2011 Oakland A's Draft Q&A: Eric Kubota

With the 2011 MLB Draft in the books, the Oakland A's amateur scouting department is concentrating on signing the A's 2011 picks, while also starting their work on the 2012 draft. We caught-up with A's Scouting Director Eric Kubota before he left on another scouting trip to learn more about the A's most recent draft class.

OaklandClubhouse: Congratulations on finishing another draft. It must feel nice to be done the week or so after the draft is over.

Eric Kubota: It will feel nicer when we get some of these guys signed.

OC: How is it going trying to sign those who haven't come to terms yet?

EK: It's moving slowly. Obviously Sonny [Gray, the A's first round pick] is still playing so there's nothing that can be done there. Our third-rounder, B.A. Vollmuth, I think it is just a situation where it is going to take a little bit of time, which we kind of anticipated a little bit. Some of these other guys, in a lot of cases expectations were a little bit higher than where they went, so they just have to get their heads around where they got drafted and what kind of money corresponds with where they got drafted.

OC: You talked about Sonny Gray on the press conference after Day One of the draft. Watching him pitch in the College World Series and compete without his best stuff, is that competitiveness similar to Tim Hudson?

EK: I think there are certainly some similarities there. I think Sonny shares with Tim that underdog mentality. They were always smaller. They've always had to battle and they've always had to prove to people that they can do what they can do, so I think that they share that. I think both of them will never give up. They will fight you to the last breath, really.

OC: You said during the press conference that you saw him as a starter. Are his feel for pitching and his command what separates him from a pitcher of similar size and stuff who would be more of a relief track?

EK: Yeah, I think he's got a track record as a starter, first off, so you can hang your hat on that. He's got great stuff, so he doesn't need to be Greg Maddux. We think his command has improved and has continued to improve. I don't think he'll ever be known as a command guy, but his stuff and his competitive nature and his command all add up to a very good pitcher.

OC: What about Vollmuth? I heard a lot about his power. Is that the number one asset that he brings to the table?

EK: Yeah, I think he's certainly a profile third base prospect. He's definitely got power. He's got defensive ability. He has played shortstop a great majority of his career. We've seen him at third and we anticipate that the transition to third will be seamless and that he is going to be a very good defender with power potential.

OC: He moved around a little bit defensively this season. Was that because they were trying to find the right spot for him or was it more of a team-need thing?

EK: No, he had some injury issues that he had to deal with. He had a hip flexor injury that limited his mobility a little bit. I think it was more due to that than anything else.

OC: The last Cal-Poly outfielder that you drafted before you took [fourth-round pick] Bobby Crocker was Grant Desme. Are they similar players?

EK: They are similar in that they are both big and physical and athletic. I think that Grant had shown more power in his game at this point than Bobby has. Bobby is probably a better runner. But really, longterm they both had similar profiles. They are big and physical and athletic. Bobby will need to develop his power to get there, but they share a lot of the same characteristics.

OC: I assume you saw him at the Cape Cod League. Did you like how he handled the wood bats?

EK: Very much so. He stood out in the Cape Cod League. He certainly put himself on the map there. Obviously he was known and we knew him because we drafted him out of high school – he's also from my hometown so I am very familiar with him. At the same time, he impressed us very much with how he handled the wood bat in the Cape Cod League.

OC: With [fifth-round pick] Beau Taylor, is it his bat that you think is the most advanced right now or is it his receiving skills?

EK: It's his defense. We had a couple of scouts who said he was the best defensive catcher they saw all year. He's just got a knack for it. He's very athletic. He's agile. He really can receive the ball well. He blocks well and does all of those things. He has plenty of arm strength.

OC: We normally talk about bloodline-type picks with you. [Sixth-round pick] Dayton Alexander is related to Shane Victorino. Are they similar players or is that more anecdotal?

EK: It's probably more anecdotal. They share some athleticism, but the thing about Shane, he was just a top-of-the-charts runner. Still is. Speed is a big part of his game. Dayton has got speed, but we think he can develop power. We are hoping it's more of an all-around game, although Shane has developed into obviously a very good overall talent. There is no necessarily stand-out tool here [with Alexander]. There's just five pretty good ones and we hope that they all develop into a total package thing.

