When two-way players convert to either pitching or hitting full-time, the growth in their skills sometimes accelerates beyond the normal speed of other prospects’ development.
Sean Doolittle, a lefthanded pitcher and first baseman while in at Virginia, ranked 91st on Baseball America’s Top 200 prospects heading into the 2007 draft. The Athletics, however, believed in Doolittle’s potential to provide enough production as a first baseman or a corner outfielder that they drafted him in the supplemental first round with the 41st overall pick.
Doolittle added strength to his frame in the offseason, had an impressive instructional league and is beginning to show flashes of why the A’s spent their second pick in the draft on him. Through 86 games with Stockton in the high Class A California League, Doolittle hit .305/.385/.560 with 18 home runs, 25 doubles and three triples.
Doolittle hasn’t torn it up with Double-A Midland at quite the same pace. He is hitting just .230/.278/.365 in 74 at-bats, but at 21 he’s still one of the Texas League’s youngest players.
"I think my learning curve offensively has really taken off because I can get all my reps as a hitter now and not have to split my practice time between pitching and hitting I think has really helped me out," Doolittle said. "Don’t get me wrong, I loved pitching at school, but it got crazy sometimes having to come from class to practice, I’d have to come early so I could get all my pitching stuff done and then almost go through another practice again as a hitter. So it got crazy some times, but I’m really enjoying just being able to focus on hitting."
Some scouts questioned Doolittle’s power potential coming out of college, but his patient approach and strike-zone discipline drew praise. Since turning pro, Doolittle has taken a more aggressive approach, which might explain some of his extra power as well as his 99 strikeouts in 377 plate appearances with Stockton, a strikeout in 26 percent of his trips to the plate. But the A’s feel confident that Doolittle will regress to the more disciplined approach he showed in college, while remaining the aggressiveness within the strike zone that he has shown as a pro.
"When I was in instructs, we were really focusing on incorporating my lower body into my swing, and I think that’s where some of this power has come from a little bit," Doolittle said. "The hips, getting my back leg towards my front leg, getting my lower half through the zone, that’s helped me stay through the ball and create a little bit more backspin so I get a little bit more carry."
Despite his early success, Doolittle has enough self-awareness to recognize what he needs to do to make himself a better player.
"I’ve got to stop striking out I guess," Doolittle said with a laugh. "I guess that’s one thing, but I think that’s coming. It’s a little bit of a byproduct of the more aggressive approach I’ve been taking. I feel like when I was in school I was a little bit more selective of everything. Now I’m really going up there trying to drive the ball and do some damage. Maybe I’m fouling off a pitch here and there early in the count and I’m falling behind and stuff. It’s not something that I’m really worried about, but right now if I had to say there’s an adjustment offensively, that would be probably the biggest thing."