Mark Payton took the whole Aviators thing pretty seriously on Saturday night.
The A's prospect put three balls in flight for Triple-A Las Vegas and all three touched down on the other side of the outfield wall. The three-homer outburst, which helped the Aviators overpower Salt Lake, 13-9, at Las Vegas Ballpark, was the club's second hat trick this season. Seth Brown also pulled off the feat on April 15.
Gameday box score
The Aviators outfield rotation had Payton on the bench the first two games following the Triple-A All-Star break, so he wanted to slow everything down in what were his first real at-bats in nearly a week.
"I was just focusing on the ball more than anything else tonight," he said. "I made my swing a little bit shorter and got some good pitches to hit."
Payton's first two roundtrippers came against starter Jaime Barria. In the second inning, he blasted a two-run shot off the right-hander out to right field. His fifth-inning homer also plated two runs but sailed to center.
The 27-year-old led off the eighth against righty Jose Rodriguez with another dinger to right, matching his homer total from the last 10 games. He finished the night 3-for-4 with five RBIs, flying out to center in the third.
Video: Aviators' Payton's third dinger
"In my first at-bat, I was able to elevate a ball pull-side with backspin," Payton said. "My swing was in the right spot. By the third one, just as the day went on, I felt my at-bats just get stronger. Kind of like sometimes with pitchers that go those complete games. As the game goes on, they feel more and more locked in."
The University of Texas product has launched 13 homers in his first season with the A's, who took him in the Minor League phase of the Rule 5 Draft last December. He played five Minor League seasons in the Yankees organization after being selected in the seventh round of the 2014 Draft but had never hit more than 10 big flies in any of them.
Payton's newfound success hasn't been limited to the long ball; his .320. average and .989 OPS are both career highs. A concerted effort to keep his bat in the zone for as long as possible has contributed to the increased production.
Does the idea that better numbers might have him closer to the Majors than ever before enter his mind?
"Always," Payton said. "That's been the goal since the day I signed and obviously the dream every kid has when they decide they want to be a baseball player… The more you're in the systems, you kind of understand what you have to do to get an opportunity. To get looked at, sometimes it's the right time, the right place.
2019 Minor League milestones
"And sometimes you just gotta outplay somebody."
No other Aviator homered thrice, but Las Vegas piled on 16 hits. A's No. 9 prospect Sheldon Neuse notched three of them, a solo homer and a pair of doubles. No. 29 prospect Jonah Heim singled and is batting .408 through 71 Pacific Coast League at-bats. Corban Joseph went deep and drove in four runs.
Angels No. 18 prospect Jared Walsh went 4-for-5 with two doubles and two RBIs for the Bees, while 25th-ranked Brennon Lund contributed two hits and scored twice.