A's find Sulentic's polished bat among high school ranks
See also: Previous Short-Season Report
Pitting a high schooler against college guys in a short-season league isn’t exactly a David vs. Goliath matchup, but Vancouver Canadians outfielder Matt Sulentic is definitely playing like he’s the next giant-killer.
Sulentic was batting .333/.373/.461 with 18 RBIs in his first 26 games with the Canadians, making him one of the top hitters in the Northwest League. He had a nine-game hitting streak early in the campaign, and he was looking to start another one.
“I think he’s done a terrific job for us to date,” Canadians manager Rick Magnante said. “He’s transitioned into a very fast A-league. Our scout (Blake Davis) was correct when he told us he could hit.”
Sulentic came to the Athletics as a third-round draft pick after earning second team High School All-America honors as a senior at Hillcrest High in Dallas. He signed with the A’s for $395,000 a couple of weeks after the draft and made his professional debut on June 24. But Oakland didn’t start him in the Rookie-level Arizona League, instead opting to send him to the more advanced Northwest League.
“I haven’t run into another high school player in this league that’s playing as an everyday player, and that’s a tribute to Matt,” Magnante said.
As surprising as Sulentic’s placement in the Northwest League may be, for some it may be even more surprising that the A’s used a third-round pick on a high school player. But one look at Sulentic’s stats and polished lefthanded bat is enough to see why the organization would be interested, in spite of its usual preference for college players.
“Obviously, the bat jumps out to you with Matt,” A’s scouting director Eric Kubota said.
Sulentic won the Dallas area triple crown this spring with an eye-popping .676 batting average, 19 home runs and 58 RBIs. That came after he hit .504 in 2005, good enough for second place in the Dallas area.
While in high school, Sulentic demonstrated his power to hit to all fields, and he has continued to show that power in the minors even though he’s playing in a pitcher’s park at Vancover. He had two home runs and seven doubles in his first 102 at-bats.
His success demonstrates how easily he’s adjusted from amateur ball to the pros. “He’s kind of an old soul,” Magnante said. “He hasn’t been in awe of anything that’s challenged him.”Old-Fashioned Hard Work
Sulentic said working out at the Dallas Baseball Academy of Texas, a training facility, helped him perfect his batting skills.
“It was huge, absolutely huge,” he said. “Outside of my dad, it most helped me be the player I’ve become. The whole facility is tremendous. I’ve worked on my hitting there several times a week since I was 14.”
Still, Sulentic wasn’t a huge name on the Texas baseball scene coming into his senior season. He played at a small high school and didn’t work the showcase circuit as much as other players. But his strong bat helped him catch the attention of many scouts by the time the draft rolled around.
The A’s and Sulentic say it was the work of Davis, the area scout who recognized his potential earlier than most, that helped the team sign him. Kubota praised Davis for his commitment to building a relationship with Sulentic, as did the outfielder himself.
“I had a really good relationship with him,” Sulentic said. “He went to a bunch of my games, and he would contact me once or twice a week throughout the spring.”
Sulentic said while other scouts were in contact with him and got to know him well, Davis was one of the scouts he got to know the best.
Kubota said the scouting work the organization did on Sulentic represents the A’s commitment to finding the best available talent, regardless of whether the players are in high school or college. He said the team worried someone else might jump up and grab Sulentic before they had the opportunity to pick him in the third round.
“We were pleasantly surprised he was there,” he said. “We hoped he would get to us.”Focusing On Moving Up
Sulentic said he just works hard every day to improve his game, and that his main adjustments have been with his mental approach against a higher level of competition rather than anything with his swing or other aspects of his game.
“The transition’s been good,” he said. “I haven’t had too many hard times. My teammates and coaches have been supportive. The people here are very helpful. I have a good host family, and that’s made the transition easier.”
While Sulentic is off to a great start, Kubota said the outfielder will likely stay with the Canadians for the rest of the season and get more experience. He said there aren’t many obvious issues the A’s need to address with Sulentic.
“Right now, it doesn’t seem like there are a lot of glaring weaknesses,” he said.
Coming into the draft, scouts noted Sulentic’s size (5-foot-10, 180 pounds) as his main drawback, but he has hit so well that those concerns are nonexistent right now. Magnante said the focus in Vancouver is just on polishing his abilities.
“With regards to his hitting, he’s taken to it like a duck to water,” he said. “We’re working on his baserunning and defense to make him more complete in his game.”
Sulentic had a chance to play in college, as he had signed with Texas A&M last fall. But he instead snatched the opportunity to fulfill his professional dream.
“Playing pro baseball has been a dream of mine since I was knee high,” he said. “It wasn’t an incredibly difficult decision. It was really exciting to go pro.
“I’m very positive about the Oakland A’s organization, and I’m excited to continue to work toward the goal of getting to the big leagues.”
Magnante said that goal looks like a definite possibility.
“I think Matt Sulentic made the right choice to decide to sign right after high school,” he said.
The A’s are feeling like they made the right choice as well.
NEW YORK (PENN) STATE OF MIND
• Righthander Pedro Beato, who surprised many teams when he didn’t sign as a draft-and-follow with the Mets after being their 17th-round pick in 2005, made his first professional start with Aberdeen on July 17, going five innings and giving up three unearned runs and three hits. He signed with the Orioles for $1 million after they made him the 32nd overall pick in June. He had been with the club for a couple of weeks and made several appearances before his first start, he had a 6.10 ERA in his first 10 innings of work.
