Oakland A's Draft Q&A: Eric Kubota

The 2014 MLB Draft is in the books. The Oakland A's went heavy on college players early in the draft, especially right-handed pitchers. We spoke with A's longtime Scouting Director Eric Kubota about the A's 2014 draft class.

OaklandClubhouse: I read reports on Twitter that the team had come to terms with several players in your top-10 rounds. Will there be an official announcement about player signings coming soon?

Eric Kubota: There should be some announced soon, but probably maybe not the ones that have been reported.

Click here for our 2014 A's Draft Database.

OC: Will there be a mini-camp in Arizona where all of the picks will report to?

EK: Yes, they are all going to Arizona first.

OC: Getting to the draft itself, you guys were picking towards the end of the draft and you didn't have any extra picks for the first time in awhile. It was more reminiscent of the drafts of maybe the mid-2000s like 2006 and 2008. Was that weird to be back to one pick a round and no extra picks?

EK: It's one of the downsides of being good in the big leagues. [laughs] If anything, the bottom line is it is probably just not as much fun. When you have extra picks, you have so much more to look forward to. That being said, we are very happy with how everything worked out.

OC: You guys ended up selecting a lot of pitchers, especially early on in the draft. Going into the draft, pitching was certainly an organizational need given the recent graduations, trades and injuries to pitchers in the system. Was drafting pitchers a priority in this draft, or was it a situation where it just worked out to be pitcher-heavy because those were the best players available at each slot?

EK: I think we probably acknowledged that we wanted to add pitching to our system, so we took pitchers. That being said, if it wasn't close, we took the higher-ranked player. If it was close, we probably leaned a little bit towards the pitching.

OC: You led-off the draft with a position player in Matt Chapman. After day one of the draft, you discussed his defense and his power potential. What sort of adjustments do you think he will have to make at the plate as a pro to tap into that raw power?

EK: We think the power is just there. We think it is really just a matter of approach – learning what pitches to look for early in the count and that sort of thing. We've seen his batting practice, which ranks up there with anybody. He hits balls really far; he's very strong. I think it is just a matter of an adjustment in approach. Looking for balls to pull early in counts, rather than getting a pitch on the outside and hitting a line-drive to right field. Looking for something in where he can pull it and maybe hit a homerun. I think it is mostly approach, at least that's how we see it.

OC: The A's 20th-round pick – Koby Gauna – was a teammate of Matt's at Fullerton. Was Gauna someone you zoomed in on while you were scouting Chapman, or was he a pitcher that you had on the radar for awhile?

EK: It's probably a little of both. Our area scout has liked him for awhile. It certainly helps that you are going in to see one player. At Fullerton, there was actually another pretty highly rated player, J.D. Davis, who was taken pretty high in the draft, so they have lots of people to go see. That probably works to a guy like Koby's advantage, being seen more often than maybe a guy like him would have otherwise. But I think he stood on his own in terms of what kind of prospect he was. If those guys weren't there, he still would have been scouted and seen just as heavily.

OC: I had seen that he had one of the better K:BB ratios in the NCAA this year. Is he a command guy, or does he have standout stuff?

EK: A little of both. We think he has a little bit above-average stuff and he does have good command. I know he pitched mostly in a relief role at Fullerton or midweek starter, but we definitely see him as a starter. One of our scouts saw him throw a nine-inning outing in relief. He has stuff and command. I'm not going to say it's huge stuff, but he definitely has what we think is above-average stuff.

OC: Second-round pick Daniel Gossett and third-round pick Brett Graves are both "smaller" right-handers who throw harder than maybe one would expect given their frames. Do you project them to remain in a starter's role in the pros?

EK: Yes, they are different in their styles although they are somewhat similar in their stature. They are starting pitcher candidates, for sure.

OC: With Gossett, what is his main strength? What made him stand-out?

EK: Right off the bat, the first thing you notice about him is his stuff. When I saw him, he was 93-94 for seven innings. He flashes an above-average breaking ball. It's kind of a hybrid; some might call it a slider, some might call it a curveball. And he has a pretty good change-up. He locates well. He throws strikes and he has a very repeatable delivery. There is a lot to like about him, but first and foremost, it was the stuff you notice about him.