OC: Was he someone that you had seen in Hawaii, or was it all at Feather River that he was scouted?

EK: No, it was all here. I have a lot of contacts in Hawaii and I had done a lot of research as far as what kind of kid he is. But as far as playing that information was all done on the mainland.

OC: I don't think I had heard much about that program before this draft, but it seems like there were five or six guys from Feather River who were drafted. Is that a really good JC program right now?

EK: It has, over the last 10 years, really developed into one of the better junior college programs in Northern Cal.

OC: [Seventh-round pick] Blake Treinen was kind of an unusual pick in that he was a bit older and pitched in a state not known for baseball [South Dakota]. He seemed to come out of nowhere for some scouts with his velocity just before the draft. Is he a flier arm strength guy or did you have a pretty good read on him leading up to the draft?

EK: We had seen him a lot. He was a little bit well-traveled. He had bounced around a little bit, but our scout in that area had seen him last year and this year. He had seen him a lot this year actually. We had seen the same level of stuff from him all spring, a plus fastball and plus slider. His age is certainly a bit of a detriment, but with pitchers we are less concerned about the age and more concerned about what's left in the arm and we think there's a lot left there.

OC: Is he a reliever?

EK: We think that he has a chance to start. It's hard to say really how things are going to go until they get out there. How they do in pro ball kind of determines what kind of role they will have.

OC: It sort of reminded me of when you guys took Ben Jukich. Is this sort of a similar situation?

EK: It's similar in that he is from out in the sticks in South Dakota [laughs], but I think Blake is more of an arm strength, stuff guy. Jukich was more of a touch-and-feel left-hander. But certainly with Jukich doing as well as he did from a non-traditional baseball area made us more comfortable with this pick.

OC: Both Colin O'Connell [eighth-round pick out of Cal-State Fullerton] and Dusty Robinson [10th-round pick out of Fresno State] are from more traditional baseball programs. Are those guys who you anticipate can move up relatively quickly given their experience playing in a big-time program?

EK: I think O'Connell could. His strength is obviously his control. He hardly walked anybody this year. That's really a good skill to have in minor league baseball. That's what gets you out of the lower levels quickly, being able to throw strikes. He's a tall, projectable guy with good control, so he has a chance to do that.

As far as Robinson, maybe a little bit less so. I think it is harder for hitters to push them along. He certainly has power. That's what we really like about Dusty. He's going to have to learn to control the strike-zone a little bit better and probably cut down his strike-out numbers.

OC: Jace Fry [the ninth-round pick] was the first high school player you guys took. There was a lot of talk about the high school talent leading up to the draft. Was it just the way the draft unfolded that had you waiting until the ninth round to go into the high school class?

EK: There is never a conscious decision whether to take a high school guy or a college guy. It's probably part of our discussion leading up to the draft but this year more than ever, we had a lot of high school guys that we really liked. But in certain cases, they just went way higher in the draft than where we liked them. Which happens. It only takes one team to like a player better than you to take him a round earlier. There were a lot of high school guys we liked. We spent a lot of time scouting high school guys this spring. It just was definitely the way the draft fell that it worked out this way.

OC: What about Fry? What kind of pitcher is he?

EK: He's an athletic left-hander with average-ish stuff but can really pitch. He's a great competitor. We were excited to get him where we got him and we hope to get him out there. We are very optimistic about what he can become.

OC: Is he sort of similar to Ian Krol then?

EK: A little bit, yeah. Maybe not quite as much stuff as Krol at a similar age, but very similar in other respects.

OC: Skipping down a little bit further, you took a guy at the end of Day Two, Nathan Kilcrease [round 30] who is only 5'6''. Is he the smallest pitcher you have ever drafted?