Another Aberdeen pitcher was having more success. Jeffrey Moore, a 17th-round pick in 2005, was 4-0 with a 0.48 ERA--the lowest in the New York-Penn League. He had surrendered 19 hits and two walks in 38 innings, with 27 strikeouts. Last season at Rookie-level Bluefield, he went 1-2, 2.08 in 43 innings.
• Catcher Brandon Snyder opened the season at low Class A Delmarva but was moved down to Aberdeen after dislocating his shoulder by swinging a bat earlier in the season. Snyder, the 13th overall pick in the 2005 draft, played 38 games with the Shorebirds, hitting just .194, and missed more than a month of action. Since returning to the field with the IronBirds, he was hitting .269.
• The way righthander Jonathan Hovis was performing in relief for the Staten Island Yankees might remind a few of the Jay-Z line, “Who you know fresher than Hov? Riddle me that.” Hovis, who helped North Carolina to a runner-up finish in the College World Series and had an NCAA Division-I best 1.17 ERA, had not allowed an earned run in his first nine professional innings and had struck out seven. NORTH BY NORTHWEST
• Salem-Keizer Volcanoes pitcher Adam Cowart may have just been a 35th-round draft pick out of Kansas State, but he was dominating Northwest League hitters. He was 5-0 after his first six starts and led the league in ERA at 0.53. In 34 innings he had allowed 16 hits and three walks, while fanning 17. In his most recent start against Yakima, he threw seven innings of three-hit ball and gave up one earned run.
• Jermaine Mitchell was showing he’s always ready to play center field--and be a heavy bat in the Vancouver Canadians lineup. The 6-foot, 200-pound lefthanded hitter was on an 18-game hitting streak, and many of those performances were multi-hit games as well. Mitchell, a fifth-round pick out of UNC Greensboro, was batting .363/.463/.431 overall.
• Greg Halman is one of 13 players from seven different foreign countries on the Everett AquaSox roster this season, and he’s proving to be an intriguing prospect. An 18-year-old out of the Netherlands who was originally signed by the Twins, he had a 12-game hitting streak to push his batting average up to .268, and he also had five home runs.APPALACHIAN TRAILS
• Elizabethton manager Ray Smith won his 500th career game July 13 as the Twins rallied late to win 6-5 against the Kingsport Mets. Smith is in his 20th season with Elizabethton, his 13th as manager. He signed with the Twins as nondrafted free agent catcher in 1977 and played with the organization for seven seasons, including 83 games with Minnesota from 1981-83.
• Astros shortstop Ronald Ramirez is slugging his way to an excellent season. The 6-foot Colombia native was batting .405/.462/.631with the Greeneville Astros--all three of which were among the league leaders--and won league player of the week honors after going 12-for-21 in one five-game stretch.PIONEER SPIRIT
• Idaho Falls righthander Tyler Chambliss, who led the Atlantic Coast Conference with 12 wins for Florida State this spring, made his pro debut on the Fourth of July with four hitless innings against Orem Owlz. An 11th-round pick of the Royals in June, he had been less successful in his subsequent outings and was 0-1, 4.09 with nine strikeouts and four walks in 11 innings overall.
• Rockies righthander Sandy Nin made his first of three rehab starts with Casper against Great Falls, going three innings and allowing two unearned runs on two hits. Nin pitched just 32 innings in six games with Triple-A Colorado Springs this season before going on the disabled list with an elbow injury in May.
• Outfielder Chris Heisey was putting up spectacular numbers with Billings Mustangs, batting .385/.449/.521 to put himself among the league leaders in most offensive categories. Heisey was a 17th-round pick of the Reds in June out of Messiah (Pa.) College, where he won the Commonwealth Conference player of the year after batting .428. He holds the school’s record for single season and career home runs as well as single season hits and total bases. COMPLEX ISSUES
• Kyle Drabek, the Phillies’ first-round pick after a standout prep career for national champion The Woodlands (Texas) High, was roughed up in his one-inning professional debut. He faced eight batters and gave up four hits and three earned runs, walking one and striking out one against the GCL Tigers. Drabek is the son of 1990 National League Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek.
• Righthander Brad Lincoln also made his professional debut in the GCL with the Pirates, going four innings, striking out four and giving up three hits. He wasn’t in the league long, however, moving up to low Class A Hickory after not allowing an earned run in eight innings and giving up six hits with one walk and nine strikeouts. Lincoln was the fourth overall pick in June out of the University of Houston, where he was a star two-way player.
• While many of the high-profile international signings from this summer won’t make their debuts until 2007, the Padres were getting returns from one of their top Dominican acquisitions signed over the winter. Third baseman Felix Carrasco showed one of the best bats in the Rookie-level Arizona League, hitting safely in his first 15 games and 17 of 19 overall. Carrasco, 19, was batting .349/.406/.558 with three home runs. International scouting director Randy Smith says Carrasco has above-average power from the left side with good agility in his 6-foot-1, 220-pound frame. Contributing: John Manuel.Compiled by Kristin Pratt