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Nunez, Olson hold promise of power in a not-distant future

Matt Olson  (Getty Images)

Matt Olson (Getty Images)

Much has been made about the A’s offense needing to find ways other than home runs to score because the power that has marked Oakland teams of the recent past isn’t in evidence this time around.

That may be true, although Josh Reddick (32 in 2012), Ike Davis (32 in 2012 for the Mets), Billy Butler (29 for the Royals, also in 2012) and Josh Phegley (26 last year, 23 of those in the minor leagues with the White Sox) have at least the promise of the long ball.

What seems clear is that the A’s power shortage may be a short-term thing. Last year at Class-A Stockton, first baseman Matt Olson hit 37 homers and third baseman Renato Nunez hit 29.

   That production earned them spots in the A’s spring training camp, and their early batting practice performances suggest those numbers are no flukes. Manager Bob Melvin repeatedly has marveled at the way the ball flies off the bats of the two men.

Nunez is a 20-year-old out of Venezuela, signed when he was 16 with four years of minor league ball on his resume, the last three of them in the U.S. It took him a couple of years to find his power, but he hit 19 in 2013 before making the jump to 29 last year.

Olson, also 20, was the club’s first-round draft pick out of Lilbrun, Ga., struggled in his first year of adjusting to life as a pro, but came back in 2013 with 23 homers, then pushed it to 37 last time around.

Both men seem to be on the fast track to the big league, although for the moment they are simply relishing being in big league camp.

“I was playing winter ball in Venezuela when they called to say I was being put on the 40-man roster,’’ Nunez said Wednesday morning. “It was a surprise, a good one. I just feel good being here, around these guys, learning some things.’’

Apparently he doesn’t need to learn to hit the ball high and deep. The first time he took BP in front of manager Bob Melvin, Nunez hit the scoreboard twice and cleared the scoreboard two more times.

“I want to make a good impression my first time here,’’ Nunez said. “I’m feeling good. I’m just doing my job. I need to show them what I have.’’

The same is basically true for Olson, ranked as the No. 3 prospect by Baseball America in the organization behind a pair of shortstops, Daniel Robertson and Franklin Barreto, before Robertson was traded to Tampa Bay in the Ben Zobrist deal.

“I’m just getting my feet wet here, soaking up as much learning as I can while I’m here,’’ Olson said. “I always knew I had a year like last year in me, and I s glad to see it come out.’’

Olson and Nunez, like most rookies, listen more than they talk. And Olson, whose locker in Hohokam Stadium is just a few feet from that of veteran second baseman Zobrist, said keeping his ears open is working.

“I was just sitting here when somebody was talking to Zobrist the other day, asking him about hitting,’’ he said. “I just sat here for 10 minutes and listened to his thoughts about hitting. And I could pick and choose which of those worked for me.’’

Melvin has marveled not just at Olson’s power, but in his ability to hit the ball out to center and left field in addition to pulling the ball to right.

“He’s got a good swing,’’ the manager said. “He’s a guy now who isn’t trying to just pull, not trying to do too much. It looks like he has a lot of carry to his ball. It’s impressive.’’

It may be that neither makes it to the big leagues this year. It would be something of a surprise if either one did. But if the same kind of power is in evidence this time around, it won’t be long before these two are Oakland bound.

John Hickey

A longtime baseball writer three years into in his second go-round covering to the Oakland A's beat after a dozen years covering the Seattle Mariners. Covered the A's through the late 1980s and 1990s.

  • EckersleyRivera

    It really bothers me seeing Brandon Nimmo on all these “Top 100 prospect” lists ahead of Matt Olson, who is younger, also a first-rounder and has a better track record in the minors than him.

    John, can you explain why Olson is so underrated???

    (It also plays well into that comment about A’s brass not caring about prospect ranking)