Although raised not far from the home of the Oakland A's AL West rivals, the Texas Rangers, A's 2013 top-pick Billy McKinney declared on Thursday that he had grown-up as an A's fan. McKinney described himself as "astonished" when he picked up the phone on Thursday to find that A's GM Billy Beane had called him directly to inform him of the A's selection.
"I was surprised I could get some words out when I heard his name," McKinney told reporters on a post-draft conference call. "I was just astonished it was him."
Despite his affinity for the A's, McKinney used a former Rangers' star as a template for his swing.
"I model my swing after Josh Hamilton," McKinney said. "He has a really beautiful swing. Fast through the ‘zone and very quick hands. I try to be as compact as I can be and fast through the ‘zone as well."
McKinney's name wasn't one that was attached to the A's before the draft, and none of the major publications had the A's taking him with the 24th overall pick. McKinney himself was surprised that it was the A's who called his name, as he had heard more from the Texas Rangers, New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants during the lead-up to the draft.
"[There was] a little bit [interest from the A's]. Not too much really," McKinney said. "There were other teams that were definitely more open about it and talked to me a lot more. I didn't know that they were this interested, but I'm happy they were. Very happy."
Despite not being publicly connected to McKinney before the draft, Oakland A's Scouting Director Eric Kubota told reporters that McKinney was firmly on the A's radar for the entire year leading up to Thursday's first round.
"He's a kid we've like the whole spring, and he's a guy that we have liked in years past," Kubota said. "It's more difficult from where we picked this year to prognosticate on who is going to get to you. Especially this year, because it was hard to know what the teams at the very top were doing. But it was our sense that somewhere in our range, or a little bit before, we thought there was a good chance he would get to us."
The A's view McKinney as one of the top high school bats available in the draft this year.
"He's a left-handed hitter who's kind of stood above the pack," Kubota said. "As a hitter, he has gotten more physical this year. The athleticism has increased. He is a guy we have always seen hit. The power is coming and the speed has improved."
Because McKinney isn't a plus-runner, some draft experts have projected that he will have to move to a corner outfield spot down-the-road. McKinney told reporters that he has played all three outfield positions and is comfortable at all three spots, but the A's believe that McKinney has a legitimate shot to stay in center despite relatively average speed.
"We think he has a chance to go out and play centerfield. He will probably have to rely somewhat on instinct," Kubota said. "He's not the pure, athletic centerfielder. But he's very instinctive. He really, in a lot of ways, reminded us of Mark Kotsay.
"He's a solid-average-to-above-average runner. We think he has a solid-average to a tick above-average arm. You can say his tools are more average than plus, but he makes up for that in the outfield with his jumps and reads. He's a very instinctual player. That's why we think he has a chance to play centerfield."
Kubota also raved about McKinney's make-up.
"It's hard not to like the way this kid plays. He plays the game with intensity and energy," Kubota said. "We don't have any questions about his work ethic. This kid loves to play the game and it is very apparent when you see him playing that he is the kind of guy that people will instinctively love watching because of his intensity and the energy that he brings to a game."
Kubota said that the A's were very confident that McKinney would sign and he indicated that McKinney could be in the fold soon. McKinney himself pulled no punches when he was asked if he planned to turn pro or go to Texas Christian University.
"My dream is to be a major league ballplayer; hopefully I can get started on that dream soon," McKinney said. "I know that my college coaches would love to have me there, but they understand that it is my dream to become a major league baseball player."
On Dillon Overton:
The A's spent their second pick on Oklahoma left-hander Dillon Overton. Overton actually fills an organizational need for the A's, who selected only a few left-handed pitchers in the 2012 draft.
Coming into the 2012 season, Overton was considered the ace of the Sooners' rotation, although the ace role on that staff was eventually taken-over by the third-overall pick of this year's draft, Jonathan Gray. Overton still had a strong season for the Sooners, posting an ERA under 3 in just under 90 innings.
Overton did miss two weeks with a left forearm strain, and reports had his stuff down slightly from where it had been in previous years. The A's believe that Overton is healthy, however.
"We don't anticipate any issues [with Overton's forearm] and we are confident as to where he is at medically," Kubota said.
Kubota said that Overton's fastball sits anywhere from 88-94 and that despite his build (6'2'' and a reported 175), Overton isn't a typical finesse lefty.
"He is more slight of frame. But we feel like his athleticism allows him to compensate," Kubota said. "It's the body he has been given and he's pitched with it and we feel like that will not be an issue as he moves forward. He's a very athletic kid. He's just more wiry than most.
"He can really pitch with his fastball. He's flashed a plus breaking ball. I know he doesn't necessarily look like a power pitcher, but he can pitch that way at times. But he has a feel to pitch. He has a very good change-up. He's polished and he has upside to his stuff."
Oklahoma is participating in the NCAA Super Regionals this week, so the A's won't be able to sign Overton until the Sooners are eliminated from the NCAA tournament or win it all. Once that does happen, however, Overton is expected to sign quickly.
On Chad Pinder:
The A's used their Competitive Balance Round B pick to select Virginia Tech infielder Chad Pinder. Pinder was a player who was slotted to go in the early- to mid-second round, so the A's were pleased to see his name still on the board at pick 71.
"We were [surprised that Pinder was still available]," Kubota said. "We scouted him and we have some guys on our scouting staff who really, really liked him. We scouted him throughout the spring.
"We were particularly surprised because he really, really played well at the end of the season. We were pleasantly surprised that he was still there when we picked."
Pinder spent most of his collegiate career at third base and most draft experts projected him to be a third baseman as a pro. However, a team need forced Pinder to move to shortstop partway through this season, and the A's were intrigued by what they saw from Pinder defensively at short. They aren't decided yet as to whether they see Pinder as a third baseman or shortstop longterm.
"He's been mostly a third baseman through his career, but we were encouraged by his defense at shortstop," Kubota said. "We think he has a chance to stay at that position as his career progresses."