The Jason Denham File
Born: May 1, 1986 in Walnut Creek, CA
Acquired: 13th-round draft pick in 2004 from Walnut Creek (CA) HS.
Strengths: Good speed in field and on bases (65-of-86 in career steals). Has shown progress last two seasons.
Weaknesses: Has cut down strikeouts, now needs to boost walks and drive ball with more authority. Becoming a better bunter could add several points to average, on-base percentage.
2009 Projection: Kinston's centerfielder.
2008 & MINOR-LEAGUE CAREER
BONUS COVERAGE: This story is reprinted from the October 2007 issue of Indians Ink Magazine.
No Change Of Heart
Jason Denham Remains True To A's Despite Ties To Tribe
By FRANK DERRY
Jason Denham is nothing if not honest. Despite the fact his brother, Daniel, was a first-round draft choice of the Indians six years ago, Jason never switched allegiances. He remained loyal to his Oakland Athletics.
Nor did Jason's opinion change even after he was picked in the 13th round by Cleveland in 2004.
"I'm an Oakland A's fan and always will be," said the Northern California native who was born in Walnut Creek and now resides during the off-season in Antioch, both of which are in A's territory.
Despite playing the majority of his 2007 games for Lake County, located only 20 miles east of downtown Cleveland, Denham has never made the short trip west to see the Captains' parent club play this year. And he has no plans to do so in the foreseeable future.
"The only time I've ever been to Jacobs Field was when my brother signed his contract," said Jason, a 6-0, 170-pound outfielder who bats and throws left-handed. "I'm not really a big fan. I like them, but I have to stick with my home team."
Jason had a family tie to the A's for about six weeks. The Indians traded his brother to Oakland earlier this year. The Athletics sent him to the Class AA Midland RockHounds, then the Class A Stockton Ports, where he went a combined 1-1 with a 6.10 ERA in relief before being dealt to Cincinnati on July 13. The Reds sent Daniel to Class A Sarasota.
Jason says Daniel has been "the biggest influence" on his own career. Thus, Jason was excited that the Indians decided to draft him, creating the potential for the brothers to one day play together.
Asked his reaction to his brother being dealt away, Jason said, "It sucked, but that's baseball. You can't be together all of the time. Hopefully, in the future, we can play together somewhere."
Right now, Jason needs to concentrate on his own career, which received a major boost last season when he hit a solid .302 while playing 53 games at short-season Mahoning Valley.
It was the first time he had shown any life offensively. It also was he first time in his pro career that he wasn't going against players much older.
When Jason signed right out of Deer Valley High School, the only option the Indians had was to send him to short-season Burlington of the Appalachian League. Most of the teams Burlington played against were stocked with college players, or guys who had already been playing pro ball for one or two years.
The Indians have since eliminated Burlington and added a team in the Gulf Coast League, which is ideal for high school draftees.
Cleveland didn't field the GCL club until 2006, which was too late to do Denham any good. And he paid the price.
In 38 games in 2004, he hit just .144 with no home runs and four RBI. He struck out 40 times in 104 at-bats.
"That definitely hurt my confidence," Denham said. "It's tough to go straight from high school into pro ball."
Things didn't get much better his second year when he fell just below the Mendoza Line, hitting .197 in 46 games at Burlington. He did up his RBI total to 13 but still fanned 43 times in just 147 at-bats.
The turn-around for Denham followed the '05 season when he was invited to participate in the team's instructional league. "I went to the instructional league and after that I started doing really well," he said. "Things started taking off from there."
After a short stint at Lake County to begin the '06 season, Denham joined short-season Mahoning Valley and finally began to show signs of life offensively. Not only did hit for a .300-plus average, he also cut down his strikeout total to 34 in 215 at-bats while stealing a career-best six bases.
Once again he had the confidence which has always been a big part of his game. In reality, he might have been a bit over-confident.
Lake County hitting coach Jim Rickon had heard about Denham's solid season at Mahoning Valley last year, but had never gotten a chance to see him up close until this past spring.
"In spring training, he was trying to do too much," Rickon said.
That probably was the reason he remained in extended spring training, where he stayed until the Captains had an injury that opened a roster spot for Denham. He saw his first action with Lake County on April 20.
"When he got called up, he had cut his swing down and had become a pretty good contact hitter," Rickon said.
He has progressed enough to where he is batting leadoff for the Captains on a regular basis. "As a leadoff guy he constantly puts up good at-bats," Rickon said. "He makes contact with the ball and finds a way to get on base, plus he can run a little bit."
Through mid-season, he was hitting a solid .275 with a .364 on-base percentage. He also had started showing some power for the first time in his career. After going his first three years of pro ball without a home run, Denham already had six by mid-July.
He definitely enjoys his role as leadoff man. "I've been batting leadoff my whole life," he said. "I feel most comfortable there. I'm definitely not a power hitter. I just want to get on base and let the other guys drive me in."
He has been playing center field much of the time, but also has taken his turns in left and right.
"Jason is improving in the outfield, too," Rickon said. "He's starting to take better routes to the ball and he's a pretty smart outfielder. He's definitely doing what he needs to do to improve."
Denham says he has learned to take things one day at a time. "Whatever happens, happens," he said. "I like being here. It's awesome. The Indians have a great organization and they treat you very well. Playing baseball for a living sure beats having an 8-to-5 job."
And if he continues to improve the way he has over the past year, he might one day find himself making a return trip to Jacobs Field. Only this time it won't be to watch his older brother sign a contract. It'll be to make contact as an outfielder for the Cleveland Indians.
Denham finished the 2007 season with career highs in just about every category, including homers (7), doubles (11), triples (3), runs (76), RBI (43) and stolen bases (29). Moved up to Kinston in '08, he made great strides in cutting down his strikeouts and hopes to continue that progress this year.