Draft day left Ryan Pineda filled with mixed feelings. After putting together a three-year career at Cal-State Northridge during which he was the Big West Conference's Rookie of the Year in 2008 and All-Big West first team in 2010, Pineda expected to hear his name called relatively early in the draft. In fact, the second baseman received phone calls from a number of teams early in the second day of the draft, only to have those teams pass on drafting him. By the time the A's called his name in the 28th round, Pineda had all but decided to return to Northridge for his senior season.
"I actually stopped watching the draft after about the 15th round or so and I kind of told [the MLB scouts] I was going to go back to school at that point," Pineda said.
"Oakland just drafted me out of nowhere. I didn't even get a call before they drafted me. After it was done, the scout called me and let me know. At that point, I was excited to be drafted, but at the same time, disappointed."
Before making his decision on whether or not to sign with the A's, Pineda suited up for the Anchorage Bucs of the Alaska League. In 111 at-bats for the Bucs, he hit .252 with nine stolen bases and 19 walks. Pineda signed with the A's at the tail-end of the summer season.
"This summer [in Alaska] made me realize that pro ball was what I wanted to do and that I wanted to get started. I ended up signing for less than what I would have gotten but everything happens for a reason," Pineda said.
"Before I signed, it was pretty unusual not knowing what I was going to do, whether I was going to sign or go back to school, but I think it all worked out for the best."
The time in Alaska also gave Pineda an opportunity to work on his swing before starting his pro career. In 2010, Pineda led the Big West Conference with 16 homeruns. However, at 6'0'', 180 pounds, Pineda knew that homeruns were not going to be the centerpiece of his offensive game at the professional level, so he adjusted his swing.
"My junior year at Northridge, I was hitting with a pretty big leg kick. I had success but it was still tough to have good plate discipline hitting that way because you commit to the pitch pretty early," Pineda said.
"During the summer when I was in Alaska, I focused on having better plate discipline and toning down my stride a little bit. It helped me in pro ball. It's something I'm still working on day-to-day."
Pineda signed with the A's in time to appear in 30 games with the organization's short-season affiliates. After four games with the AZL A's, Pineda was sent to Vancouver, where he took over as the team's everyday second baseman. Although he hit only .221, he walked 17 times in 26 games and posted a .336 OBP. The right-handed hitter scalded left-handed pitching, batting .320 with a 949 OPS in 25 at-bats.
Pineda thoroughly enjoyed his first taste of professional baseball.
"It was exciting to get up there and play pro baseball and get out of the college game. It was pretty much what I expected from pro ball with Vancouver. It was fun," Pineda said.
After the regular season ended, Pineda's indoctrination to professional baseball continued at the A's fall Instructional League. There he received a lot of one-on-one attention from A's coaches, working in particular on making the double-play turn at second base and getting his foot down earlier in his swing. Pineda felt his time at "Instructs" was invaluable.
"That was probably the most information I have gotten in a short period of time," Pineda said.
During Instructs, A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman was impressed with the improvements Pineda made with his swing.
"He's had a solid approach since signing late this year," Lieppman said.
"After coming up with some big hits in Vancouver, he has come [to Instructs] and really showed some power, but he is also learning how to move the ball around the field. A lot of these guys come in as power hitters and he's learning to use the whole field better."
Back home in his native Las Vegas this off-season, Pineda continued to work on his defense and on tinkering his swing to allow himself to be more patient and to hit for a higher average. He worked out with fellow A's prospect Chris Carter, who Pineda squared off against a few years ago when they were playing at rival Las Vegas high schools.
Pineda believes that it was his off-season preparation before the 2010 campaign that keyed his All-Big West Conference season.
"I got a lot better in all facets of my game. My defense improved tremendously and I got a lot faster and stole a lot of bases and obviously the homeruns, but it was basically just the off-season, realizing what I had to do to get ready," Pineda said.
"I had struggled the summer before [with Wareham of the Cape Cod League, for whom he hit only .170] and it motivated me to work on a lot of my weaknesses. So it was just hard work and it paid off."
With an increased focus on getting on-base, Pineda should be a threat at the top of the order for either Low-A Burlington or High-A Stockton in 2011. According to the Alaska League-focused blog, 49th State Hardball, Pineda clocked the fastest time from home to first in that league at 3.91 seconds. Pineda only had one stolen base opportunity with Vancouver last year, but he stole 24 bases for Northridge.
A week away from his first professional spring training, Pineda isn't quite sure what to expect, but the 21-year-old isn't too focused on where he will suit up in 2011 or what numbers he will put up.
"Obviously, you'd like to move up the ladder as fast as you can, but it's just my first season, so I'm not sure how things work, so we'll have to see," Pineda said.
"If you play well, you'll get promoted and keep moving up. I don't want to put any expectations on myself about where I'll go level-wise or stats-wise. I just want to play well and then good things will happen."