The Oakland A's secured a gem when in 2009 they enticed Yuba City High School standout Max Stassi away from a tempting UCLA commitment with a $1.5 million signing bonus. At the time, it was the largest signing bonus ever handed out to a fourth round pick. During his senior season with Yuba City, Stassi hit a staggering .538/.635/1.113 in 110 plate appearances, including 11 HRs.
Helping him to succeed was Stassi's father, Jim, a former baseball standout himself. Jim Stassi, who coached his son, was the captain of the University of Nevada baseball team and a former minor leaguer in the San Francisco Giants' organization. In 2009, Stassi teamed up with his father (who pitched) to blast 110 homers over the span of 30 minutes as a part of a "Homers for the Hungry and Homeless" event, which Stassi founded and organized. Stassi raised more than $8,000 to benefit food shelters in neighboring counties and added an additional sum to support a Yuba City homeless center.
Utilizing his father's guidance and expertise, the younger Stassi entered the A's minor league system with the goal of accomplishing the one assignment his father could not, a promotion to the majors.
Stassi signed with the A's on the final day of the draft signing period in 2009 and collected only 50 at-bats as a professional that season, all for the A's two short-season squads. In 2010, Stassi made his full-season debut with the Low-A Kane County Cougars, spending the entire season with the Midwest League squad. With this promotion Stassi confronted a rare challenge in an increase in competitiveness. The catcher had become accustomed to dismantling any competition he faced, and now had to scramble to adjust. Stassi struggled to make consistent contact, but he did show some power with 13 homeruns. He struggled early on in the season defensively, but finished the year as one of the league's top defensive backstops and he was also named a Midwest League mid-season All-Star.
Going into the 2011 season, Stassi was ranked as one of the A's top-10 prospects and he earned a promotion to High-A Stockton. Stassi, however, was sidelined early in the season due to a nagging shoulder discomfort that ended his 2011 season in May. Stassi, playing entirely at the designated hitter position in 2011, struggled offensively, hitting a mere .231/.311/.311 in 121 chances over 31 games. Ultimately, the catching prospect experienced the largest setback of his career as he underwent shoulder surgery to repair his physical ailment in May. Without Stassi's presence behind home plate, Stockton struggled mightily to apprehend speedsters on the basepaths, surrendering 33 stolen bases out of 35 attempts to begin 2011.
During the off-season, the A's acquired an impressive collection of young talent, including top prospects Jarrod Parker, Yoenis Cespedes, Brad Peacock, A.J. Cole, and, most noticeably for a catcher like Stassi, Derek Norris. Stassi is now fighting to be recognized once again as the heir apparent to the catcher's role in Oakland should the A's decide to move Kurt Suzuki.
Finally healthy and back to catching everyday, Stassi is looking to put together the kind of season most expected of him when the A's signed him in 2009. Before Stockton's exhibition versus Sacramento on April 2nd, Chris Kusiolek caught up with Stassi to discuss his offseason and expectations for the upcoming schedule.
Chris Kusiolek: What was your offseason like?
Max Stassi: The spring was great. I was finally healthy for pretty much the first year in my career. It went well and like I said the main thing was staying healthy, and it went well working on my swing and of course the defense. Just getting back there behind the plate, I DH'd all of last season and it was nice to finally get back behind the plate.
CK: What was the one area of your game that you improved the most over spring training?
MS: I would say my swing. You know, getting in a good position to hit, that was the big thing I was working on. With my swing previously, I really wasn't in a position to hit at all times. That's the main thing I was working on, just improving that aspect of my game.
CK: How does it feel returning to the Ports for 2012?
MS: It's awesome being here. Stockton is a great place with great fans. It's only an hour and 15 minutes from my house and I have family coming in. A lot of guys from the East Coast don't have this luxury of having family and friends watching them every game so I'm very fortunate to return to Stockton. I just have to hit the ground running and play hard every day.
CK: What are some goals you wish to accomplish this season?
MS: Like I said previously, it's to stay healthy. As long as I'm healthy I know I can succeed. I've been having lingering injuries for the past three years so I need to stay healthy and let everything take care of itself.