A's Draft Review: Q&A With Eric Kubota

It was a brave new world for MLB scouting directors during the 2012 draft. With a new collective bargaining agreement instituting a draft pool for each team and other new draft rules, the top-10 rounds of the draft had a very different look. We caught-up with Oakland A's Scouting Director Eric Kubota to discuss his thoughts on the A's 2012 draft class and how the new rules impacted the draft.

For a complete list of the Oakland A's 2012 draft class, click here.

OaklandClubhouse: Congratulations on getting through the draft again this year.

Eric Kubota: [laughing] Yes, it's nice to come out the other side.

OC: It had been a few years since you had extra picks on day one of the draft. Did it change your preparation at all or was it more of a case of you having a chance at more of the names at the top of your list?

EK: I think we went at it the same way we always have. I think that just looking back at maybe our own experiences and some other clubs' experiences, sometimes when you change things up, it hasn't always worked out for the best. It's better just to stick with how you do it and let the chips fall where they fall.

OC: Every year when we talk the topic of going with high school players early versus college players comes up. This year you finally had a chance to prove that you didn't have any innate bias versus high school players.

EK: I told you. [laughing]

OC: Was that a reflection of this class, that there was a lot more depth amongst the high school talent?

EK: Yeah. For sure. It is what the draft had to offer. Those were really just the best players available where we picked. I know it sounds clichéd, but it's true. It's just the way the draft fell.

OC: I get a sense that all three of your day one picks [Addison Russell, Daniel Robertson and Matt Olson] are close to signing. Do you anticipate having them in for the bulk of the short-season?

EK: Yes. We are still working on details for all three of those guys, but we feel very confident that we can get things worked out in the short-term rather than the long-term.

OC: Has that changed a lot? It seems like teams are really getting out these signings a lot earlier than normal. Obviously the deadline has been moved up, but these are being announced well in advance of the deadline. Have you noticed more players being eager to sign more quickly under the new CBA rules?

EK: Yes. There is probably a little more clarity and a little more framework as to what the numbers will be [for every pick slot in the first 10 rounds]. You probably have a better idea going in as to whether a player is going to sign at that number or not. Then you make your decision. There are really no games to be played, for the most part.

OC: Was that the biggest change that you saw from the new CBA this year, that there was this clarity?

EK: That was one of them. There was also the fact that some teams – based on who they took early [in the draft] – really had to change probably who they wanted to draft in the back half of the top-10 rounds.

OC: A lot more college senior-type picks in those spots?

EK: Yeah. I think you can see that teams were making a conscious effort to try to save money based on knowing that they were going to need extra money to sign the guys they took higher.

OC: It seemed just from reviewing what you guys did, it didn't appear to me that you were following that path of taking guys in the later top-10 rounds to save money for your higher round picks. Were you able to draft straight off of your board, for the most part?

EK: Pretty much. We certainly felt that way. We actually felt that there was an opportunity to still be taking high school guys or college juniors when other clubs were focusing on seniors.

OC: Getting to some of the specific players, starting with Addison Russell. What drew you to him with the first pick and is there a player that you think he compares to most closely?

EK: The first thing that jumps out at you is his athleticism. He is just a tremendous athlete who has a chance to really do everything. We think he will hit and have power. He can run. We think he has a chance to be a very good defender. He has plenty of arm strength. He is really fun to watch based on his on-field demeanor, as well. He really plays the game with a joyful intensity. He's a joy to watch and scout.

As far as big league player [comps], a few guys have compared him to Barry Larkin, somebody like that.

OC: Do you see Russell as a shortstop? I know some see him more as a third baseman.

EK: Yeah, we definitely see him as a shortstop.

OC: What about Daniel Robertson? He moved around the infield a bit in high school and really only became a full-time shortstop his junior year. Do you see him staying at short or moving to second or third?

EK: I think long-term he probably ends up going over to third base. I think we'll see how it winds up this summer. Probably down-the-road we envision him as a third baseman.

OC: Robertson is from Southern California and as an organization you guys have dipped into that market quite a bit over the years. Do you feel like the level of competition at the high school level there gives you a better sense of how they will be able to adjust at the professional level?

