'The kid can play': Bride hitting his stride on defense

June 25th, 2022

KANSAS CITY -- For a rebuilding A’s squad, this 2022 season is all about identifying players who fit into their long-term plans.

Among those young players being closely evaluated is , who has started each of Oakland’s 10 games played since his call up from Triple-A Las Vegas on June 14. Described by A’s director of player development Ed Sprague as having the best contact skills of any hitter in the organization, Bride impressed with his bat early on by collecting at least one hit in six of his first seven Major League games.

Of course, the offense is only part of the evaluation process. If Bride, Oakland’s No. 26 prospect per MLB Pipeline, is going to become a mainstay at this level, he must also prove capable of handling himself around the infield. On Friday, Bride pulled that defensive tool out of his bag, turning in a pair of defensive gems at third base in Oakland’s 3-1 loss to the Royals at Kauffman Stadium.

“He’s working his tail off here, and tonight was the result of the work he’s put in on a daily basis,” said A’s manager Mark Kotsay. “I can see him continuing to grow and continuing to get better over there. He played a really good third base tonight.”

The first demonstration of flashy leather came in the fifth inning. Bride picked an awkward chopping grounder hit by Emmanuel Rivera, set his feet from the edge of the outfield grass near the left-field foul line and fired a strong throw across the diamond to Sheldon Neuse for the first out of the frame.

One inning later, Bride upped the level of impressiveness. Making a diving backhanded stop on a ball that was scorched 102 mph off the bat of Edward Olivares, Bride quickly got back up to his feet and fired a strike to Neuse at first base to end the sixth. It was a rather clutch play at the time, as the out prevented MJ Melendez from scoring a second run in the inning. A’s starter Cole Irvin, who watched on from the dugout responsible for the runner at third, was certainly appreciative of the effort.

“He’s the one that really kept me in that ballgame,” said Irvin, who allowed three runs on seven hits and two walks with four strikeouts across 5 1/3 innings. “Jonah’s swinging the bat well. He’s squaring some balls up and making great plays with the glove. That’s what it takes to stick. He’s doing everything he can to stay with the club.”

Having played all around the infield and even learning the catcher position in the Minor Leagues, Bride is so versatile that he may ultimately provide his highest value to the club as a utility player.

Over his first 10 games with Oakland, however, the rookie has ]eight appearances at third base. It’s a position that brings the daunting task of filling the void of a Platinum Glove defender in Matt Chapman. Bride has been up to the challenge, putting in extra pregame work by going through various drills with infield coach Eric Martins to sharpen up his skills. So far, the results are paying off.

“That was amazing defense from him today,” A’s shortstop Elvis Andrus said. “The kid can play. He brings it every day. He asks a lot of questions. He’s not afraid of playing and making those plays. Today, his first step was amazing. He’s gonna be here for a while.”

It’s too early and too small of a sample size to lock in Bride as a key part of Oakland’s future. There will be growing pains to deal with, both with the bat and with the glove. But given his inquisitive mind and a work ethic that has already garnered special attention from his teammates and coaches, Bride appears to be laying the foundation for what the A’s believe can lead to a successful career in the Majors.

“He just needs to continue to play and keep learning about the league,” Andrus said. “It’s not easy right now, especially with all the information pitchers and teams have. But I think he’s on the right path.”