MESA, Ariz. -- Marcus Semien has the ability to alter the narrative, to shift the focus from his oft-criticized defense to a lesser talked about aspect of his game: a bat with upside that could break out of its shell so long as his glove work remains steady.Tapping into this
MESA, Ariz. -- Marcus Semien has the ability to alter the narrative, to shift the focus from his oft-criticized defense to a lesser talked about aspect of his game: a bat with upside that could break out of its shell so long as his glove work remains steady.
Tapping into this unleashed potential should seemingly be easier for the A's shortstop in his second full big league season. Semien's defense is under control; last year it was a mess, so much so that it had an adverse effect on his offense during a two-month swoon that coincided with infield coach Ron Washington's arrival and subsequent around-the-clock schooling.
Semien's work with Washington has been well-documented. Of his Major League-leading 35 errors last year, only seven followed the All-Star break. It was around that same time Semien showcased his offensive ability much in the same way he had done at the start of the season, batting .283 with seven home runs in his final 52 games.
-- 2016 Opening Day coverage --
Semien totaled six home runs over his first 40 games, to go along with a robust .314 average, but just two over a 63-game stretch from May 19 to July 31 during which he stumbled to a .195 average.
Washington came on board May 21.
"I've said sometimes I thought he got a little bogged down on the offensive end in the middle months because he was having to focus so much on his defense," A's manager Bob Melvin said, "but there's a lot of potential, as you saw at the beginning and the end."
Semien's value could skyrocket this year with improved play on both sides of the ball, and the 25-year-old undoubtedly has a solid foundation upon which to build. Some argue he's already better than most people realize.
"His offense is definitely his strongest quality, and he had a great year last year," catcher Stephen Vogt said. "I don't think that's going to change this year, and if anything it's going to get better."
The A's traded for the upside in Semien's bat when he was acquired with three other players from the White Sox in the Jeff Samardzija deal, intrigued by his mix of power and speed and cognizant of his strong on-base tendencies in the Minors.
Many young players lose touch of this approach when they reach the big leagues, and Semien is no exception. He reached base at a .374 clip in 387 Minor League games; In 240 big league games, Semien has a .304 on-base percentage.
Already this spring, though, Melvin has seen a more patient hitter, noting, "I do see him laying off some of the sliders away a little more, a little bit better recognition of the outside corner."
This is Semien honing his approach, a particularly essential practice when hitting with men on base.
"Last year there were a lot of things I could've done better, offensively, hitting with runners in scoring position, moving runners over," Semien said. "I hit great when there was no one on base. It seemed to work that way last year, and this year I really want to focus on that more.
"It's a matter of knowing how they pitch you in those situations instead of just being in swing mode all the time. I've been talking to a lot of guys on the team about how to be a smarter hitter and know the situation. Approach is important, mechanics are important. If you're feeling good at the plate, then all you're focusing on is your approach, and that's where you want to be."
Vogt, who hit .303 with runners on base last season, compared to Semien's .241 average -- including .208 with runners in scoring position and .174 with the bases loaded -- is among those who have helped Semien along.
"A lot of it in certain situations like that is having a plan and sticking to it and not doing more than you need to," Vogt said. "The big thing is just relaxing and trusting your ability and not expanding just to try to get the job done, letting the pitcher come to you. All the clichés you hear, they're all true, and especially in execution situations like that, you really have to be more patient than aggressive.
"It kind of clicks for you when you've had more time, because now all of a sudden you're like, 'I've been here before. I know I've failed here, and I know I've succeeded here,' and you're able to just relax and have that sixth sense about what might happen. I think we're going to see more of that with Marcus this year."
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB and listen to her podcast.