A's Powell plans to expand repertoire
Rookie catcher looking for other ways to get into lineup
OAKLAND -- A's rookie catcher Landon Powell got his 28th start of the season behind the plate on Thursday, and he knows his number of starts won't dramatically increase in 2010 barring an injury to ironman Kurt Suzuki.He knows that Suzuki, who turns 26 on the last day of the season (Oct. 4), is on pace to lead American League catchers in starts -- he's at 125 -- and is one of the best all-around backstops in the game, ranking second in the AL in assists (63) and on pace to become the second catcher in club history to lead the A's in RBIs. In short, Powell knows that if he wants to get regular playing time, it'll likely have to come with another team or at another position. And given his production in limited playing time, his contact status and his injury history, Powell probably won't be on the move anytime soon.
His 29 RBIs in the first 45 games of his career are the second-most in club history, behind Ben Grieve's 33 from 1997-98, and only six Oakland rookies have hit more than Powell's seven homers in their first 45 career games; five of them came in his 12 games prior to Thursday.
He's under club control through 2014 and not eligible for arbitration until after '11.
Having missed a ton of time with various knee injuries -- he's had two left ACL reconstructions -- since being Oakland's No. 1 pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, Powell, 27, might be a tough sell in trade talks. He also has a rare condition called autoimmune hepatitis that prompts his immune system to attack his liver cells and will require daily medication for life.So Oakland it is, and the A's are happy to have him. But playing on a regular basis is what makes Powell -- a freshly minted father -- happy professionally, so he's changing his offseason priorities. If Powell is going to be a lineup regular in 2010, it's going to be at first base or at designated hitter. "I'm going to be taking a lot of grounders at first base, and I'm going to focus more on the offensive side of things," he said before the finale of a four-game series against the Rangers at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. "I've always put catching first, and I'll still pay attention to it because you never know what could happen in this game, but I want to get out there and help the team any way I can, and if Kurt's healthy, obviously I'm going to have to find a way to do that at another spot." Powell has made four appearances at first base, including four starts. That's a crowded house, though, because the A's are loaded with potential starting first baseman -- from Daric Barton on the current big league roster to top prospects Sean Doolittle and Chris Carter. Oakland manager Bob Geren said he hasn't seen enough of Powell at first base to make any substantial evaluations, noting only that there's plenty of room for improvement, but he conceded that Powell is an option there and at DH. Those knees might not be able to sustain regular time on the field, anyway. "It's possible," Geren said of Powell being less of a backup catcher and more of lineup regular. "It depends on how the team shapes up. But he swings the bat well when he gets a chance, sure." Powell said he was rarely used as a DH in the Minors because he was always catching, but he's certainly open to the idea. "It'd be an adjustment, because as a catcher you're so involved in the game, tracking pitches," he said. "When you're a DH, the ball just seems like the pitch is right on you in that first at-bat. But it's something I'd definitely love to do if that's what it takes to get out there and help out."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.