OC: You mentioned that Graves and Gossett have very different styles. What are Graves' main attributes?

EK: He's got a sinking fastball that's 92-94, we've seen it in that range. He's a pitch-to-contact guy, gets lots of groundballs. He's probably less of a pure stuff guy and more of a really good, efficient starting pitcher type who is going to get a lot of groundballs and keep the ball out of the air.

OC: I had a chance to speak with fourth-round pick Jordan Schwartz a little after the draft and he mentioned that he is still really learning the nuances of pitching. What stood out about him? Was it his fastball?

EK: Yeah, for sure. The fastball definitely jumps out at you. Obviously we like the athleticism, but we've seen him up to 97. We've seen a good breaking ball. There's a lot of upside with Jordan.

OC: There are a lot of guys who pitch and play positions in college and high school, but is there something unique about guys who are position players first and then transition to pitching in terms of their athleticism on the mound?

EK: The fact that they can play a position at a high level, that's an indication of the athleticism in and of itself. That added athleticism is certainly a plus. On the flip side, he's [Schwartz] probably a little more raw in terms of his ability to pitch, but we thought the combination of his athleticism and the stuff was a perfect combination for us.

OC: Speaking of raw, fifth-round pick Heath Fillmyer was a guy who kind of came out of nowhere last year in his first season in junior college and then continued to improve this year on the mound. Is he a guy who you think will continue to improve as he gets more coaching?

EK: That's what we are thinking. He's obviously a very good athlete. He's always been a position player, too. We've seen a very good fastball out of him and a very good breaking ball. He just needs some rough edges smoothed out, but we think Scott Emerson and our pitching instructors can do wonders with him.

OC: You selected two high school players out of the Northwest – shortstop Trace Loehr (6) and RHP Branden Kelliher (8). That's an area that you have selected several high school players over the past few years. Are Loehr and Kelliher guys that you think you have a good chance of signing?

EK: Yeah, we feel comfortable that we will get something worked out.

OC: With Loehr, is it his glove or his bat that you think leads the way right now?

EK: Depends on who you ask, we have guys who like both. We really, really like his bat. We've seen a lot of him over the years. He was with the USA juniors team last year. We like the way he swings the bat. He can run. We have guys in our camp who really think he can play defense. We also got feedback from coaches who coached him with the USA junior team last year about the make-up and the quality of the kid. There were a whole lot of checkboxes checked with Trace.

OC: I believe Kelliher had pitched with 2013 pick Dustin Driver in showcases. Was Kelliher a guy who the organization had been following for awhile?

EK: We have definitely seen him numerous times over the past year. Like most of these kids, we start really heavily scouting them a year before the draft. We have guys down at the PG National right now getting ready for next year. We saw a lot of Kelliher certainly over the past year. He is always a guy who impressed us with his stuff and his ability to pitch.

OC: Branden Cogswell (7) and Tim Proudfoot (21) are both participating in the College World Series. What would you expect from both of them if they do sign with the A's after the CWS is over?

EK: Cogswell is just a very good baseball player. He plays second base now, but we do think he could play shortstop in professional baseball. We think he has a very, very good contact bat. We just see him as a guy who can move quickly through our system and play in the big leagues.

Proudfoot is a very, very good defensive player. Maybe the bat is a little more behind Cogswell, but he is a very good defender who we think can defensively play his way to the big leagues and we hope we can get some upside out of the bat, as well.

OC: I remember talking to you after you selected Max Kuhn (13) a couple years ago coming out of high school, and you were hopeful of signing him then. Were you happy to get another chance at him a few years later?

EK: Absolutely. For sure because we know the kid really well. Our scout in that area has coached him in different showcases and obviously liked him out of high school. We really know the kid well. He swung the bat really well this year. We were certainly pleased to get a second chance.

OC: Does he profile as a third baseman?

EK: He does. We do think there is a chance he could move behind the plate, as well. That is something that we will look into as time goes on.

