OAKLAND — When Matt Olson arrived in the Coliseum clubhouse at the outset of the Oakland A’s homestand on Tuesday, the first baseman found himself surrounded by a sea of familiar faces — and not just because he’d made five cameos earlier in the season.
The 47th pick in the 2012 draft, Olson is the latest in a parade of young A’s to make his way to Oakland.
“It’s so cool because every day we walk in here since the trade deadline, it’s like more and more of our guys start showing up,” explained rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell, whose locker is one stall down from Olson’s.
“More of this youth movement shows up — like the Olsons, the [Chad] Pinders, the [Ryon] Healys,” Maxwell continued. “We’ve all been together since High-A Stockton.”
Like Olson, Maxwell was a 2012 selection — taken 15 picks after the 23-year-old infielder. And like so many young A’s who now populate the roster, they were both part of the 2015 Texas League-winning Double-A Midland RockHounds.
That roster featured nine players who have appeared with the A’s this season: Olson, Maxwell, Healy, Pinder, Jaycob Brugman, Ryan Dull, Sean Manaea, Zach Neal and Bobby Wahl.
Renato Nuñez, who briefly played for the A’s last September, was also on the team.
Rookie third baseman Matt Chapman starred for the 2016 RockHounds, the third consecutive title-winning squad.
What Maxwell remembers most about the 2015 iteration of the RockHounds was the summer surge.
“We went [.500] the first half,” Maxwell recalled. “Either we pitched a good game and couldn’t score any runs or we pitched like shit and we scored like 10 runs and still lost.”
After a 35-35 opening half, the RockHounds crushed the South Division with a 48-22 record down the stretch.
As Maxwell put it, Midland destroyed the playoffs, sweeping the Royals’ affiliate in the finals.
“That was huge,” Maxwell said. “It was amazing to see how when all of us were going well, how much fun baseball can be.”
It’s not just the players who have matriculated through the system.
Ryan Christenson managed the young core at Low-A Beloit, High-A Stockton and Double-A Midland and is now at the helm for Triple-A Nashville.
Former minor league coaches Darren Bush, Scott Emerson, Garvin Alston and Steve Scarsone have all graduated to Melvin’s big league staff and even bullpen catcher Philip Pohl was a member of the 2015 championship squad.
“It’s kind of a nice scenario where that many good players and really good staff members are all kind of combining in the big leagues,” said Keith Lieppman, the longtime director of player development. “It’s almost a perfect scenario, a perfect storm.”
Lieppman, who has responsibilities in assignment, development and evaluation of minor leaguers, has a long history with the A’s. He’s been in his current post for 26 seasons — with the club for 46.
“From my experience, watching the A’s for a number of years in the ’70s, with the good clubs in the ’70s, [they had] a core group. The World Series team in the ’80s kind of had a core group of [Mark] McGwire, [Jose] Canseco and [Walt] Weiss and some other additions from outside.”
Whether it’s the dynastic A’s of the past or current powerhouses like the Chicago Cubs or the Houston Astros, the most successful franchises build from within.
“Those are the organizations that are accomplishing great things right now with clubs that have been developed through the minor-league system,” Lieppman said. “And that model is kind of where we started back in [the 2012 draft].”
The energy of that new group can’t be missed in the clubhouse. It’s loose. It’s fun.
“Our team is young and I feel like the vibe is there because a lot of our core group of guys are that group that have been together for at least a couple of seasons now,” Maxwell said. “And we feed off each other. It’s comfortable.”
Marcus Semien, 26, and Khris Davis, 29, bridge the gap to the true veterans — at least on the position player side — in Rajai Davis, Matt Joyce and Jed Lowrie. The old guys are alright too. Maxwell called them “super cool,” willing to goof off with the kids.
“They could easily just be like, ‘Fuck. My whole team’s full of rookies. Like, I’m just going to be to myself and not help anybody,’” Maxwell added. “But these guys are super inviting.”
The vets provide the leadership. The young crew of A’s are the new anchor.
“It’s a good feeling,” Maxwell said. “It makes it a little easier to come to the ballpark everyday, it makes it a little easier to get through the struggles that we’re going through right now — both individually and team-wise.”
“When we get everything figured out, man, we’ll be a fun team to watch.”