The multipart Around the Horn series, which features a position-by-position look at Oakland's projected starters and backup options heading into the season, begins at first base.Who's on first?
That would be Matt Olson, a first-round Draft pick of the A's in 2012 who became one of their most touted prospects.
The multipart Around the Horn series, which features a position-by-position look at Oakland's projected starters and backup options heading into the season, begins at first base.
Who's on first?
That would be Matt Olson, a first-round Draft pick of the A's in 2012 who became one of their most touted prospects. Yonder Alonso's breakout season didn't stop the A's from giving Olson an extended opportunity, and the decision to shift course and trade Alonso on Aug. 6 in order to do this proved prudent: Olson made homering a habit, counting off 16 home runs in a 23-game stretch from Aug. 27-Sept. 22 and finishing with 24 total in just 59 games during his rookie season.
"Alonso was having a great year, was an All-Star for us, and it would have been easy to just let it carry through," A's executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane said. "But part of the discipline was that we've got to find out about this kid. We're going to hit ourselves if we get to the end of the year and we don't know where he's at.
"That was really as much inspiration for the trade as any, just making sure Matt had a lot of time to acclimate to the Major Leagues. I think it turned out pretty good. That's part of the discipline, trading an Alonso to give this kid a chance, and I think that'll happen over the course of the next couple of years."
Olson obliterated American League pitching during his condensed rookie campaign, and there's reason to believe he can keep up in his sophomore season. He consistently hits the ball hard and has a knack for elevating it, a nice little recipe for lots of home runs.
Now, it's unrealistic to think Olson's 2017 power surge can be replicated at such a frenzied pace. For reference, Olson's numbers from last season would translate to roughly 65 home runs over the course of 162 games. Still, it's fun to think about.
"I'm not gonna sit here and say I'm gonna hit whatever pace that would be," Olson said near the end of the season. "That'd be just outrageous. But I know it's in there, and I have the capability of continuing to hit like I am now."
Olson, who will turn 24 in March, slugged .651 next to a .259 average and posted a 1.003 OPS, adding 22 walks for a .352 on-base percentage -- which makes his usually high strikeout rate easier to tolerate.
The A's were a much better defensive club in the second half, and their corner fielders -- Olson and third baseman Matt Chapman -- largely contributed to this equation. So much attention was on Olson's bat that his top-notch defense was often overlooked. A 6-foot-5 frame helps, but Olson is also extremely mobile with good range and an equally good arm. He's as reliable as it gets over there.
Count on seeing Olson at first on a daily basis for years to come. There's less certainty in his backup, however. Although Mark Canha has experience at the position, there's no guarantee he'll even be on the roster. The A's suddenly have an abundance of outfield options, and Canha doesn't appear in line to make the cut. That could leave Chad Pinder learning yet another position. The versatile Pinder became the first rookie in Oakland history to start at least one game at six different positions last season -- shortstop, second base, DH and all three outfield spots -- and there's no reason to believe he couldn't handle first if needed.
Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010.