Oakland Athletics: Mark Canha is the best Rule 5 selection in team history

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 24: Mark Canha #20 of the Oakland Athletics celebrates after hitting a solo home run in the bottom of the second inning against the San Francisco Giants at Ring Central Coliseum on August 24, 2019 in Oakland, California. Teams are wearing special color schemed uniforms with players choosing nicknames to display for Players' Weekend. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 24: Mark Canha #20 of the Oakland Athletics celebrates after hitting a solo home run in the bottom of the second inning against the San Francisco Giants at Ring Central Coliseum on August 24, 2019 in Oakland, California. Teams are wearing special color schemed uniforms with players choosing nicknames to display for Players' Weekend. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

The Oakland Athletics have remained in the hunt for a Wild Card berth thanks to a player who had been humbly stowed away in the Miami Marlins organization. Now, he hits in the heart of the order of a playoff team.

Amidst a season where the injury bug has snuck its way into the Coliseum, there has been one constant presence that has consistently kept the Oakland Athletics afloat.

His name is Mark Canha.

Heading into the season, there was speculation that Canha would have a difficult time finding his way into lineups on a regular basis, more likely serving as a platoon or bench bat.

But thanks to opportunities arising from injuries to the likes of Stephen Piscotty, Matt Olson, and Ramon Laureano as well as a drop-off in production from slugger Khris Davis, Canha has placed himself firmly in the middle of the order.

In just 94 games this season, Mark Canha has put up a higher WAR than he had in his previous four seasons combined.

He has already shattered his home run record on the season with 22 long balls — three of which came this past weekend — and he’s poised to set career marks in almost every statistical category there is.

Without anyone really realizing, Canha has supplied more than just an undeniable bravado that has fueled the Oakland clubhouse. He’s done more than get under the skin of opposing pitchers with his bat flip antics.

He’s offered consistency.

No matter the role being asked of him — slotting in at any of the outfield spots, covering first base duties for perennial gold glove winner Matt Olson, or filling in at DH — Canha has put together increasingly impressive outings.

As the A’s remain in the thick of a competitive playoff race, Canha has brought out his absolute best. Since the All-Star break, Canha is hitting .324 with 10 home runs, 24 RBI, and an OPS over 1.000.

To put that into perspective, those are almost identical statistics to National League MVP Christian Yelich.

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Not impressed? Through this weekend’s series, Mark Canha’s wRC+ of 149 — a metric quantifying total offensive value by measure of runs created — is the highest seasonal wRC+ for an Oakland Athletics player since Jason Giambi’s peak 2001 season.

In layman’s terms, that’s pretty good.

Canha has been a regular on an Oakland Athletics roster that has historically been prone to some turnover, but that isn’t by mistake. He comes from humble beginnings in his professional career and has long been the exact prototype that the A’s are always looking for.

Before his major league debut in 2015, Canha was being hidden away in the Miami Marlins’ farm system.

He had spent five seasons spanning across six leagues in an effort to finally get the call, but he couldn’t find his way through a then-stacked Marlins outfield of Marcell Ozuna, Giancarlo Stanton, and the aforementioned Yelich.

Not even selected to the 40-man roster, Canha became eligible for the 2014 Rule 5 Draft — a secondary draft of professional baseball players put in place to prevent teams from stockpiling talent in minor league systems.

Canha would be selected second overall by the Colorado Rockies before being traded to the Oakland Athletics.

While the specifics of the Rule 5 Draft can be somewhat confusing, it can be simplified as a draft where all teams are given an opportunity to pick up non-rostered players who have spent significant time in the minors.

Draft order is determined by record and teams are allowed to pass on draft selections if their 40-man roster is already filled.

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The caveat for drafting teams is that each draft selection costs $100,000, as well as a guarantee that the drafted player be placed on the team’s 25-man roster for the entirety of their first season with the new club.

If the player does not stay on the major league roster for the whole season, they must be offered back to their original club at half the price ($50,000) they originally went for.

This can be a challenge for major league clubs. Canha had a respectable first season with the A’s, hitting .254 with 16 home runs, but other teams have had very mixed results during this growing period.

The Baltimore Orioles, for example, selected Richie Martin from the Athletics organization this season. Martin, once considered a decent prospect, has been one of the worst players in baseball this season by several metrics.

But because the Orioles are confined by the terms of the Rule 5 Draft, they continue to keep him on the roster.

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Of course, Canha has a long way to go if he looks to embed himself into the annals of the greatest Rule 5 selections ever. Roberto Clemente, in a predecessor to the modern Rule 5 Draft, was selected from the Los Angeles Dodgers system by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Still, the Athletics have struck gold in a player that continues to check every box on their unofficial checklist: versatile, consistent, doubles power, patience at the plate, and so on. If anything, those aspects have only become more apparent in this year’s breakout season.

When he was originally drafted, the expectation was that Canha would likely serve as a platoon bat either at one of the corner infield or outfield spots.

Canha voiced his discomfort with not getting consistent at-bats and showed that he may even be a reverse-splits hitter, meaning he hits better against righties than lefties.

Jumping forward to this season, he continues to expand his game and develop an ability to translate his athleticism into a serviceable ability to patrol center field — which has been crucial in the absence of A’s slugger Ramon Laureano.

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Most impressively this season, Canha has completely honed his plate discipline. He sports a 13.4% walk percentage, which is almost double his career-best and ranks in the top 7% of the league.

His weighted on-base average has also been extremely impressive. The statistic is meant to go beyond simply accounting for how often a player gets on and, instead, give more credit to extra-base hits. Canha’s .388 wOBA sits within the top 9% of the league.

These impressive numbers have placed him firmly in the middle of the batting order, consistently having him hit fourth or fifth. This undoubtedly has been a huge lift in the absence of Khris Davis, who continues to search for any success at the plate.

With Laureano likely returning in the next week or so, there had previously been questions about how the lineup would shift around to make room. But it seems almost certain that Canha remaining in the lineup will be a priority.

He’ll likely receive the bulk of corner outfield time while Stephen Piscotty nurses his ankle injury and may even get some at-bats at DH if the lineup calls for it. But he will surely remain in the middle of the order, hitting behind Matt Olson or Matt Chapman to provide some consistent pop.

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With so many questions revolving around who will step up during this final stretch of a race for a postseason berth, the Oakland Athletics have needed to lean on names that they might not have expected to lean on at the beginning of the season.

But you can expect Mark Canha to be ready and willing to answer the call.