There is no sugarcoating the fact that the Oakland A’s system is thin at the moment. The last two years have seen the A’s trade away a significant percentage of their top prospects, and the overall depth of talent within the A’s system has suffered from those losses. The lack of system-wide depth is evident in the way the A’s four full-season affiliates have played thus far this year. The organization has prided itself on winning at the minor league level over the years, but currently the A’s have just one affiliate (the Midland RockHounds) above the .500 mark.
Injuries have taken their toll on the A’s system early this season, and better health will hopefully improve the overall strength of the system as the season goes on. Top pitching prospect Raul Alcantara should return to the mound at some point this summer after missing the past 12 months rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Top prospects Matt Chapman and Renato Nunez began the season in extended spring training rehabbing injuries and are just now starting to get into the flow of their seasons with Stockton and Midland, respectively.
That being said, the A’s still have some work to do to get their system back to where it was depth-wise in 2012 and 2013. The A’s don’t have any extra draft picks in this upcoming draft, so they won’t be able to fill all of those holes through the draft. With the big league team struggling, it is likely the A’s will trade some veteran players before the July deadline. Those deals could net the A’s some additional minor league talent.
The 2015 draft class is currently being viewed as thin on sure-thing, high-ceiling talents. Unlike in previous years, there has been little consensus on the top-10 players going into the draft. Injuries have taken their toll on this draft class, as pre-season top-10 favorites Brady Aiken, Mike Matuella and Kolby Allard have all missed significant portions of their season with injuries. Several other lesser-known pre-season first-round talents have also lost significant time this season with injury.
Despite the lack of a consensus top-10, this draft class looks to be about average when it comes to overall depth of talent, however. That works in the A’s advantage, as they don’t make their first pick until slot 20 and their second pick at slot 63. The talent available at those two slots should be commiserate with what teams generally see at those picks on an average year.
Drafting for system need is always a tricky proposition. Teams’ strengths and weaknesses at the minor league level change frequently with injuries, trades, promotions and sudden emergence or regression of prospects. That doesn’t mean that a system’s strengths or weaknesses aren’t taken into account when a team is drafting their top-10 round players, however. Last year, the A’s made a conscious decision to address their minor league starting pitching depth, selecting seven pitchers among their top-10 picks.
The early returns on the 2014 draft are mixed at this point. Most of those pitchers taken in the top-10 rounds last year by the A’s are pitching for Low-A Beloit this year. The staff, as a whole, has struggled. The quality of stuff that those guys possess is solid, but the command hasn’t always been there this year. Nonetheless, it is way too early to write off any of those picks as unsuccessful. Many of them were expected to be projects and the A’s coaching staff still has plenty of time to help those pitchers tap into their full potential.
The A’s Low-A squad in Beloit is the youngest and least experienced team in the Midwest League right now. Their play has reflected that inexperience, as they are currently 19-28 and in second-to-last place in the Midwest League’s Western Division. There is plenty of high ceiling talent on that roster, but most of the players currently suiting up for the Snappers are not profiled as “quick movers”.
The same can be said, to an extent, for the A’s High-A team in Stockton. Oakland sent several players to Stockton who had struggled in Low-A or had not yet played at that level in previous years. These prospects are very talented, but are definitely being challenged by more polished and experienced players in the California League. The Ports are hanging in there as a team at 22-24 on the year, but there have been growing pains along the way.
The biggest collection of top talent in the A’s system is currently on the Double-A Midland roster. Many of the players on that roster were on the 2014 Stockton team that dominated the California League. Several of those players could be factors for the A’s in the second half of the 2016 season.
With their first pick in the draft, the A’s will target the best player available on their board, but after that, they might focus their attention on players who will enter minor league baseball with some polish and can move up the ladder quickly. The A’s have a good base of younger talent in their lower levels, so a return to their more traditional draft practice of looking for polished, collegiate players in rounds 3-10 makes a good deal of sense. Getting players – even if they project to be solid role players in the big leagues – who can potentially make an impact for the A’s in a short period of time could help them bolster that nucleus that is currently in Midland.
Like many teams, the A’s have a history of re-drafting players they selected in previous drafts and failed to sign. There are several players the A’s selected and failed to sign who will be draft-eligible this year.
