Though their 10-game losing streak mercifully came to an end on Saturday, the A’s still sit 20 games under .500 (21-41) heading into a road series in Boston this week. It’s been a while since the A’s have been out of the playoff race this early in a season. While history shows the A’s front office will still push to put out the best roster they can to compete this season, for all intents and purposes, the 2022 season will be more about evaluating for the future than worrying about the present.
The A’s won’t rush their top prospects to the big leagues too early, but those who are major-league ready are likely to get a look. Last week, it was left-hander Jared Koenig, who made his major-league debut last Wednesday and got the start Tuesday in Boston. Joining Koenig on the A’s roster in Beantown will be utilityman Jonah Bride, who will get his first call to the big leagues, sources told The Athletic.
UPDATE: Late Monday, the A’s officially recalled Bride and optioned Kevin Smith to Triple A, according to MLB.com’s transactions page. Smith was hitting .180 with a .518 OPS in 139 at-bats this season, although he’s played well defensively at third. He was in the middle of a particularly bad stretch at the plate — hitless in his last 16 at-bats and 5 for his last 43.
For those who keep close tabs on the A’s minor-league system, Bride is a well-known name, but for much of the country, he is an unknown entity. What can we expect from the 26-year-old Oklahoma native who has risen from a 23rd-round pick into a big-leaguer in almost exactly four years’ time?
“He’s an unorthodox player,” A’s farm director Ed Sprague told The Athletic last week. “When people first see him, I don’t think they’re gonna be wild about what they see. He’s a guy that you appreciate the way he does things when you watch him every day.”
Hittin’ it where they ain’t.
— Kim C (@Cu_As) May 28, 2022
It was Bride’s blue-collar work ethic that drew the attention of A’s scout Neil Avent, who recommended the A’s select the 22-year-old senior in the 23rd round in 2018 out of South Carolina.
“He goes about his business and plays the game the right way. He shows up every day,” Avent wrote in a text message.
It didn’t take long for Bride to gain notice once he turned pro. He hit .280 with a .368 OBP in 56 games for short-season Vermont in his pro debut and immediately jumped on the A’s prospect radar. He skipped to High A in 2019 with Stockton and never looked back.
“Bride has always played above his prospect pedigree,” A’s assistant general manager Billy Owens said in an interview last season. “Very similar skillset to Kyle Farmer and Chris Gimenez in the minor leagues. Jacob Wilson is another name that I envision when it comes to accessing Jonah’s progress.”
It was Owens who had the idea late last season to ask Bride to take on catching as another defensive skill he could add to a résumé that already included third, first and second base. Coming off a season in which he had posted an .831 OPS and an even 1:1 K:BB, Bride could have shied away from that challenge. Instead, he met it head-on, working on catching bullpens before games the final few weeks of last season and reporting to the A’s fall instructional league, where he suited up with players mostly five years younger than him in order to get regular catching reps . When A’s top prospect Tyler Soderstrom had to miss the Arizona Fall League due to injury, Bride was advanced enough with his catching to take that roster spot. He held his own behind the plate while posting a .451 OBP and homering three times in 17 games for the Mesa Solar Sox. That performance earned Bride a spot on the A’s 40-man roster.
Though the A’s don’t envision Bride as an everyday catcher, he has made enough progress at that position that they wouldn’t hesitate to use him there if the need arises. But Sprague believes Bride could be an everyday player at third, second or first base, where he rates as a solid-average defender at all three spots.
As a hitter, Bride brings some unique characteristics that could help an A’s offense that has scuffled for most of the season.
In 284 career minor-league games, Bride is a .283/.388/.436 hitter, but that hardly tells the whole story of who he is at the plate. He has always had a keen eye at the plate, but it is his ability to handle velocity that makes him unique. According to Sprague, Bride led all A’s hitters (MLB and MiLB) in contact rate on fastballs in the strike zone last season, which was his first at the Double-A level. He walked and struck out 57 times in 334 Double-A at-bats last year. This season, Bride returned to Midland so he could get more regular reps behind the plate. He was even better at the plate than he was in 2021 — maintaining the 1:1 K:BB while hitting for more power (four home runs in 73 at-bats). He was called up to Triple-A Las Vegas on May 25 and was making life miserable for Pacific Coast League pitchers. In 14 games, he hit .392/.500/.549 with a homer and five doubles. According to FanGraphs, this season he has been worth 159 wRC+ (runs created per plate appearance where league and park factors are considered based on weighted on-base average; 100 is average).
He’s gonna fit in just fine 👏
Jonah Bride knocks a 2-run homer, his FIRST Triple-A HR 🔥
Aviators 5, Rainiers 2 pic.twitter.com/P6cv7hXEJn
— Las Vegas Aviators (@AviatorsLV) May 27, 2022
Sprague says Bride’s bat-to-ball skills are uniquely good.
“He’s gonna use the whole field. He’s using the whole bat,” Sprague said. “It’s gonna be a jam shot, gonna be a dribbler, it’s gonna be a barreled up ball, it’s gonna be rollover in the sixth hole, he’s gonna scoot one through the middle, it’s gonna be a flare down the right field line, it’s gonna be a double in the gaps, it’s gonna be a home run. He doesn’t really miss a lot, especially with the heater.”
Earlier this season, Midland manager Bobby Crosby said Bride’s RockHounds teammates were often in awe of Bride’s ability to make contact against even the toughest pitches.
“Guys try not to talk to him about pitching because he says, ‘Oh, the guy looks like he has good stuff.’ And then Jonah just makes it look easy,” Crosby said with a laugh. “He’s a great team guy, a great guy to have around. His hitting is on another level.”
Bride will be the 10th player to make his major-league debut with the A’s this season. According to A’s historian David Feldman, the Marlins hold the MLB record with 18 major-league debuts in one season, which was in 2020.
(Photo: Chris Bernacchi / Diamond Images via Getty Images)