EK: I think so yeah. I don't think you want to make a living signing five-foot-six right-handers, but that was just a situation where he is a kid who has been so successful. He's a Friday night starter in the SEC. He's got good stuff. Personally, I just felt strongly that this kid deserved an opportunity. The height certainly is a detriment, but we think this is a guy who can overachieve and prove people wrong.

OC: Cecil Tanner, who was taken in round 23, didn't pitch much for Georgia this year. Was he shut-down because his mechanics were all over the place or because he had an injury?

EK: He had some problems with the strike-zone very early in the year and that kind of got him in a spot where the coaches didn't feel comfortable using him. But he's got a power arm. We had scouts who had seen him a year ago who thought he was a top three round pick because of his stuff. We just really thought that it was a chance to catch lightening in a bottle there because he has very good stuff and Gil Patterson [A's minor league pitching coordinator] is very skilled and it's proven what he can do with pitching.

OC: I noticed he wasn't on a roster yet. Is he going to take some time to work with Gil or Garvin Alston [A's rehab pitching coordinator] or the other Arizona pitching staffs before he goes out there to compete?

EK: It's probably a situation where his contract is still being approved, so that is likely why he isn't on a roster. But he will probably be in Arizona where he can really work on those kind of things and get his confidence back.

OC: On Day 3, you took Alfredo Unzue, who is from Cuba. I couldn't find much on him except that he pitched in the Cuban major leagues. What is his story?

EK: He is a guy who is working out in Southern California. Our international people had a little information and, to be perfectly honest, they asked us to draft him and we did. I don't have a ton of information on him myself.

OC: Will he be a guy who you watch during the summer?

EK: He's not in school, so we actually have until a week before the draft to make a decision on him.

OC: Who are some of the other guys who you will be keeping an eye on this summer?

EK: The first guy is Brandon Magee [the 21st-round pick]. He's the kid from Arizona State who is also a football player. He is a guy who will be playing down in Arizona this summer before football practice gets started. He's a big, strong, athletic kid who obviously hasn't played a whole lot but who has a lot of upside to his game.

OC: If he goes back to play football, does that end his eligibility to sign?

EK: Yes, I believe that once he goes back to school, he loses his eligibility to sign with us because he has baseball eligibility left [at ASU], as well.

OC: Are there other players who you are going to be following this summer?

EK: Yeah, Max Kuhn [round 24 pick]. He's a pretty high-profile high school kid from Indiana who, for whatever reason, signability or whatnot, slid in the draft. It's just an opportunity, depending on how things go this summer and where we end up, that could present us an opportunity to sign a pretty high-profile high school guy later in the summer.

OC: [39th-round pick] Shane Boras didn't play much at USC. Was he someone who you saw play in summer leagues?

EK: Yeah, we've seen Shane quite a bit over the years. He was looking for an opportunity and we had people who felt he deserved one, so it was a good marriage. He is going to go out and see if he can get more playing time down in the Arizona [Rookie] League and hopefully develop his skills.

OC: So did he sign already?

EK: Yes.

OC: People often ask about the picks that tend to come during the late rounds in the draft where the players are related to someone within the organization and aren't necessarily expected to sign, like this year with Brett Geren, Brett Bittiger and Nic Coffman. Every organization has picks like those. What is the philosophy behind those picks?

EK: It's a combination of things. When you get to a certain point in the draft, you are beyond the point where you can realistically sign players for this year, for whatever reason. Some of the guys you are taking to follow in the summer, in fact a lot of those guys. There is always a motivation [for those picks]. We like to take a lot of high school guys from the Bay Area or Northern California, mostly because it gives us the opportunity to scout them but also because it allows us to make our presence known in our home area.

As far as family members and things like that go, these guys – especially scouts and baseball people – work so hard for so little. They are away from their families and they sacrifice so much for their jobs. Something small like this that we can do – which is really something small on our part – is big for them and they appreciate it. It's just a little thing that we can do for them.

OC: So what's next for you and your department? Have you already moved on to scouting the class of 2012?

EK: Yep, we've moved on to 2012. We've already had guys out to see rising high school seniors for next year from over a week ago. That's kind of a never-ending process.

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