Relaxation Keys Breakout For A's Crocker

PHOENIXSometimes, a ballplayer can just try too hard.

From the time Bobby Crocker signed with the Athletics after being their fourth-round pick in 2011 out of Cal Poly, he worked so hard and played with such intensity that he often lost the looseness needed to thrive on the baseball field.

"He was a very intense player that never really freed up to let his muscles to react, to be free and easy as a hitter," farm director Keith Lieppman said. "He sometimes got locked into his swing and didn't react to the late movement (of the pitch)."

That started changing at instructional league last year. "He learned to breathe, to react and trust his swing," Lieppman said. "He made huge adjustments; I think that's one of the hardest adjustments a hitter has to make."

The A's will be most excited to see how the newly relaxed Crocker thrives this year. At 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, he is big, strong and fast, with a good feel for defense in the outfield. He plays center effectively, but probably profiles best in left because his arm grades out as average. Crocker hit .268/.347/.369 with 109 strikeouts and 39 walks in 406 at-bats with low Class A Burlington last season.

Crocker viewed instructs as "an awesome opportunity."

"I basically just worked on my mentality at the plate," he said. "I figured out that doing less is more. It was pretty hard for me to make that adjustment; it was hard to realize that my style of play was getting in the way of my approach at the plate."

Crocker, 25, said he learned to try not to think too much in the batter's box; to relax and focus on the pitch and not let his mind go astray. "I'm trying to keep my mind simple and take a consistent path to the ball every time."

The Cal Poly alum has also learned not to let one mistake compound into another. "I would have a bad at-bat, then I would go up and try harder to make up for it, and that's when I would get into trouble."

Lieppman said hitting coach Todd Steverson saw the problems and helped with the changes. "He (Crocker) made that adjustment and learned to take it into games. It's a remarkable change, and it's so hard, especially for intense people. He has a newfound freedom."

A's Acorns

• Outfielder Michael Taylor started working out at first base, in what he hopes will provide another opportunity. Lieppman said that coach Greg Sparks made the suggestion in January, and Taylor enthusiastically agreed.

• Outfielder Shane Peterson was the talk of the early weeks of spring training. He had a breakthrough year in 2012, reaching Triple-A, and he appeared to be putting himself in position for a callup should a need arise, Lieppman said.