Kevin Merrell was drafted by the Oakland Athletics with the 33rd overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft. He is currently manning shortstop for the Vermont Lake Monsters, the A’s short-season affiliate in the New York-Penn League. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Merrell during a visit to Centennial Field.
After a stand out career at Steinbrenner High School, in Lutz, Florida, that included State All-Star and letter man honors, Merrell took his talents to the University of South Florida. He put together an impressive junior campaign at USF, hitting to the tune of a .384 average, which led the American Athletic Conference. His performance at shortstop not only earned him an AAC first-team selection, but placed him in the conversation as a possible early round 2017 Major League Baseball Draft pick.
At USF he played multiple positions until he settled in at shortstop this past season. He also displayed exceptional speed and tremendous hand-eye coordination. Merrell hopes to play the game like Ben Zobrist, who he respects on and off the field.
“The main reason that I like Zobrist is more off the field, his faith and stuff. I model him on the field as well, in the aspect of his versatility. He can play everywhere. I feel I can do the same. He’s a fun player that plays the game the right way. I respect him.”
Widely expected to come off the board in the first few rounds, the Athletics chose Merrell with the 33rd pick of the MLB Draft and with it came a new lifestyle and expectations. Being an early draft choice can cause many young players to place extra pressure on themselves, but Merrell kept things simple.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel any pressure. We’re human, you’re going to feel a little bit of pressure. At the end of the day, it’s baseball. I’ve been playing baseball since I was five years old. When you start thinking about other things, you’re not going to play well. Keeping it simple. Going out and having fun.”
On the field play and preparation are just two parts of being a professional baseball player. Another part of the equation is off of the field and getting used to the lifestyle. For Merrell, that meant leaving Florida, where he was born, grew up and went to school, for Vermont and making adjustments to playing in the NYPL.
“It’s been all kinds of adjustments. Being away from home. I’m from Tampa, went to school in Tampa. I’ve never been to Vermont before. Especially this far from home, so that’s been an adjustment. It’s different. I knew it was going to be different. Being around a whole bunch of new guys. I’m really fortunate there’s a lot of awesome guys on the team. That’s made it easy. Everyone gets along.”
The Lake Monsters are off to Stedler division leading 23-17 record. Being on a winning team out of the gate has been a fun experience for Merrell.
“It has been great. It’s been a lot of fun. We want to win a ring. That would be sweet to win a NY-Penn ring. That’s our goal.”