In some respects, Jeff Baisley’s 2006 campaign has been a surprise. A 12th round draft choice in 2005 out of South Florida, Baisley had a decent first pro season at short-season A Vancouver, although nothing in his stat line indicated that he was on the verge of a monster season in 2006.
However, there were a few clues that Baisley had a huge campaign coming. First, his performance at South Florida during his senior season, where the right-handed hitter drove-in 77 runs in only 61 games and broke the team record for doubles with 26. Second, his MVP performance in the Oakland A’s fall Instructional League this past off-season, which had many in the organization excited about his potential.
Baisley hasn’t disappointed those in the organization who believe in his talent. Despite a slow start at the plate that saw Baisley collect only three hits in his first 24 at-bats, Baisley has recovered to be one of the Midwest League’s most prolific hitters. Through Thursday, Baisley is hitting .314 with 16 homers and 83 RBI in 350 at-bats. He has a .387 on-base percentage and a robust .534 slugging percentage. His 83 RBIs lead all of the minor leagues and his 16 homeruns put him one behind Sacramento’s Scott McClain for the A’s organizational lead.
The Florida native points to his Instructional League experience as a big part of why he has had so much success this season.
“It was great to be down there and to work even more on all of the stuff that they taught you [during the season]. I think the work we did there carried over into this season,” Baisley said.
Baisley’s career-high in homeruns before this season (college included) was eight, and no one is more surprised than Baisley himself that he has doubled that total this early in the season.
“I was never really a homerun guy in college. I always hit a lot of doubles and kind of figured that I would be like that here, too. So it’s definitely been surprising,” Baisley said.
“They made an adjustment with my hands and that seems to have made a huge difference.”
What hasn’t surprised anyone who has followed Baisley’s career is that he has taken advantage of RBI opportunities when they have been presented to him. This season, Baisley is hitting .325 with runners in scoring position and .333 with runners in scoring position and two-outs. He has also collected five hits in nine at-bats with the bases-loaded and has walked three times. If he keeps on his current pace, Baisley should eclipse the 100 RBI mark with acres of room to spare. Oakland only had one minor leaguer reach the 100-RBI plateau last season (Danny Putnam, who collected exactly 100 with the Stockton Ports).
“I drove-in a lot of runs in college, but I never really expected to drive-in so many here. I didn’t really drive-in that many in Vancouver last year, but this year we’ve had a lot of guys on in front of me,” Baisley said.
“In the early part of the season, I was struggling, trying to do too much especially [with runners on-base]. Since then, I’ve just tried to relax and concentrate on getting the job done.”
The Florida native isn’t just leading the league in offensive categories, however. He is also the Midwest League’s leading defensive third baseman with a .977 fielding percentage. In 83 games this season, Baisley has made only six errors and had turned 22 double-plays.
“I’m definitely comfortable down at third. It isn’t a new position for me or anything since I played it in college. I work pretty hard on my defense and I have a lot of fun playing [at third],” Baisley said.
Baisley has played in all but five of Kane County’s games thus far this season. He missed the Cougars’ contest on Wednesday with a sore hamstring, but he doesn’t expect to miss any additional time with the injury, which he called a minor strain. Although this is his first full season of professional baseball, he says that the daily grind of the minor league season hasn’t been a problem for him thus far.
“It has been pretty much what I expected. We played every day last year and even though that was short-season, it gave me a good idea of [the daily grind]. I played summer ball in college every year, so that definitely helped me prepare for the long minor league season,” Baisley said.
Baisley’s impressive first half of the season earned him a spot in the Midwest League All-Star game as a starter. He was also a participant in the Home Run Derby and was one of five to represent the Cougars at the game (Anthony Recker, Jason Ray, Steven Sharpe and Jared Lansford were the others).
“I had a great time. It was great to meet everybody and go out with them. The Home Run derby was a blast, as well,” Baisley said.
The A’s have drafted a number of players with baseball families over the past several years, including a handful of players whose fathers had played in the big leagues. The Baisley family is rich with baseball experience. Jeff’s father was his coach in high school and he has two brothers with minor league experience. His older brother, Brad, was the Phillies second round draft choice in 1998 and his twin brother, Brian, was a 2006 draft choice of the New York Yankees and is currently plying his trade with the Staten Island Yankees. Jeff points to his baseball heritage as being an advantage for him as he starts his professional career.
“Definitely, [having a baseball family] has helped me. I talked a lot to my brother [Brad] about his minor league experience, so I knew what to expect, what the business was like and all of that. Coming into pro ball, I wasn’t really surprised by anything,” Baisley said.
“My dad was always available to throw batting practice or for fielding practice. It was great.”
Jeff said that -- despite their busy minor league schedules -- he speaks with his twin brother, Brian, often.
“He is really enjoying [his first season as a pro]. They are touring Yankee Stadium today, so he is very excited about that. He’s a little disappointed that he isn’t playing that much yet, but he’s having a great time,” Baisley said.
Jeff and Brian were teammates at South Florida (Brian was a freshman red-shirt and stayed for a fifth year at USF while Jeff left after four years). One of the Baisley brothers’ other teammates at USF was A’s farmhand Myron Leslie. Leslie, who was a 2004 A’s draft choice, is in the middle of an outstanding season for the High-A Stockton Ports. Ironically, until recently, Leslie was one of the players blocking Baisley’s path through the A’s system. However, Oakland recently moved Leslie from third base to right-field, which will hopefully open up both players’ paths through the A’s system.
Despite Leslie’s move to right, there are still a number of obstacles blocking Baisley from a well-deserved promotion to High-A Stockton. The A’s 2003 first round choice, Brian Snyder, is also a third baseman and he was demoted to Stockton from AA in June and has been manning the hot corner for the Ports ever since. At AA and AAA, there are players putting in good seasons at the hot corner, as well, as Vasili Spanos and Scott McClain have had good offensive campaigns.
The A’s have had a history of moving prospects directly from low-A to AA, so Baisley may end up in Midland next season whether or not he makes it to Stockton in 2006. Although he would like to move up a level this year, Baisley said that he can’t let the thoughts of a promotion weigh on his mind.
“I pretty much focus on my own season and doing what I can do to succeed. I can’t go worrying about what everyone else is doing in the system. I do look up their stats on minorleaguebaseball.com sometimes, but that’s really it,” Baisley said.
“Everyone wants to move up, but I think I’m pretty much stuck [at low-A] for the rest of the season. I’m just going to work to do what I can to succeed here.”
If Baisley does stay in Kane County for the rest of the season, he could be fighting for a Midwest League championship in September. The Cougars earned a Wild Card playoff berth in the first half of the season and are currently in first place in their division in the second half with a 17-10 record. Baisley points to the team’s pitching depth and young coaching staff as two factors in the Cougars’ success this season.
“We’ve had a lot of great pitchers this season. Some of them have moved up and the guys who have come in have really held their own. It’s impressive how much pitching depth we have,” Baisley said.
“The whole coaching staff is great. They are all young guys and they do a great job of keeping us loose and having fun. I think that really helps the team out a lot.”
Baisley has also enjoyed playing at Elfstrom Stadium, the Cougars’ home ballpark. He is currently hitting .356 at home with 20 of his 27 doubles.
“The atmosphere [at Elfstrom Stadium] has been awesome. There are so many fans here that it gets you excited to play everyday,” Baisley said.
“It’s a lot easier to come out and play everyday when you are playing for a winning team. We are having a lot of fun.”