For the fourth time in five years, the Oakland A's will have a pick among the first 15 selections in the MLB draft. This year, the A's first pick will come at slot 11. It is the first time since 2007 that the A's will have picks in the supplemental first round and an extra pick in the second round. In addition to that first overall pick, the A's have four more selections among the top 74 (picks 34, 47, 62 and 74).
For the past 10 years, the A's have had a reputation for being an organization that is loathe to use their top picks on high school players. Since 2000, the A's have used their top pick on a high school player only once. That came in 2006, when the A's first selection came in the second round. They did very well with that selection, picking right-handed pitcher Trevor Cahill. Over the past several years, the A's have used several top-five round picks on high school players, but they haven't spent a first-round pick on a high school player since 1996, when Oakland selected Eric Chavez with the 10th overall pick.
Many draft experts, including Scout.com's National Baseball Expert Frankie Piliere, have declared that the strength of the 2012 MLB Draft pool lies with the high school prospects. On May 3rd, Piliere wrote of the draft class:
"The strength of the 2012 MLB Draft is clearly going to be its high school bats. As we draw closer to the big day it's clear that we will not see the type of college pitching that we saw drafted in 2011. The top of the class is still very much in flux, but despite its weaknesses, this is not a draft to be underestimated.
Not only are the high school bats a strength, but the pitching from the high school side is quite a deep crop as well. Beyond the currently injured Lucas Giolito, there may not be a Dylan Bundy in the lot of them, but there will be power arms available well beyond the top couple rounds."
So then will this be the year that the A's break their streak of selecting collegiate players in the first round?
Despite the A's reputation for favoring collegiate players, especially in the first round, the A's front office has long insisted that they keep an open mind towards drafting a high school player with their top pick. The organization also has started to develop a track record for drafting high school players who reach the major leagues. Recent A's high school draft selections Ryan Webb, Justin Sellers, Vin Mazzaro and Cahill all reached the big leagues. Oakland has also traded for minor leaguers who were selected out of high school by other organizations; several of those players have reached the big leagues, as well, including Brett Anderson, Chris Carter, Gio Gonzalez and Jarrod Parker.
This year may present the A's the perfect opportunity to go the high school route with their top pick. Not only is there depth amongst the high school picks in this draft, but the A's also have some room to take a risk with their top pick given that they have four additional picks before round three. The new MLB Draft rules may also work in the A's favor. Under the new rules, high school players may not have the same leverage for demanding over-slot signing bonuses that they have had in the past.
So which first-round draft prospects are on the A's radar for pick number 11? We recently asked Piliere who he is hearing the A's are showing the most interest in for their first selection:
Lance McCullers, RHP, Jesuit High School (Tampa, FL)
Piliere's take: It's a rumor that won't be fully believed unless they actually pick him, but Oakland has sent out a lot of signals that they are very interested in McCullers. The righty has made a somewhat miraculous improvement to his delivery, calming things down quite a bit. There's now more reason to believe he can bring his 94-97 mph fastball to a starting role as a professional.
Richie Shaffer, 3B, Clemson University
Piliere's take: Behind Mike Zunino, this is the college bat that all the scouts are watching this spring. In all likelihood he'll have to move across the diamond to first base, but he's a pretty solid athlete and his bat is going to carry him. Shaffer has proven himself with the wood bat, and his plate discipline continues to dazzle evaluators.
Max Fried, LHP, Harvard-Westlake HS (Encino, CA)
Piliere's take: No one in the industry seems all that sure about where Fried may land. As the consensus number one prep lefty in the class, it's hard to believe he'd fall beyond the A's grasp. They have continued to show interest in him, even if the chances of him slipping to their slot are somewhat slim. His classic, plus lefty curveball and low 90s, well-spotted fastball should allow him to advance more like a college pitcher as a professional.
Joey Gallo, 3B, Bishop Gorman HS (Henderson, NV)
Piliere's take: You'd be hard pressed to find a more powerful bat in the class than Joey Gallo. The natural loft in his swing is tremendous and the power seems to come incredibly easy to him. Oakland has been keeping a very close eye on his left-handed bat. This also goes for every team out there, but don't rule out a shocker in someone taking him as a right-handed pitcher. Reportedly, he's been up to 99-100 MPH on the mound this spring.
Albert Almora, OF, Mater Academy (Hialeah, FL)
Piliere's take: I think this is a dream scenario for Oakland. Almora is a high school player that looks and acts like a college player. And he has the great raw tools to go along with that advanced style of play. He'll very likely be off the board, but they are keeping close tabs just in case. He has center field tools, and his bat is going to allow him to hit right away as a professional.
Michael Wacha, RHP, Texas A&M
Frankie's take: It's hard to say at this point whether Wacha will be an affordable option or not. What these players are demanding and the new rules have made things very unclear. Wacha would give Oakland another fast mover in their system, cut from the same cloth as [A's 2011 top pick] Sonny Gray. He has the track record, the raw stuff, and the mentality to advance up the ladder very quickly.