The Oakland A’s have the sixth-overall pick in the upcoming 2016 draft. With the draft bonus pool system that is now in place, the A’s will be in their most advantageous draft position since the late 1990s. This will be a very important draft for the A’s, who find themselves in the same division as two of the deepest franchises in baseball in terms of young talent (the Houston Astros and the Texas Rangers).
Much has been written about the A’s draft philosophy over the years, but they – like most franchises – have seen fluctuations in the success rate they have had drafting future big leaguers. Using Baseball-Reference.com’s brilliant draft database, I took a look back at the A’s draft history from 2002-2012 to see what the A’s draft classes have been worth by WAR since 2002.
Total WAR for class: 76.3
Total WAR for players signed: 40
Top Player: Jonathan Papelbon (round 40 – did not sign)
Top Signed Player: Nick Swisher (round 1)
Note: The A’s Moneyball draft class produced 14 players who spent time in the big leagues. Of those 14 players, nine were signed by the A’s after the draft. One of the five players who didn’t sign was reliever Brad Ziegler, who was drafted by Philadelphia the following year, cut after his first professional season and signed as a free agent by the A’s. He would make his major-league debut with Oakland and has amassed a 12.2 career WAR.
Total WAR for class: 21.3
Total WAR for players signed: 21.2
Top Player: Andre Ethier (round 2)
Top Signed Player: Andre Ethier
Note: The A’s got very little out of their 2003 draft class. Ethier is the only member of the class to put together a career of any significance in the big leagues, and he has done it all with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ethier was traded by the A's to the Dodgers before the 2006 season in a deal that brought Milton Bradley to Oakland. The trade helped the A's win the AL West that year, but they missed out on Ethier, who was a very productive player for the first several years of his career. The A’s top picks that year – Brad Sullivan and Brian Snyder – never could get past the injury bug and both never reached Triple-A.
Total WAR for class: 36.7
Total WAR for players signed: 36.7
Top Player: Huston Street (supplemental 1st round)
Top Signed Player: Huston Street
Note: The A’s 2004 class was fairly productive, with closer Huston Street and catcher Kurt Suzuki leading the way with double-digit career value thus far. Eleven members of this class made it to the big leagues, including seven of their first nine picks. The A’s had four extra picks in this draft thanks to losing free agents Miguel Tejada and Keith Foulke. The A's first round pick (Landon Powell) and their 24th round pick (Dallas Braden) combined on a perfect game in 2010.
Total WAR for class: 17.3
Total WAR for players signed: 15.4
Top Player: Cliff Pennington (round 1)
Top Signed Player: Cliff Pennington
Note: The A’s were unable to sign 16th-round pick Justin Smoak out of this draft class, and it seemed like a major opportunity lost in 2008 when he was a first-round pick of the Texas Rangers. Smoak’s career hasn’t played out as expected (1.9 WAR thus far), but the A’s top pick in 2005 has quietly put together a solid career as a useful MLB back-up. Cliff Pennington has 10.4 WAR thus far and figures to play a prominent role in the Los Angeles Angels’ infield rotation this season. Travis Buck – the A’s second pick in 2005 – has a 3.1 career WAR despite less than two full seasons worth of MLB experience. Eight members of this class have reached the big leagues.
Total WAR for class: 27.9
Total WAR for players signed: 15.4
Top Player: Mike Leake (round 7 – did not sign)
Top Signed Player: Trevor Cahill (round two)
Note: The A’s didn’t have a first-round pick in 2006 thanks to the Esteban Loaiza signing, but this is a relatively weak haul regardless. Only three members of the A’s class have made the big leagues, and one of those (Mike Leake) didn’t sign with the A’s. First pick Trevor Cahill pitched well enough early in his career to be used as a valuable trade chip, as did sixth-round pick Andrew Bailey. However, both pitchers have found limited success since being traded away from Oakland.