OC: Mike Fagan (9) was the first left-handed pitcher that you selected this year. Was he someone that you saw while he was competing in the Ivy Leagues or was it during summer showcases that he stood out?

EK: We mainly saw him in the Ivy League. I think he is a guy who always had physical ability, but he really figured out how to put it all together this year. It seems like a lazy comparison to make maybe, but he reminds us a lot of Craig Breslow [former A's lefty who went to Yale]. There are a lot of similarities physically and stuff-wise. He's a guy who we liked his stuff and he has a chance as a starter or as a reliever down-the-road.

OC: It seemed like Corey Miller was a real leader on that Pepperdine staff. What did you guys like about your 10th-round pick?

EK: He's a big kid with good stuff, average-type stuff but he has a long history of performing. He's physical and he has solid stuff and he knows how to get guys out.

OC: You picked three pitchers – Joel Seddon (11), Brendan McCurry (22) and Rob Huber (26) – who served as closers for collegiate programs in big-time conferences (South Carolina, Oklahoma State and Duke, respectively). Do you think that is an advantage for those players going into the pros because they have faced pressure situations in high-profile games before?

EK: It certainly can't hurt. Those are big college programs where they have had to perform in high-pressure situations. That can only help them moving forward.

OC: Do you see those three as being strictly relievers in the pros?

EK: Probably, but I can't say for certain. As of now, I would say they are probably relievers.

OC: Tyler Willman (12) seemed more like a pick based on potential than what he has done, numbers-wise, thus far. Is he more of a project-type pitcher?

EK: He's definitely more of a upside-type guy. We have seen a very good fastball out of him and a good breaking ball. He's a big kid. We see a ton of upside with him. With professional instruction, he could really come on.

OC: Is Casey Schroeder (14) likely to stay behind the plate? It looked like he had played a lot of infield but he was announced as a catcher.

EK: We like him as a catcher. We think he will be a catcher moving forward.

OC: He has pretty good speed for a guy behind the plate, right?

EK: That's more a reflection of athleticism. We are not necessarily worried about speed at that position.

OC: You drafted both edges of the Florida State infield in Jose Brizuela (16) and John Nogowski (34). They both put up good numbers in a strong baseball conference. Were you pleasantly surprised they were available where they were picked?

EK: Definitely. There are lots of things that go into where guys end up getting picked, but we were certainly pleased with both of them. Brizuela is a very polished defender and he has a very polished approach at the plate. We think he can come into some power. Nogowski has extremely good plate discipline, which is a trait that we value highly, and we think he has a chance to really move quickly in professional baseball.

OC: Collin Ferguson (23) was, I believe, your first St. Mary's draft selection since Anthony Aliotti. They both play the same position. Are they similar players?

EK: They probably are similar in that they are both very good defenders at the same point in their careers. They are athletic kids with nice looking swings who probably haven't hit with a lot of power yet. So I think there are some similarities. I think that Collin might be a little more physical than Anthony was at the same point in his career.

OC: Joseph Estrada (25) was the team's only pick from Puerto Rico this year. In reading about him, it looked like he had literally played every position on the field. He was announced as a centerfielder. Do you see him as an outfielder if he signs?

EK: We see him as a pitcher. He is probably, at this point, more of a summer follow.

OC: Is he playing somewhere this summer?

EK: In Puerto Rico. It's just a situation if we happen to have a chance to get down there to see him, it gives us an opportunity to scout him more this summer and possibly sign him.

OC: Are there any more summer follows?

EK: You can take a look at that high school list from Tyler Schimpf (31) on. Really all of those guys from Schimpf on – with the exception of Nogowski – are guys that we drafted to give us the opportunity to potentially scout them more this summer and maybe sign them.

OC: Was there anything surprising about this year's draft? Now that it has been a few years, do you think teams are getting pretty settled in terms of strategy in how it relates to the draft pool?

EK: I think clubs really went about it the way they went about it for the past year. It was pretty similar to last year. I think when it all shakes out, you'll see that clubs approached it pretty similarly to how they have in the past, especially last year. As far as the draft class, it is always hard to tell how it will all shake out, but we are certainly optimistic and excited to get these guys out and their careers underway.

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