. The difference between A ball and AA is so great that I kind of forgot what AA baseball was like while I was down there [in A ball]," Merrill said.

"So it was a huge shock when I was promoted from A to AAA."

Merrill's AAA slump carried over into the 2003 season, which he spent primarily in AA with Tulsa. After the 2003 campaign, Merrill was left unprotected and was taken in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft by the San Diego Padres. He spent the last two seasons primarily in AA-Mobile, where he became a fan and coach's favorite, according to the staff at our sister publication, Mad He was named to the Southern League All-Star team in 2005.

Merrill finally made it back to AAA at the end of his time with the Padres, playing in 14 games with AAA-Portland at the tail-end of the '05 season. This time, Merrill was better prepared for the higher level of competition.

"AAA is so different because you have so many different types of players [in terms of skill level]. I learned a lot from [the first] experience [in Colorado Springs] and I knew what to expect the next time I got to AAA," Merrill said.

"It was a little disappointing not to get back to AAA until late last year, but I know that if I am in AAA this year, I'll be ready to play there."

Merrill is pleased to be a part of the Oakland A's organization, but he was a little disappointed with how his tenure ended with San Diego.

"I found out about a week before the draft that the Padres were leaving me off the AAA roster, so I figured that someone would take me in the draft. I wasn't surprised to be picked, but I was surprised about the Padres' decision to leave me unprotected," Merrill said.

Although Merrill has had little exposure to the A's organization, he has heard a lot of good things about the green and gold.

"I'm excited to be here. I've heard a lot of good things about playing in Sacramento, so hopefully I'll be playing there," Merrill said.

"From the outside, I know that the A's are an organization that builds from within. They aren't really into the free agent market so if you produce, you have a chance to move up."

When asked to describe himself as a player, Merrill gives a straight-forward assessment.

"If you watch me for a ten-game period, I might not stand out, but over the long-run, I'll be a very consistent performer. I take great pride at being good in every aspect of the game," Merrill said.

Merrill is particularly strong on defense, especially at his main position, shortstop. He had his best defensive season last year, posting a .976 fielding percentage in 89 games at short and a .978 fielding position in 32 games at second for AA-Mobile.

"I believe that my defense has come a long way over the past two seasons and that I am capable defensively at shortstop at the major league level right now," Merrill said.

To make the leap to the major leagues, Merrill knows that he will first have to increase his offensive production. He has been working for the past four years to get back to the offensive level he was at with the Detroit organization. Merrill has been working this off-season with 16-year major league veteran and former Oakland A's utilityman Dave Magadan. Magadan, who serves as the Padres' hitting coach, graduated from the same high school as Merrill in Tampa. He hopes to see those results pay off in a big year in 2006.

Merrill starred for his hometown college team, the University of Tampa. He led Tampa to a Division II NCAA championship in 1998 and was named the tournament MVP. With a little luck, Merrill could be back in Tampa someday, playing at the Trop in the major leagues.

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