Moss finding greener pastures at first
With four homers last week, 28-year-old earns AL honors
OAKLAND -- Anyone who says they saw the rise of Brandon Moss coming is kidding themselves.
Moss, named the American League Player of the Week on Monday, is still amazed at what he has accomplished since being called up by the A's on June 6: six home runs and 11 RBIs in 11 games; homers in four straight games, including two long balls in that first game during that stretch; and seizing the first-base job for Oakland after being drafted as a shortstop and rising through the Minors as an outfielder -- a position that Moss is looking like he's played for years.
Moss is the textbook case of a player who shows enough promise to make it to the big leagues, but perhaps is not equipped with enough skills to stick around. He earned his first shot when Boston called him up in 2007, and he had another when Pittsburgh traded Jason Bay for him and handed him the right-field job in '09. Neither situation worked out, and the 28-year-old entered the 2012 season almost destined to spend his career toiling in Triple-A.
After a year with Philadelphia's Triple-A team in 2011, Moss signed with Oakland, because he saw an opportunity -- in the outfield.
Unbeknownst to Moss, a bigger one would present itself at first base.
"I never thought that I would get this opportunity again. Ever," Moss said. "It was the last thing on my mind."
When opponents from Moss' past reached first base, they'd tell him how surprised they are to see him there. Moss tells them he's just as surprised as they are.
But there was one person who wasn't surprised and did see this coming -- Jeff Segars.
Segars saw what Moss was made of, what type of man he was, when he coached him for three years on the varsity team for Loganville High School, located just outside of Atlanta. The coach saw a guy who was clearly the most gifted player on the field and one who refused to be outworked.
When Segars arrived at Loganville at 6:30 a.m. every morning, he found Moss leading his teammates in running stairs and doing speed drills. He watched Moss make everyone around him better, as the shortstop/pitcher led the Red Devils to a state championship appearance in his senior year, a height that had yet to be reached at Loganville.
Since Moss graduated in 2002, Segars has won two state championships and has turned Loganville into a national powerhouse, for which the coach credits Moss -- without his contributions and his example, Segars said, the program never would have taken off. That's why, even as Moss thought he blew his only opportunity to reach his Major League dreams after hitting .236 for the Pirates in '09, Segars never questioned his former pupil.
"One thing Brandon has always done, he knows how to work, and he's a very mentally tough player," Segars said. "I just knew that he could turn it around, and he has."
Moss' burgeoning career was progressing as planned after the Red Sox drafted him in the eighth round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft. He moved up a level each season and played well in Triple-A in '07, showing enough to earn a callup by Boston. But even as things appeared to be going smoothly, Moss could sense problems below the surface.
"[I'd] go home at the end of the season and look at my wife and say, 'I have no idea how my numbers are that good,' because I felt like I struggled all season," he said.
Preoccupied with becoming an All-Star and trying to do too much, Moss struggled to develop a consistent approach. It came back to haunt him in 2009, as he proved completely unready for the Majors.
It was in mid-May 2010, with Moss struggling at Triple-A Indianapolis, when hitting coach Jeff Branson brought in film of Moss from a '05 Double-A All-Star Game. It showed Moss hitting with an open stance, something the Red Sox told him to stop doing since it wasn't a good approach for the pinch-hitting role they wanted him for.
Moss reverted to his old stance, and it immediately clicked. He knew after another Major League callup at the end of the 2010 season that he could play at the highest level, even though he had just four hits in 26 at-bats.
"The way I play now, and just trying to be what I am and do what I do, it makes the game fun," Moss said. "Before, it was literally the most stressful thing ever to go to the field, because the only thing I could think about was trying to get four hits every day, and that is so impossible to do."
Since Jason Giambi left after the 2001 season, the A's haven't been able to solve the first-base position. Scott Hatteberg was solid for the next three years, but wasn't a long-term solution. Daric Barton seemed to be the answer after he posted a solid 2010 season.
In the past 10 years, the only season an Oakland first baseman has ranked in the top 20 in the Majors in OPS was Barton's 2010 season. But Barton and Kila Ka'aihue weren't getting it done this season, leaving Moss as an intriguing candidate to replace them.
Triple-A Sacramento manager Darren Bush talked to Moss about playing first, because Bush saw that Moss' bat was good enough for the Majors. Moss had played some first while in the Red Sox organization and in winter ball in the Dominican League. He began playing there sporadically for the River Cats, and the A's decided to give him a shot.
How ironic would it be that a man who's played in the outfield his whole professional career would be the answer to Oakland's first-base woes?
"He seems to be seizing an opportunity, where once you get a little bit older in your career, you don't get too many of these," said A's manager Bob Melvin. "I knew when he came up here and knew that he was going to be the everyday first baseman that this is a time to seize the opportunity, and to this point, he has."
Moss said he'd love to stay entrenched in Oakland for a long time, but he's not ready to ponder the future -- that's what a career of missed opportunities will do. But his setbacks have also taught him to just be himself as a player, to just enjoy playing the game that is giving him joy again.
"Whether this is my first year of many with the A's or this is my last day in baseball, if that's God's plan, I'm content with that," Moss said. "Whatever his plan is for me, I'll fulfill it somehow."
Ben Estes is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.