Total WAR for class: 7.3
Total WAR for players signed: 3
Top Player: Collin Cowgill (round 29 – did not sign)
Top Signed Player: Sean Doolittle (supplemental 1st round)
Note: The A’s had three extra picks thanks to losing Barry Zito and Frank Thomas via free agency. Injuries derailed many of their early round selections, as top pick James Simmons suffered a shoulder injury just as he reached the cusp of the big leagues and second-round pick Grant Desme missed significant time with wrist and leg injuries before retiring abruptly to join the seminary. Sean Doolittle had to remake his career, moving from a top position player prospect to a reliever, thanks to knee and wrist injuries. The most valuable player of this class thus far is outfielder Collin Cowgill, who elected to return to college for his senior season rather than sign with the A’s in 2007. He would eventually play for Oakland after coming over in a deal that sent Trevor Cahill to Arizona. Seven members of this class have made the big leagues thus far.
Total WAR for class: 6.8
Total WAR for players signed: 8.5
Top Player: Tyson Ross (round 2)
Top Signed Player: Tyson Ross
Note: This class is an oddity in that the value of the players the A’s signed from the group is worth more than the overall value of the class. That is because five of the A’s unsigned picks from this class made the big leagues and four of them currently have negative value for their careers. Top pick Jemile Weeks had a promising rookie season before losing his spot in the big leagues after a sophomore slump, and it is second pick Tyson Ross who is carrying the flag for this class. The A’s traded Ross away in an ill-advised deal before the 2013 season and he has turned into a very valuable right-handed starter for San Diego over the past two seasons.
Total WAR for class: 0.7
Total WAR for players signed: -0.9
Top Player: Sam Dyson (round 10 – did not sign)
Top Signed Player: tie – Max Stassi (round four) / Dan Straily (round 24)
Note: The A’s had the 13th overall pick in 2009, but they passed on Mike Trout, A.J. Pollock, Shelby Miller and others to take Grant Green, who has a -1.1 WAR thus far in his career. Eight members of this class have made the big leagues thus far, but three of those were unsigned players. Reliever Sam Dyson, who went back for his senior season at South Carolina rather than turn pro in 2009, has been the most productive big leaguer from this group. Straily is the only member of this class who contributed significantly to the A's at the big league level. He was traded during the 2014 season and is currently teammates with fellow A's draft classmate Max Stassi in Houston.
Total WAR for class: 2.3
Total WAR for players signed: 2.3
Top Player: A.J. Griffin (round 10)
Top Signed Player: A.J. Griffin (round 10)
Note: Only two members of this draft class have reached the big leagues thus far – A.J. Griffin and top pick Michael Choice. Choice was a solid prospect and the A’s were able to use him in a deal with Texas, but he hasn’t lived up to expectations as a major-leaguer (-2 WAR). The A’s took four high school players in a row from round two through round five and none of them have reached higher than A-ball at any stage of their careers. The A’s 31st round pick that season – Aaron Judge – is a top-50 prospect and could end up being the best overall player in this class when all is said and done. There is no question that the lack of impact players taken by the A's in 2009 and 2010 hurt their farm system significantly in the years that followed. It took a series of trades before the 2012 season and an uptick in success in the draft to get the system back on track.
Total WAR for class: 11.5
Total WAR for players signed: 11.5
Top Player: Sonny Gray (round 1)
Top Signed Player: Sonny Gray
Note: The A’s haven’t gotten much from this class after their first pick, but the first pick was good enough to carry the group. Gray has turned into one of the most productive players from what was a very talented first round and the A’s did very well to get him at pick 18. The only other big leaguer in this group thus far is right-hander Blake Treinen, who was part of the deal that netted the A’s John Jaso. Treinen was the A’s seventh round pick and he has amassed 1.3 WAR for the Washington Nationals so far in his career. A’s 38th-round pick Alex Blandino didn’t sign with Oakland out of high school and went to Stanford instead. He is a top-100 prospect as a member of the Cincinnati Reds’ organization. A’s 44th-round pick Chris Bostick was part of the deal that sent Michael Choice to Texas. Bostick has since been traded to the Nationals, and he is a solid prospect in that system.
Total WAR for class: 3.3
Total WAR for players signed: 3.3
Top Player: Addison Russell (round 1)
Top Signed Player: Addison Russell
Note: The story on this draft class hasn’t really begun to be written, as several members find themselves on the verge of the big leagues as the 2016 season begins. The A’s have already seen four members graduate to the big leagues – three of them being players that they signed (Addison Russell, Max Muncy and Ryan Dull). Check back on this class in a year.