Dustin Fowler Adjusts To Life As Leadoff Batter

There is a job opening in Oakland. For Dustin Fowler to earn it, he must make a big adjustment in his game.

The multi-tooled center fielder must learn quickly how to become a leadoff hitter, a job he rarely held while developing in the Yankees system.

The 23-year-old Fowler came to the Athletics last July along with shortstop Jorge Mateo and righthander James Kaprielian in the the trade that sent ace Sonny Gray to New York. Gray helped the Yankees reach the American League Championship Series. Fowler and Co. will try to help the A’s claw back into contention.

“I’ve hit second pretty much most of my career,” said Fowler, an 18th-round pick in 2013 out of high school in Georgia. “I’ve led off occasionally, but my job was mostly to hit second with the Yankees.”

The A’s enter 2018 with a load of young talent that they are trying to meld into a team. The one glaring absence is a leadoff hitter, and Oakland’s top two options for center field—Fowler or Boog Powell—likely will fill that role.

Perhaps the largest obstacle Fowler faces is making a full recovery from season-ending surgery on his right knee. He ruptured his patellar tendon last June in his lone major league game when he crashed into a wall in Chicago. He said everything is proceeding well. “There’s been no negative feedback or setbacks so far,” he said.

The lefthanded-hitting Fowler certainly has some of the ingredients needed to bat first, including feel to hit and plus speed. Last year at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre he batted .293/.329/.542 with 13 home runs and 13 stolen bases in 70 games. He is a career .282 hitter who has stolen as many as 30 bases in a season.

“I’m not scared of (batting leadoff),” Fowler said. “I think I’ll have to start taking a (few) more pitches and kind of form into that leadoff role. Wherever they want me, I’m not going to complain.”

Fowler gets good reads in center field and has both the speed and arm strength to excel defensively. Whether he wins the Opening Day job or not, he is expected to be a big part of Oakland’s future.

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