In 2012, the Oakland A's spent their first two draft picks on high school shortstops. While first pick Addison Russell may get most of the national attention, second pick Daniel Robertson is very well regarded within the A's organization and by scouts from around baseball.
Through Wednesday, Robertson had a .275/.367/.420 line with three homers, 10 doubles and a 16:18 BB:K in 31 games.
Last season, the Southern California native spent his first full professional campaign with Low-A Beloit. Despite missing the first three weeks of the regular season finishing his rehab from an off-season knee surgery, Robertson still appeared in 101 games for the Snappers. He hit .277/.353/.401 and was one of the top defensive shortstops in the Midwest League. He was named an MiLB.com Organizational All-Star after the season and came into this year as our pick for the A's number three prospect.
Healthy this spring, Robertson took full advantage of his time in Phoenix, getting an extended look in big league camp. He appeared in 17 major league spring training games, starting a handful and collecting 23 at-bats. At the end of camp, he was assigned to High-A Stockton.
Robertson got off to a fast start for the Ports, batting .307/.407/.446 with two homers and a 14:12 BB:K during the month of April. Robertson fell into a slump during the start of May, but he broke a two-for-25 slide on Wednesday night with a three-for-five effort against Visalia. He homered and doubled in the game and raised his average to .275. Robertson also stole his first base of the season.
We spoke with Robertson on Sunday about his strong start to the 2014 season, his experience in big league camp and more…
OaklandClubhouse: After dealing with the knee injury during the last off-season and last spring, how important was it for you to have a full and healthy spring training this year?
Daniel Robertson: Going back to my first spring training, I came in with the knee issue, having to have it cleaned up during the off-season, so the A's organization just wanted to be cautious and make sure that everything was healthy and good to go. They took me slow during the spring. In the long-run, I think that was better for me and for my career.
Definitely coming into my second full spring, it was awesome being healthy and being out there everyday and getting some at-bats under my belt. Of course, getting to play on the big league side didn't hurt either. That was a great experience. A lot of fun. I felt like I was in a good grove during spring training and then I came out here and got the season going in a good way.
"[Big league camp] was just an unbelievable experience...It kind of got my feet wet and put it into my head that, 'hey, I can do this. I can do what those guys are doing up there.'"
OC: You were almost a regular in big league camp by the end of spring and you even got a few starts under your belt. What was that entire experience like for you?
DR: If I could put it into words, it was just awesome. It was a blessing to have that opportunity. Coming into camp, I didn't have any idea any of that stuff was going to happen. Like I said, when I first got there, I would fill in during the later innings. Then I kept going back, kept going back and then I got a start here and there. It was just an unbelievable experience. Something I will always remember. It kind of got my feet wet and put it into my head that, ‘hey, I can do this. I can do what those guys are doing up there.' It was awesome.
OC: Was the speed of the game different, especially during those early innings where you might be facing an established major league pitcher?
DR: I think so, a little bit. It speeds up a little bit, but it is what you prepare yourself for. It was nothing too drastic and nothing that I wasn't able to handle. The first time I was out there, I was a little nervous, I'm not going to lie, but after I got a few innings under my belt, it was just like we were out there playing baseball.
OC: How is it being in California this year near friends and family? I know you have had a few roadtrips down to Southern California already. Is it a nice change with the weather and everything else from the Midwest League last year?
DR: Of course, weather-wise and being here in California is not bad at all. [laughs] Like you said, it's good to be home. We went down to Inland Empire a few weeks ago and it was wonderful. All of my friends and family came out. A number of them hadn't seen me play since high school. Maybe a few of my friends had come out to spring training here and there, but I had a lot of people come out and see me play for the first time since I was drafted. It's really cool to be in California playing. It's great because my mom gets to come up and watch. It's easy for her instead of trying to fly out to the Midwest. Just a lot of stuff like that. It's really awesome.
OC: A group of you guys who played together in Beloit are teammates again this year with Stockton. How much easier did it make the transition to High-A having friends and teammates around?
DR: It even extends to our coaching staff with [manager] Ryan [Christenson] up here and Was [John Wasdin], our pitching guy. This is our first year with Mac [Brian McArn], our hitting guy, but [the continuity] has made our transition smooth. I feel like everyone is on the same page that we were with Beloit. We had a winning tradition over there and we are trying to bring that [to Stockton]. We are off to a little bit of a slow start, but I'm not worried about this team. We will get it going. It's mainly the same group of guys here. Great teammates and a great group of guys to have around. It's fun and I am looking forward to getting the rest of the season going.
OC: You have an impressive walk-to-strike-out ratio this year and you have been batting out of the leadoff spot a lot. Does your mindset change at all when you are batting leadoff as opposed to three or four?
DR: A little bit. I am a patient hitter as it is. I have changed my approach a little bit to be more patient. When I got moved to that leadoff spot, I liked it because I had been seeing a lot of pitches and I had been drawing my walks. It kind of gives me a boost to my mindset to say ‘hey, I'm leading off this game. Let me do anything I can to get on-base, whether that is walk, or get a hit or hit the ball hard and force an error.' I like it because I have been having those solid at-bats, trying to get on-base and let the guys behind me to do their work to bring me in.
OC: You had a really good August finishing off the season with Beloit last year. Did that give you confidence going into the off-season?
DR: It did. I think last year for my first full season as a professional, I thought it went really well, but to have that was great. You are grinding throughout the season and to finish strong like that really motivates you going into the off-season. Going into spring training, it gives you a little energy under your feet. I'd say it did give me confidence. Now I'm just out here looking to help the team win and keep going and having fun.
OC: You have played mostly shortstop since turning pro. I know you played a lot of third base in high school. How comfortable do you feel at short?
DR: I played third base all the way up to my senior year of high school, but I feel comfortable anywhere on the infield – third, short, second. But right now at short, I feel like I can play there for a long time. Going left or right, I don't feel like there is a ball I can't get to. I feel really good there. I have put in a lot of good work with Juan [Navarette], our infield coordinator, and we have really gone over the fundamentals, staying with my routine, my rhythm and getting that work in, day-in and day-out. From my first day coming in as a pro until now, it is drastic how much I have changed as an infielder in general. I'm happy to see the work that I have put in making an appearance on the field. I feel really comfortable there.