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Olson looks to prove himself in first full season

MLB.com @JaneMLB

MESA, Ariz. -- Baseball was treated to eye-opening power displays by big-swinging rookies last year. Aaron Judge, Cody Bellinger and Rhys Hoskins populated the headlines, while a similarly special spectacle quietly came to life in Oakland.

Even by lofty standards, Matt Olson's doings were exceptional. Rare. Special.

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MESA, Ariz. -- Baseball was treated to eye-opening power displays by big-swinging rookies last year. Aaron Judge, Cody Bellinger and Rhys Hoskins populated the headlines, while a similarly special spectacle quietly came to life in Oakland.

Even by lofty standards, Matt Olson's doings were exceptional. Rare. Special.

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The A's first baseman homered at a Ruthian pace, swatting 24 home runs in just 59 games, including six homers in seven games and nine in 12 games. He had 15 over a 21-game span, something no rookie had ever done, and 16 in a 23-game stretch.

Now his admirers wait to see what he can do with a full season, but outside expectations must be tempered with reality.

Video: Outlook: Olson could challenge 40-homer mark in '18

"I played 60 games last year and hit 24 home runs. By my match, people are expecting me to hit, what, 65 home runs every year? That's just not reasonable," Olson said. "I was on a tear, definitely, but I know that it's in there now and it's definitely something that gives me the confidence every time I step to the plate. I belong, and I'm not going to be overpowered by whoever is on the mound."

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The lineup figures to be Oakland's main attraction this year. Olson isn't the only big bopper among this group; the A's have a bunch of them, including Khris Davis, who passed the 40-homer mark in each of his first two seasons in green and gold. Matt Chapman's power potential looms, and a slew of others will distribute their share of long balls, too: Stephen Piscotty, Marcus Semien and Jonathan Lucroy have all proven they're capable of doing so.

But Olson is accompanied by the greatest intrigue after averaging just eight at-bats per home run as a rookie.

"It doesn't surprise me at all. The first year I played with him, he almost hit 40 homers," A's infielder Chad Pinder said, referring to Olson's 37-homer 2014 season in Class A-Advanced Stockton. "I've always known it was there, it was just a matter of when it was going to come together and click for him.

"Obviously everyone was like, 'Damn, that's pretty special,' but it didn't shock me at the same time. I've seen him hit towering home runs, I've seen him put together spurts where he's hitting six, seven home runs in a week. It's always been there, but then he went and did it for a month."

The A's will be closely examining Olson's continued development, while simultaneously practicing patience with the corner infielder, who will celebrate his 24th birthday next week. Olson's high strikeout rate -- 28.7 percent in 2017 -- could be exploited as big league pitchers adjust, but his contact rate -- 70.5 percent -- suggests he'll be able to hold his own.

"Showing what I did last year," Olson said, "I have such a good opportunity now to where I just want to continue to put the work in."

Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB.

Oakland Athletics, Matt Olson