Powell relying on defense, speed to win CF job

February 26th, 2018

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- 's homecoming in Oakland last season went well on both sides of the ball.

Not only did Powell hit .321 when he returned to the A's in the trade with the Mariners on Aug. 6, but he also picked up more than a few way-to-gos from his pitching staff with his play in center field.

Powell gets a charge out of playing defense, and his resume proves it. He saved two runs more than the average center fielder in 28 games with the A's in 2017, according to metrics used by baseballreference.com. Since that number is a counting stat, more playing time would have caused it to increase.

"I've always been a contact hitter and get on base for everybody else, but my defense is what I pride myself on," said Powell, who was drafted by the A's in 2012 before being traded to the Rays in '15 and later the Mariners.

"You want your pitchers to love you. I want to do everything I can for them because they are out there working their butts off. If I can save them a few times, it goes a long way. I don't want a small center field. I want a big one that I can get up to top speed and run and chase down those balls."

The competition for the center-field job centers around Powell, 25, newcomer and Jake Smolinski. Fowler appears to have a slight edge after being acquired from the Yankees with and for at the 2017 Trade Deadline.

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Powell, who like Fowler hits left-handed, welcomes the tug-of-war. He went 0-for-2 with a walk from the leadoff spot in Monday's 7-6 Cactus League loss to the White Sox at Camelback Ranch.

"I'm just coming into it with an open mind and going out there and having fun," Powell said. "If there is competition out there, it is all fun to me. I just want to have fun and work on the things I have to work on."

Powell plans to use the spring to fine-tune his stolen base game, which has thrived in the Minors. He has double-digit steals in each of the last five seasons, with a high of 18 in 2015. He stole 11 bases with Triple-A Tacoma last season before being recalled by Seattle in April. But he made just one unsuccessful attempt in the Majors last season with the A's.

"I've always struggled with it," Powell said. "I have the speed for it. For some reason, I can't steal bases. It's the one thing in baseball that I get in my head with. I just need to let it all go and run."

Powell knocked three homers and 10 RBIs in 92 plate appearances after joining the A's, slashing .321/.380/494. He made almost all of his starts against right-handers, but he showed an ability to attack lefties, too, going 5-for-14 (.357) with two homers and six walks against left-handed starters.

"He played really well for us, especially the center-field dynamic was really good," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "His metrics were good, and it showed up in the eye test for us, too. For a guy who had been here before, comes back again, has a chance to make a name for himself, he definitely did that."

Powell said he has worked on a new hitting approach.

"I didn't really change my swing," Powell said. "If anything, I simplified it a little more. I used to have a leg kick last year, and now it is a little more quiet with my feet. I feel it is keeping my eyes a lot more calm."