OAKLAND—When the new church started up in Aaron Shipman's hometown of Quitman, Ga., there was no music for the choir. So he taught himself to play keyboard to provide backing for the congregation.
And Shipman just keeps learning.
The Athletics' third-round pick last year made serious noise at instructional league, drawing attention for his advanced level of play at the age of 18. A center fielder, he showed both the tools and acumen to make the A's believe he could have a bright future.
"He's physically very athletic and an above-average runner," farm director Keith Lieppman said. "He had good training from his coaches. He came in with a good idea about how to steal bases, (and) he's adapted quickly to the pro game."
Shipman learned from father and coach Robert at Brooks County High, where he finished with a 3.6 GPA and earned admission to Mercer. Shipman said he anguished over his decision to sign with the A's, stringing out his choice to the Aug. 16 deadline before signing for a $500,000 bonus.
"I'm a big believer in school," Shipman said. "I like the challenge of school. I wanted to prove that I can be a student."
Baseball won out in the end, and the A's are glad he made that decision. Perhaps the biggest shock for Oakland was that the lefty hitter and thrower lasted until the 95th pick. Player personnel director Billy Owens crosschecked him, and he liked what he saw.
"He possesses a wiry, strong, sinewy, muscled, lithe build," Owens said. "His top-flight speed and strong arm immediately stood out. He showed his baseball IQ is top notch, and he has the work ethic to succeed."
Owens noted that Shipman may have been difficult to scout because he did not attend as many showcases as other prospects, and he played for a local travel team rather than driving two hours to Atlanta to play against more highly regarded competition. He's also a patient hitter, content to take walks when begin pitched around.
The A's were delighted that Owens and area scout Matt Ranson made the call.
• The A's installed Phil Mastro as the organization's first-ever certified trainer at the Dominican Republic complex. Mastro, who served in the same capacity at Oakland's complex in Arizona last year, will oversee the strength and conditioning programs.
• The A's released righthander Kyle Christensen, a 15th-round pick in 2006 who impressed before injuries knocked him out for all of 2008. He pitched in just five games in full-season ball in five years.