Oakland Athletics’ Prospect Matt Olson Could Be Big Part of A’s Future


Matt Olson is the Oakland Athletics’ number-two overall prospect, and for good reason. The 21-year-old outfielder/first baseman managed to overcome some early season struggles and become the outstanding hitter the organizating expected, finishing the season with a .249/.388/.438 line. Olson also smashed 17 home runs and knocked in 75 runs, in a park that is notoriously hard to hit for power in.

The 2015 season marked Olson’s third full year with the A’s, after being drafted in the first round of the 2012 draft. He has steadily advanced through the system, and even spent some time in the Arizona Fall League last year – where he posted a 1.120 OPS in 11 games, after hitting four home runs and walking in 10 of his 46 plate appearances.

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Olson certainly has shown that kind of power and patience in 2015 as well. His 105 walks were the second highest total among Double-A players, trailing only teammate Colin Walsh. He also scored 82 runs, which was fourth overall, and he was tied for third with 37 doubles. That doesn’t even take into account his home run total – tied for fourth-most in the Texas League – or his third-ranked RBI count. Olson has been one of the best players not just in Texas, but in the entire Double-A level.

One noticeable change in Olson’s game this year was his strikeout rate. In his first two years of pro ball, Olson struck out closer to 25 percent of the time. Last season, he dropped that to 21.6 percent. In 2015, that number jumped back up to nearly 24 percent. While it still shows signs of improvement, Olson must continue to work at cutting down on his strikeouts and becoming less of a three-true-outcome hitter.

There are two slightly troubling statistics, but both can be explained by his move to the Texas League.

First, Olson experienced a major increase on his batting average on balls in play. That number last season was .287, indicating that an average amount of the balls he put into play went for hits rather than outs. This season, that number jumped up to .311. That means that Olson got at least a little bit lucky with some of his hits, but given his low batting average, it also means that a higher percentage of his outs came via the strikeout, which is normal considering the increasingly difficult pitching he faced this year compared to last season.

The other statistic that can be largely accounted for by his promotion to Double-A Midland is his significant drop in isolated slugging percentage. ISO is used to demonstrate the difference between slugging percentage and batting average – in other words, telling us how much extra-base power a batter has. Last year, Olson’s ISO was .281, and he has never had a season below .200 before. With Midland, his ISO dropped to just .189 – indicating that his ratio of singles to extra base hits was far greater this year than it has been at any other point in his career.

As previously stated, Midland is notorious for being a pitchers’ park due to the stadium design. It’s fairly difficult to hit home runs in the Texas League, but Olson still powered 17 balls out of the park, which should negate any concerns about his drop in power. He’ll have to contend with Oakland’s homer-unfriendly environment when he reaches the majors, so this should be good practice.

Next season, Olson will likely move on to Triple-A Nashville, where he will have the opportunity to play in a park much more conducive to his hitting style. As a player drafted out of high school rather than college, he’s on a fairly steady timeline in terms of development, and he’s done an excellent job of keeping up with his promotions so far. In fact, the first half of this season was the first time he’s truly struggled since he signed with the A’s organization.

Could Athletics’ fans see Olson in September of next year? It seems highly unlikely, and it would take a stellar season with the Nashville Sounds to even warrant that consideration. But Olson has impressed at every level, so it’s impossible to rule out the possibility that the A’s best overall position prospect might see some major league playing time on an expanded roster next season. If not, look for him to make an impact on the major league team in 2017.

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