OAKLAND—It would have been easy for center fielder James Harris to sulk when he was released by the Rays at the end of spring training 2015. Instead, he took it as the beginning of a new phase of his career.
Tampa Bay selected Harris with a supplemental first-round pick in 2011, when he was a 17-year-old at Oakland Technical High. His bat never seemed to take off in his four years in the Rays system, however. Harris topped out at low Class A and hit just .215/.291/.305 overall in 804 at-bats.
Released in late March of last year, Harris signed with the Athletics a few days later and headed for low Class A Beloit. He hit .255/.359/.377 with five homers in 86 games, doing just enough to pique Oakland’s interest.
Then a rejuvenated Harris appeared in Mesa, Ariz., this spring. From the beginning, he showed improvement.
“He came here early and took off from day one,” farm director Keith Lieppman said. “He had a lot of drills with the curveball machine, and he worked intensely on (hitting) drill after drill. By the end of spring training, his confidence was soaring.”
The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Harris got off to a big start at high Class A Stockton, maintaining a .359/.388/.489 line after three weeks.
“I put in a lot of work this offseason,” said Harris, 22. “I came in with the mindset of just wanting to compete and have fun. It’s a new team and a new situation.”
He has fit in with the A’s hitting approach, where the emphasis is selectivity and waiting for the right pitch. He took the lessons he learned last year in Beloit and spent the offseason trying to improve.
“I worked on shortening up my swing, then I did a lot of speed work,” Harris said. “I did a lot of hitting, and I’m trying to get my arm stronger.”
The A’s hope Harris develops into a top-of-the-order table setter. He swiped 14 bases last season but is an exceptional athlete and above-average runner capable of more.
• Double-A Midland third baseman Ryon Healy enjoyed a productive start to the season. He connected on three walk-off hits, including a game-winning homer.
• Stockton catcher Iolana Akau showed great improvement after being sidelined to start the season with a concussion. The Hawaii native was drafted in the 20th round in 2013.