Doolittle converts to pitcher hoping to make A’s
PHOENIX (AP) – Sean Doolittle is looking to his past to help shape his future.
The Oakland Athletics made him a first-round draft pick as a first baseman in 2007 but two knee injuries and a wrist problem conspired against his development. So the left-hander has returned to his pitching roots, hoping it will eventually land him a job in the major leagues.
Doolittle was initially drafted out of high school by the Atlanta Braves as a pitcher but attended the University of Virginia instead, where he was used in both roles.
He said then-Braves scout J.J. Picollo, now an assistant GM with the Kansas City Royals, and current Athletics director of player development Keith Lieppman were instrumental in helping guide his career choices.
“J.J. was pretty influential in getting me some exposure,” said Doolittle, who faced major league hitters Thursday for the first time in an intrasquad game. “He asked me to play for a Braves scout team and we had some games in northern Virginia. I had put the word out that I wanted to go to college.”
He signed with the Cavaliers, who had a new coaching staff at the time. Picollo reminded him, though, if things didn’t work out there was always the Braves.
He recorded 243 strikeouts in 220 1-3 innings in a three-year career at Virginia. Doolittle, who had a career 2.23 ERA, was the Cavaliers’ all-time winning pitcher with 22 victories (against seven losses) when he left in 2007.
Doolittle also hit .300 or better in all three years at Virginia, leading the team with 11 home runs in 2005 and 53 RBIs in 2007. He had 22 homers and 167 RBIs overall and ranks second on the school’s all-time walks list with 125.
“The A’s saw more upside with my bat,” Doolittle said. “But they also had an insurance policy because it’s a little easier to go back to pitching.”
Once he started playing professionally, he neglected even long toss.
When his wrist failed to make progress last summer, Doolittle became frustrated. He couldn’t swing a bat and he couldn’t sit still.
Lieppman told him to start a throwing program just to keep him busy and that led to Doolittle seeking permission to resume his pitching career.
“I made the switch the last week of August,” Doolittle said. “By the time I was ready to pitch, there was only one game left in the rookie league and they told me I could pitch in it. That’s my only game experience.”
A’s manager Bob Melvin said he saw Doolittle throw once before camp. “He has the tools to be a pitcher,” Melvin said. “The ball explodes out of his hand. He has a great arm … and he’s left-handed, which is good.”
The A’s have had some success in converting position players into pitchers. Matt Keough was a failed infielder in 1976 but became an All-Star pitcher with the A’s in 1978.
Outfielder Marcus McBeth, a 2001 draft pick, played four years with the A’s before he made the change. He rose rapidly through the minor league system as a closer but was traded to the Cincinnati Reds, where he made his major league debut in 2007.
“I want to show that I am a reliable left-handed pitcher out of the bullpen,” Doolittle said. “I will come in, throw strikes and challenge hitters. I know I have a lot to learn, especially with the management of a game.”
He’s also a different pitcher than when he used a big, twisting windup at Virginia. He’s more compact and can throw harder.
“It was easier than I thought it would be,” Doolittle said. “It’s easier to repeat the windup and I’ve added size and strength, which has also helped. My fastball and change-up came back pretty quickly. My slider is still a work in progress.”
Just like his position change.