MESA, Ariz. – Matt Olson probably won’t get to line up in the same big league infield as Addison Russell, but in January, he did line up next to Russell nonetheless.
Olson, a first baseman ranked as the A’s best power-hitting prospect, served as a groomsman in Russell’s wedding in Pensacola, Fla. Also in the wedding party were shortstop Daniel Robertson and outfielder Billy McKinney. Those two, along with Russell, represent three former A’s first-round draft picks who have all been traded away by Oakland in the past two years.
Throw in Olson, and that was four big-time baseball talents taking part in the nuptials.
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“It was great,” Olson said. “We all got pretty close with the A’s and we’ve kept that friendship.”
Russell, the budding star shortstop of the Cubs, was drafted 12th overall by the A’s in 2012. Robertson (34th overall) and Olson (47th) were taken shortly after in the compensation round. McKinney was the A’s top pick in 2013 (24th overall).
There were plans of Russell, Olson and Robertson all advancing through the farm system and someday playing together in Oakland’s infield. Then the A’s postseason aspirations got in the way.
Russell and McKinney were sent to the Cubs in a 2014 trade that netted starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. That deal made huge news because of Samardzija’s star power and Russell’s lofty status as one of the majors’ elite prospects. Samardzija and Hammel helped the A’s to the playoffs that season, but Oakland lost to the Royals in the AL Wild Card game.
Robertson was dealt the following winter to Tampa Bay as part of a package that brought Ben Zobrist to Oakland. (Zobrist himself would be traded away after only a half-season).
Before the trades were set in motion, Olson says he often daydreamed with Russell and Robertson about what it would be like making it to the bigs as three-fourths of Oakland’s infield.
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“There were multiple times we’d sit down and talk about it,” Olson said. “Obviously, it’s out of our control, but it would have been a cool experience if we were able to move up all the way through, and then finally that day we’re all in the lineup, in the infield. But they’re both doing well. They’re making their own paths.”
Olson’s path remains bright with the A’s. He hit .249 with 17 homers, 75 RBI and a .388 on-base percentage last season for Double-A Midland, numbers that aren’t shabby considering Midland plays in a ballpark that’s extremely tough on left-handed hitters. Olson is ranked as the fifth-best first base prospect in the game by mlb.com.
He also played lots of right field last season and says he grew increasingly comfortable there.
“Whatever way I can be in the lineup every day,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of corner infielders right now. If that means I have to play a little outfield to stay in the lineup and be in there every day, that’s how it has to be.”
A’s pitchers and catchers report Saturday, but Stephen Vogt, Billy Butler, Mark Canha and Marcus Semien were among the noteworthy veterans taking part in informal workouts at the minor league facility. Vogt was in gear and working with the other catchers, though his activity will remain limited following arthroscopic surgery on his throwing elbow in late January.
The A’s anticipate Vogt making his exhibition debut sometime in mid-March, and that he’ll be ready for Opening Day. To bolster their catching depth, they resigned Bryan Anderson to a minor league deal. Anderson has spent bits of the past two seasons with the A’s.
Infielder Max Muncy suffered an abdominal injury during winter ball in Mexico, but he says he is completely healed now. Interestingly, the corner infielder branched out and played some second base and right field in Mexico, and he says the plan is to bounce around the diamond as this season gets underway.