Arguably the biggest name on the “re-draft possibility” list is left-hander Kyle Twomey. Twomey was a third-round pick of the A’s out of high school in 2012. He elected to go to USC rather than sign with Oakland and is now draft-eligible as a college junior. Twomey has had a solid career for the Trojans. In 2014, he worked mostly out of the bullpen and had a 3.11 ERA and a 8.18 K/9. This year, Twomey has moved into the USC starting rotation. He has a 2.81 ERA and a 6.78 K/9. Twomey has allowed just two homeruns in 86.1 innings. He projects as a third-to-fifth round selection.
Georgia Tech infielder Matt Gonzalez is another high school pick by the A’s in 2012 that they failed to sign. Gonzalez was the A’s 11th-round pick that season. He has been a regular for the Yellow Jackets all three seasons in college and has a career line of .297/.334/.405. He also spent the last two summers in the Cape Cod League. Gonzalez can play third base and shortstop and his throwing arm is a plus tool. He hasn’t yet put it all together with the Yellow Jackets, but he has a chance to go in the top-10 rounds.
Another high school pick from the A’s 2012 draft was catcher Brett Sunde, who was selected in the 35th round. The Michigan native attended Western Michigan rather than turning pro. He was on the preseason Johnny Bench Award watch list and has shown some impressive defensive skills behind the plate. His arm, in particular, is a strong tool. Sunde batted .273/.339/.379 for Western Michigan this season. He could hear his name called in the 11-20 round range this June.
The A’s final pick in the 2012 draft was a high schooler named David Olmedo-Barrera. The Mountain View native attended Cal-State, Fullerton. After two non-descript seasons for the Titans, Olmedo-Barrera had a breakout 2015 season at Fullerton. In 174 at-bats, he posted a .310/.407/.540 line with eight homers and 12 stolen bases. He was recently named the Big West Co-Player of the Year. Olmedo-Barrera was a shortstop in high school and he moved to the outfield in college, but he has yet to find a defensive spot that he excels at. Still, he has an intriguing mix of power and speed tools and he will be an interesting player to follow in this year’s draft.
A’s 2013 37th-round pick Francis Christy elected to go to junior college (Palomar) rather than sign with the A’s after that draft. He was recently named the State Player of the Year for the CCCAA. He hit 11 homeruns and drove-in 52 for Palomar this season. Christy has a commitment to the University of Washington, but he has indicated a desire to turn pro if he is selected fairly early in the draft. He is a solid defensive catcher and has above-average power for the position. Some draft pundits have put Christy as a potential top-five round pick. The A’s have historically picked a catcher among their first six rounds of selections, and their familiarity with Christy could make him a target.
In last year’s draft, the A’s selected catcher Casey Schroeder from Polk State College. He didn’t sign and went to Coastal Carolina instead. He is eligible again for the draft this year and has an intriguing profile as another power-hitting catcher. Schroeder hit only .230 for Coastal Carolina this year, but he launched 13 homeruns and posted a .500 SLG. He also walked 33 times and had a respectable .370 OBP. Schroeder was a 14th round pick last year and could be selected in the 10-20 round range again this year.
A’s 2014 17th-round pick Eric Cheray is another college player who didn’t sign with Oakland last season. The Missouri State infielder missed more than two months with a broken ankle, but he has been outstanding at the plate when healthy. In 24 games, Cheray has a .436/.500/.538 line. He has walked 125 times against 84 strike-outs during his four-year collegiate career. Cheray will be 23 in December, but he is likely to hear his name called again this draft.
Shortstop Tim Proudfoot, the A’s 21st round pick last season out of Texas Tech, also elected to return for his senior season. The Washington native has regressed with the bat this year but he is a plus defender. He should land with a team on the third day of the draft.
Unlike Proudfoot, St. Mary’s first baseman Collin Ferguson has busted out offensively as a senior. The A’s 23rd-round pick elected to return to Moraga for his senior season and he hit eight homeruns and posted a .337/.463/.577 line for the Gaels in 55 games. College senior first basemen don’t always draw a lot of attention in the draft, but with his senior numbers, Ferguson could go higher in 2015 than he did last year.
A’s 36th-round pick last year, Tyler Spoon, was a redshirt sophomore, so he still has two years of draft eligibility as he enters the 2015 draft. Spoon already has his degree from Arkansas, however, so he is likely to sign if selected this year. He had an outstanding year for Arkansas, although he was often over-shadowed by teammate Andrew Benintendi. Spoon has a .325 average and a .491 SLG this season. He struck-out just 28 times in 212 at-bats. He is a candidate to go in the top-10 rounds.