EK: I think probably more than anything nowadays, it's just the proximity and the fact that we can see them so much. The competition level can vary. It certainly helps that the guys in Southern Cal play in a lot of fall competitions. But nowadays kids across the country are playing against better competition whether it is in the summer or the fall, so it's probably less of a factor now. I think as much as anything, it's proximity in a lot of cases. You can see them a lot and they do play a lot of baseball [in Southern California].

OC: Do you see Robertson adding homerun power?

EK: For sure, for sure. Last summer we saw him more as a power guy than as a pure hitting guy. His approach to hitting since then is much improved this spring and we know that the power is still in there, as well.

OC: Your next two picks – Matt Olson and Bruce Maxwell – profile as more of your classic power guys right?

EK: Yeah. With Olson, I think the power is probably down-the-road. He's high school guy with a big frame, but he's young and he has physical maturation left to do. He's got more of a really pure, classic line-drive stroke right now. We think he will come into power, but what we really liked about him is his ability to hit and the projection of the body and the power that we think he'll get to down-the-road.

OC: Do you think he has the athleticism to move to the outfield or do you think he stays at first base?

EK: Potentially. We are really looking at him as a first baseman right now, but he is a pretty good athlete and he probably could move to the outfield at some point if necessary. He's played some third base as well.

OC: Maxwell wasn't a guy I had heard about before the draft, but in talking with our national writer, it seems like Maxwell was generating a lot of buzz right before the draft. When did he land on your radar?

EK: Our scout, Kelcey Mucker, saw him pretty early and really liked him. That was probably February or early March. We had some scouts get in there early to watch him. At the same time, his numbers were starting to show up because they were so spectacular. So those were very noticeable. We probably ran a few more scouts in there based on that. The nice thing was that everything the scouts saw and liked about Bruce was backed up with the numbers.

OC: Defensively, he's obviously relatively new to catching. Did you see things with his defense that you liked as well?

EK: Yeah. We think he has the physical necessities to be a catcher. He can really throw and he's got enough athleticism. We think with professional instruction, he's got a chance to be a very good catcher.

OC: Nolan Sanburn was the first pitcher you took in the draft. He's been mostly a reliever with Arkansas but he obviously has a very good arm. Do you see him being stretched out as a starter at all in the pros?

EK: We actually do. We've seen him start and relieve this year. I know that he has only made a few starts this year, but we were lucky enough to be there for those starts. He's got the mix to do it. He obviously throws hard. He's got an above-average curveball and the makings of an above-average change-up. So he's got enough starter mix. We think he can stretch out and develop into a fine starter.

OC: Do you see him having some similarities to Blake Treinen from last year's draft, who made that transition from hard-throwing reliever to starter this year?

EK: Yeah. I think that is fair to say.

OC: Seems like you took a lot of hard throwers this year. Nearly every pitcher you took in the top 10 rounds, especially the right-handers, seemed like they were 93+. Were there just a lot more hard throwers for you to choose from?

EK: To a certain degree, you may be seeing a little more velocity. In certain cases, that may not be a good thing because guys are throwing to the gun. I think there was a lot of velocity out there for us. Maybe it had to do with the fact that a lot of these teams had to take college seniors so there were just more guys that we had a chance to get. We were really happy with that group of pitchers we were able to get from that round six-to-10 range.

OC: This year you wound up with a lot more right-handed pitchers than left-handed pitchers. Do you ever take that into consideration when putting together a class or is it always take the best pitcher available regardless of handedness?

EK: We go with really who we think are the best pitching prospects [at each pick], regardless of whether they are right-handed or left-handed. We don't really focus on which arm they throw with.

OC: Your third-round pick, Kyle Twomey, seems like might be the most difficult player amongst your top-10 round picks to sign because he was projected to go a little bit higher in the draft. Do you anticipate being able to come to terms with him?

EK: I hope so. It's going to take a little time, I think. But we definitely believe that Kyle wants to play professional baseball and we'll just see what we can work out as the summer goes on.

OC: Is he someone who you think will add velocity as he grows into his 6'3'' frame?

EK: Yeah. I think there is certainly a belief that if he does develop physically, he will throw harder. At the same time, we think he throws hard enough to be very effective now. So it's not like we are depending on that although we think there is a chance that that might happen.

OC: Does he have a good feel for command at this point?

EK: Command. Very good command of his fastball and a very good change-up.

OC: B.J. Boyd [fourth-round pick] was obviously someone that you were able to see a lot of given that he is from Palo Alto. Is he a raw prospect given the time he spent on the football field?

