A's rookie Sweeney proving himself

A's rookie Sweeney proving himself

OAKLAND -- Unless you've always been a burner or a big-time bomber, chances are that if you've made it to the big leagues, you've batted third in the lineup for most of your life.

That's certainly been the case for A's outfielder Ryan Sweeney, who's been the best all-around hitter -- that's the bottom line when it comes to batting in the No. 3 spot with most clubs -- for virtually every pre-Majors team on which he's played.

And while you don't see many 23-year-old rookies batting third in the big leagues, of course, Sweeney on Monday got his fifth start of the season in that spot for the opener of a three-game series against the visiting Royals at McAfee Coliseum.

"It's kind of funny -- the first month I was batting seven-eight-nine," Sweeney said. "But I guess they decided I'm ready for it. It's really not that big of a deal for me, though. Hitting's hitting. It doesn't change my approach."

Sweeney, in fact, has batted ninth in Oakland's lineup more often (16 times) than he's batted anywhere else but second (18). The A's generally try to minimize the pressure on their young studs by starting them off in the bottom third of the order early in their careers, but Sweeney has been a steady climber -- in part because of Oakland's injury problems, but also as a result of his consistency.

Entering the Royals series, he was leading the team with a .308 batting average, and his .360 on-base percentage was second behind Jack Cust's .371 among regulars.

"I always knew if I was given a chance, I could be this kind of player," said Sweeney, who was acquired in the offseason trade that sent Nick Swisher to the White Sox. "I just never got the chance at this level."

He's getting plenty of chances with the rebuilding A's, who view him as a top- or middle-of-the-order mainstay for years to come.

"I could see him in a lot of different spots in the order," manager Bob Geren said.

Sweeney hasn't shown a ton of power with Oakland, having gone deep three times through Sunday, but his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame suggests that he could be a late bloomer in that regard.

"This isn't the greatest park in the world to be a home run hitter in, anyway, but it's not like I'm weak," he said. "Sometimes I'll go up there trying to hit the ball up the middle and I end up pulling one off the wall. ... That's not really a big part of my game, but I'm still learning, too."

Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.