A's Scout Rich Sparks Gives the Inside Scoop

Oakland A's Midwest Scouting Supervisor Rich Sparks talks about his two picks in the A's 2015 draft class: Brett Sunde and Greg Fettes.

The 2015 MLB Draft concluded last week, culminating a year’s worth of work for the Oakland A’s Scouting Department. We caught-up with A’s Midwest Scouting Supervisor Rich Sparks, who had two of his players selected by the A’s this year: 18th-round pick Brett Sunde and 39th-round pick Greg Fettes. Sparks gave us the inside scoop on both players.

The A’s used their second-to-last pick of the 2015 draft on Kentucky catcher Greg Fettes. Fettes is a red-shirt junior with one year of eligibility remaining with the Wildcats. According to Sparks, Fettes graduated with his degree from Kentucky in three-and-a-half years. Now Fettes has several decisions to make.

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Sparks has known Fettes’ family for many years and has known Greg since he was a kid. Fettes and A’s 18th-round pick Brett Sunde have been friends since childhood. Sunde’s father Buster, a former minor-league pitcher, is the head coach at Madison Heights Bishop Foley HS and he runs a baseball academy in Michigan. Buster took a young Greg Fettes under his wing and “treated him like another son,” according to Sparks. Under the elder Sunde’s tutelage, Fettes landed with the University of Kentucky, where, according to Sparks, Fettes got an opportunity to spread his wings away from home and grow as a person.

Fettes didn’t receive much playing time early in his career with Kentucky, but he became part of the Wildcats’ regular catching rotation the past two seasons. Fettes struggled with the bat but threw well behind the plate and showed some promise with his receiving skills. However, if Fettes elects to continue his baseball career, it won’t be behind the plate more-than-likely.

Both the University of Kentucky and the A’s are interested in seeing what Fettes can do on the mound. Sparks said that Fettes’ fastball has been clocked at 92-93 MPH. Fettes will be a summer follow for the A’s, and Fettes and the A’s will have until the signing deadline to decide if it is a good fit.

“I don’t know what Greg is going to do,” Sparks said. “He said, ‘I’m not sure what I am going to do. I’ll throw bullpens for you and I’ll do what you want me to do.’ He’s talking to Buster [Sunde] a little bit and he might just hang it up. It’s going to be a matter of watching a couple of bullpens and maybe an in-game situation with him.”

The draft signing deadline is July 17.

The signing deadline isn’t an issue for Brett Sunde, the A’s 18th-round pick. He officially put his name on the dotted line for the A’s over the weekend and is scheduled to arrive in Arizona today. Sunde was one of two players the A’s re-drafted in this class. Oakland took Sunde out of high school in 2012 with their 35th-round pick. The A’s offered Sunde $100,000 to turn pro, but he elected to go to Western Michigan, his father’s alma mater.

Sunde had a solid career with the Broncos. He was a regular all three seasons at WMU and developed into one of the top defensive catchers in the NCAA. Sparks says Sunde has “at least a plus arm with the potential for more.”

“He’s a good receiver, good blocker and he’s a leader out there,” Sparks said.

Sunde hit .283 as a sophomore in 2014 and batted .273 as a junior this season. Sparks projects Sunde to hit better as a pro than he did in college.

“In my personal opinion, he’s going to be a better hitter with the wood bat because he’s used a wood bat all of his life,” Sparks said. “He’s a really good hitter with wood. Every year, I go down to Florida. Western Michigan always plays the Detroit Tigers’ top prospects in a scrimmage game. Dave Dombrowski went to Western Michigan so they always arrange for Western Michigan to go to Lakeland for a game. So Brett is always playing against these top prospects. He hit one that was 97 MPH 40-feet over the left-field fence. I see this potential. That’s why I think that Brett is going to be a better pro hitter than he was a college hitter because he’ll be using a wood bat.”

From a make-up perspective, Sparks says Sunde rates at the top of the charts.

“I know what he does in the off-season and I work in the same building that he dad owns,” Sparks said. “I have been working with Brett for five years and I just know what kind of passion he has. I told our guys, ‘look, you are going to have to kick that kid out of the cage because he is going to stay there for as long as he wants to until he can’t do it anymore. You are going to have to monitor him because all he likes to do is hit and be around the baseball field.’

“I’ve told these guys, ‘you aren’t going to have to worry about this kid. You aren’t going to have to wonder about where this kid is at 11 o’clock at night. You don’t have to worry about him one bit.’ I’m excited to have him. I’m glad it was me. I got several texts from other scouts in the area saying, ‘I’m glad you got your guy.’”

Going into the 2015 draft, there was a lot of discussion about how unsettled the top of the draft was in terms of what players would go off of the board in the top-15 picks. Sparks says that that lack of clarity near the top of the draft definitely lent a different feel to the draft room on Day One.

“It was an unknown, and up until the last day, I think we had it narrowed down to three-or-four guys,” Sparks said.

The A’s considered several players, including Louisville right-hander Kyle Funkhouser, who the A’s sent Sparks to see throw in the Super Regional against Cal-State Fullerton. Sparks was impressed with Funkhouser in that start, saying that the eventual Dodgers’ pick hit 96 MPH with his last pitch. Ultimately, however, the A’s went with a position player: Florida shortstop Richie Martin. Martin is currently competing in the College World Series with the Gators.

Sparks says he saw only one other A’s pick play this year, Illinois left-hander Kevin Duchene, who went in the fifth round. Sparks only saw Duchene throw once. He said Duchene is “a pitchability guy. He has a good slider. He threw strikes for me when I saw him. Nothing glaring. No big stuff. A quirky lefty who can run it up there to 90, 91 with a good slider.”

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