Olson, A's utilizing VR to prepare for at-bats

Smith throwing from 100 feet

April 17th, 2021

OAKLAND -- During Spring Training, the A’s became one of the latest teams to adopt virtual reality as a hitting tool to prepare for opposing pitchers. For hitters like , the new technology is already benefitting him at the plate early in the season.

Having never faced Tigers starter José Ureña prior to Friday’s 3-0 win over Detroit at the Coliseum, Olson strapped up the VR headset inside the A’s clubhouse just a few hours before first pitch and was able to get a feel for the right-hander’s stuff. By the time he stepped to the plate for his first at-bat, the first baseman had a good idea of what to expect.

“I haven’t used it as much during the season but I like to do it on guys I haven’t seen before because it gives you a decent idea of what their motion is like and how their stuff moves,” Olson said before Saturday’s game against the Tigers. "I’ll try to watch mainly the dudes that I haven’t seen before to see what the ball looks like coming out of their hand.”

It certainly looks like the extra pregame studying paid off for Olson. He collected two singles in his first two at-bats against Ureña as part of a 2-for-4 night. Both hits came on sinkers in the lower part of the zone.

The VR programming -- which is manufactured by WIN Reality VR -- allows hitters to simulate at-bats against opposing pitchers. It also provides info on a specific pitcher’s velocity, pitch movement and release point.

Olson said he planned to utilize the headset again on Saturday in advance of his first career matchup against Tigers starter Casey Mize.

Sure enough, Olson blasted a mammoth solo homer to right off the right-hander that gave the A's an early 1-0 lead in the first inning.

“I know some guys have it on their own and they do it at home,” Olson said. “I can’t say exactly how many guys are using it. I know some guys aren’t on it and some guys are. It’s kind of like a personal preference thing.”

Though it may take some time for everyone to get on board with using the technology on a consistent basis, A’s manager Bob Melvin said he is hopeful that it will be embraced by most players on the club as the season goes along. A tool that has been a growing trend around baseball in recent years, virtual reality looks like it’s here to stay for the long haul.

“I think they like it,” Melvin said. “When you haven’t seen a pitcher before, you can get as close a look as you possibly can to what they have, what the mechanics look like and the flight of the ball. Maybe the break of the ball. It’s like you’ve been close to facing them before.

“I think some guys like it more than others at this point. It’s something that we’ll continue to do, and, hopefully, we get everybody to buy in because I know other teams are using it quite a bit.”

Smith on the mend
Burch Smith continues to keep his arm conditioned, now throwing out from 100 feet on a regular basis. Placed on the 10-day IL back on April 6 with a groin strain, the right-hander’s next step is to begin a running progression. Once that comes, Smith could begin throwing bullpen sessions and be sent to the A’s alternate training site for a rehab assignment.

“We’re continuing to condition the arm,” Melvin said. “He’s doing some running now. I think he’s doing some cuts and different things. We’re starting to get in a pretty good spot with him. Once we’re comfortable with the groin issue, then it’s bullpens and pitching at the alt site for a couple of games. We’re still not there with him yet, but we’re getting closer and his arm is in good shape.”

Smith has been sharp in his brief time with the A’s, allowing just four runs with 14 strikeouts across 15 innings since 2020.