Tips from a superstar in hand, Gelof ready for encore

February 17th, 2024

MESA, Ariz. -- Hungry to build upon a stellar rookie campaign with the A’s, took only three weeks off following the end of the season before heading to Florida to begin his offseason workouts.

Splitting time between Cressey Sports Performance and Boras Sports Training Institute, Gelof was surrounded by some of Major League Baseball’s elite talent at both facilities. One superstar in particular stood out above the rest: Yankees outfielder Juan Soto.

Long an admirer of Soto’s career from afar, Gelof found himself soaking up as much knowledge as he could while preparing in the same batting cages as the former batting champion and three-time All-Star.

“It was cool to be able to hit with Soto for a few weeks and learn from him,” Gelof said on Friday. “He’s one of the best hitters in the game, so I was definitely trying to pick his brain.”

Any tips he picked up from Soto?

“I added one [hitting] cue here and there,” said Gelof. “For the most part, I just kind of watched the way he goes about things and asked a question if I had one.”

It was the “best offseason yet” of Gelof’s professional career, which only adds to the already sky-high expectations coming off a debut season in which he hit .267 with an .840 OPS, 14 home runs, 20 doubles, 32 RBIs and 14 stolen bases in 69 games.

The preseason hype is already buzzing for Gelof. On Thursday afternoon, a graphic of his 2024 FanGraphs projections, which have the 24-year-old second baseman slated for 21 home runs and 20 stolen bases, circulated through MLB’s social media platforms.

Gelof welcomes the newfound attention. Not because of what it does for his profile, but rather for the light it sheds on the A’s as a whole.

“It’s pretty cool,” Gelof said of seeing his name pop up throughout social media. “Anything to bring attention to this team, because I think we have a bunch of talented guys in this room that are being slept on.”

There have been few positives to pull from an A’s team that has lost more than 100 games in each of the past two seasons. Most of those bright spots occurred after a youth movement that began with Gelof’s first call to the big leagues last July, followed by several of Oakland’s other top prospects.

While position players do not have to report for Spring Training until Monday, Gelof and the majority of the young players who finished last season with the club arrived early and have been taking part in daily workouts at Hohokam Stadium in advance.

“All these guys that are here early, they’re anxious to get going,” A’s manager Mark Kotsay said. “Zack looks great. He worked hard this offseason. There’s just an excitement.”

The excitement over what Gelof might do for an encore in '24 is justified. After all, the accolades piled up in a short amount of time. He earned American League Rookie of the Month honors last August in his first full month as a big leaguer, and he finished as one of just five rookies in club history with at least 10 home runs and 10 stolen bases in a season.

“What he accomplished in two and a half months, I’ll take that for the full season,” Kotsay said. “The success level probably was higher than expected, which is great. … This is his second year, and the league will make adjustments. We’re aware of that, and Zack is, too. But he’s a confident kid.”

There are personal goals that Gelof has set, including playing at least 150 games to demonstrate his durability, but they are less about having a 20-20 season or breaking records and more about continuing to provide leadership for a young A’s squad that is looking to elevate itself from rebuilding to truly competing in a difficult AL West division.

“The young guys we have in this clubhouse is the group that we have,” Gelof said. “It’s a mentality of, ‘We’re all that we need.’ I think we just have to rise to the occasion. Each individual has to step up and be ready to go, and I just want to be there for my teammates every day.”