EK: I would say that he is a little rough around the edges, but he is a very explosive athlete with strength and speed. He does a lot of things really well on the baseball field already. I wouldn't say that he is raw, but there are some rough edges that need to be smoothed out.

OC: As a hitter, do you see him more as a lead-off type or could he slot more towards the middle of the line-up?

EK: I think that is a good question. He certainly has the speed and athleticism to hit at the top of the order. But he also has the strength so that he could end up developing some power down-the-road. One scout in our room compared him to Carl Crawford a little bit.

OC: You had another football player in the top-10 rounds in Cody Kurz [seventh-round pick]. I don't think I've ever seen a former defensive end/linebacker drafted as a pitcher before. What is his story exactly?

EK: He's a guy who had those few Division I football offers but decided that his heart was on the baseball field. He hasn't thrown a ton of innings yet in his life. We've seen him up to 95 with a very good slider. We see him as a big upside pick. Athletic, strong, throws two plus-pitches now. Just a great pile of clay for our player development people to mold.

OC: Do you think he's a guy that you'll take your time with given his lack of experience on the mound?

EK: Yeah. Every guy has his own development arc. Those things will work themselves out over time.

OC: Where do you see [fifth-round pick] Max Muncy fitting in as a professional?

EK: The thing we really like about Max the most is his bat. He just looks like a hitter. We've seen a lot of him from when he was a freshman [at Baylor] and out to Cape Cod the past two summers. He's always hit for us. We think there is power in there. It's just a matter of pitch selection to get to his power more than anything else. He is athletic around the bag. He's just one of those classic left-handed hitting first-basemen. Maybe down-the-road a Sean Casey type.

OC: Is he someone who you anticipate signing quickly once he's done with all of his commitments to this year's Baylor squad?

EK: Yeah. I think he is on his way home [from the College World Series regionals] and I think he had some stuff to take care of, but we feel confident that he will sign shortly.

OC: The draft was only 40 rounds this year, but if players were being drafted who are more likely to sign than perhaps in past years when guys were taken in the later rounds who were almost certainly going to college, is there a danger in a team signing more players from the class than the organization realistically has spots for?

EK: No, I don't think so. I think that as long as you are conscious of what you are doing and you pay attention to the numbers, what you end up doing in the draft is that you take a few guys later in the draft as back-up just in case there are guys earlier in the draft who don't sign.

OC: Do you like this new system thus far or is it too early to tell?

EK: I think it is too early to tell. The one thing I will say is that it is nice that we are able to get so many more of these players out playing a lot quicker. That's certainly a positive.

OC: Getting back to your top-10 round picks: Seth Streich, Kris Hall and Dakota Bacus are all hard-throwing right-handers. Do you see them as potential starters?

EK: Definitely. We thought they were starters in professional baseball.

OC: I haven't seen too many players drafted in the higher rounds from UCSB over the years. Did [10th-round pick] Brett Vertigan pop up on your radar close to the draft?

EK: Not really. He's a guy who we've seen quite a bit of over the years. We've had some guys in there to see him. Some cross-checkers got in there later and really liked his style of game.

OC: Johnny Caputo [12th-round pick] was the Canadian player who was most recently at the IMG Baseball Academy, I believe. How does it work to scout players in the academy?

EK: I don't know the exact schooling situation. From what I knew, he didn't actually play for the IMG Baseball Academy. He may have been down there working out. He has been playing for the Canadian Junior National team and things like that. The school system is a little bit different up there in terms of when the graduate and at what age. He's a guy that we really scouted with the Canadian Junior National team more than anything.

OC: From what I read, he was really the leader of that team. Do you think that international experience is something that is going to help him out?

EK: Yeah, I definitely think that it will. When we scout those guys, a lot of times we are seeing them in the spring when they go down to Florida during extended spring training to play against pros. That gives them a leg up on knowing what type of competition they are going to be facing when they sign and play professional baseball.

OC: When you look back at this year's first round, did it go the way you were projecting it or did the first pick really change the tenor of the draft?

EK: It's hard to say. This is such a hard job and it's so difficult to try to predict the future with these players that I think the best you can do is sit back and give everybody a few years to see what happens.

For a complete listing of our 2012 MLB Draft coverage, click here.

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