2006 Draft Coverage: What Might The A's Do?

Not since 2000 have the A's gone into a draft without a first round draft choice. With an off-season spent adding players rather than subtracting them, the A's find themselves in an unusual position – watching the first round from the sidelines. We take a look at what strategies the A's might employ for their first pick and for the rest of the draft inside…

Overview

Last season, the Oakland A's surprised a number of pundits when they veered off of their normal course of targeting mostly college players. Oakland used six of their first nine picks on high school players. All but one of those high schoolers were right-handed pitchers. The other was a slick-fielding shortstop. Traditionally, the A's have gone the college route when drafting players because college players generally take less time to move through the minor leagues and are easier to sign. However, Oakland had little trouble signing all six of their first day high school draft choices and four of them are already at low-A Kane County.

One of the reasons the A's drafted so many high school players in 2005 was that they felt the strength of the draft was in the high school talent, especially with the pitchers. The 2006 draft doesn't appear to be lining up that way. Most pundits agree that the pool of talent from the collegiate ranks is much deeper then the high school talent pool. Consequently, it wouldn't be surprising to see the A's go back to their normal pattern of picking a lot of collegiate players, at least in their first few rounds of choices.

Second Round Draft History

The A's have actually had a decent amount of recent success picking in the second round. Last season, the A's netted high school hurlers Craig Italiano and Jared Lansford in the second round and both were impressive during their Rookie ball debuts in 2005 and have shown a lot of promise at Kane County this season. In 2004, the A's selected Michael Rogers and Kurt Suzuki in the second round of that year's draft. Rogers was inconsistent in his first two professional seasons, but he is putting together a strong season for high-A Stockton this year. Suzuki has established himself as the A's top catching prospect and has already made it to AA-Midland.

In 2003, the A's selected Andre Ethier in the second round. Ethier was dealt this off-season for Milton Bradley and Antonio Perez and has already made an impact at the major league level for Los Angeles Dodgers. 2002 second round choice Steve Stanley had a solid minor league career before retiring earlier this season, and 2001 second round selection Neal Cotts is a mainstay in the Chicago White Sox bullpen.

What this means, of course, is that there is plenty of talent to be found in the second round or later in the draft. In fact, Jason Windsor, arguably the A's hottest prospect right now, was a third round selection in 2004. Without a first round selection and the A's customary supplemental round selections, Oakland will be working with fewer draft picks in 2006. However, they should still be able to grab some talent to supplement their currently thin farm system.

System Needs

Unlike the NBA or NFL drafts, the MLB draft is not all about filling the immediate needs of the major league team. For instance, last season the A's drafted a shortstop with their first pick (Cliff Pennington) despite having the reigning AL Rookie of the Year Bobby Crosby entrenched at short at the major league level. The reason the A's grabbed Pennington had more to do with their system holes then it did with their major league roster. The A's have quietly been targeting more athletic players who are capable of running and hitting at the top of the order. Pennington fit both of those needs and is strong enough defensively to move to another spot on the infield if he is major league ready while Crosby is still on the team.

On the offensive-side of the equation, the A's are lacking in two areas: athletic hitters and power hitters. Not surprisingly given their system-wide emphasis on being patient at the plate, the A's system is filled with players who have an advanced understanding of the strike zone. What the A's lack, however, are sluggers and base-stealers.

Oakland's best minor league power hitters are Kevin Melillo (a second baseman whose power numbers are down this year), Jeff Baisley (who is in low-A), Vasili Spanos (who is 25 and at AA), Javier Herrera (who is out for the year), Richie Robnett (who is having an inconsistent year at high-A), Daric Barton (who has yet to translate his gap power to homerun power) and Travis Buck (who leads the minors in doubles, but, like Barton, has not yet shown a ton of homerun power). Tommy Everidge and Landon Powell have also shown good power for A-Stockton this season.

Florida's Matt LaPorta would be the perfect addition to the A's power-strapped system. LaPorta was the nation's leader in homeruns in 2005, but he has had an injury-plagued season for the Gators in 2006 and could be falling down the draft board. It isn't likely that LaPorta would still be available in the late second round when the A's pick, but if he is there, look for Oakland to snatch him.

The A's could also go the high school route and draft catcher Hank Conger, if he is still on the board. Conger, who hails from baseball hot-bed Huntington Beach, CA, has a strong throwing arm and plus-power, although there are questions about his defensive abilities behind the plate long-term. Conger could make a move to first base down the road, just like fellow Huntington Beach native Daric Barton did for the A's last season. Conger's power projects to be good enough to play at a corner spot.

Another high schooler who may pique the A's interest if he is still on the board is Travis Snider, a powerful high school outfielder from the Pacific Northwest. He is a big body and a former football player who hits prodigious homeruns. Snider had a nasty ankle injury in high school, but he appears to have recovered nicely. However, both Conger and Snider are likely to be gone before the A's have a chance to grab them.

The A's are also lacking speed and athleticism in their system. Herrera, Robnett and Buck are the A's best five-tool talents and Pennington, Justin Sellers and Gregorio Petit are the system's best defensive players. The best five-tool collegiate talent in the draft appears to be Texas centerfielder Drew Stubbs. Although there have been some grumblings about Stubbs' upside as a hitter long-term, he isn't expected to last past the middle of the first round.

The A's have already signed one five-tool prospect, Carlos Gutierrez. Gutierrez destroyed CIAA (Division II) pitching for Elizabeth City State during his collegiate career. However, it remains to be seen how he will adjust to the professional game.

Arizona middle infielder Jason Donald, Kentucky second baseman John Shelby II and Kent State shortstop Emmanuel Burriss are all athletic, top-of-the-order hitters who could be of interest to the A's in the second or third round. The A's may also target a centerfielder, as they are thin in center with Mike Massaro as the only true centerfield prospect in the system this season with Herrera on the shelf and Robnett playing much of the time in right.

On the pitching-side of the equation, the A's did a good job last season of replenishing their pitching talent at the lower levels. The 2005 draft was heavy on pitching and the A's have seen good results from both their high and low picks. Lansford, Italiano and Vince Mazzaro are all at low-A Kane County as 19 year-olds. James Ray, a 21-year old eighth round pick last season, is having a strong year for the Cougars. 2005 fourth round pick Jimmy Shull was also showing a lot of promise at high-A Stockton, but he blew out his elbow and will miss the rest of the season.

The A's do have a major need for left-handed pitching in their system right now. Brad Davis, Brad Kilby and Ron Madej were all lower round picks in 2005 and all have shown a lot of promise. However, Davis, Kilby and Madej are all relievers. Kane County currently has no left-handed starting pitchers and Stockton's rotation sports only one, Ryan Ford, and Ford has been moved back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen.

Unfortunately, there aren't many left-handed pitchers among the top prospects for the 2006 draft (beside top prospect Andrew Miller, who certainly won't last past the first three or four picks). College hurlers Wade LeBlanc and David Huff (another Huntington Beach native) would likely be of interest to the A's if they were available in the second round. Kasey Kiker, a high school lefty, could be of interest to Oakland, as well. He is a control pitcher whose height (5'11'') may scare off teams in the first round.

Taking A Flier

In the past, the A's have been shy about chasing players with signability issues because of the team's limited budget. The A's usually have two or more first round picks, which generally eats up much of their draft bonus allocation budget. However, with no first rounders this year, the A's may have more money available to try to chase high school or junior college players who have the option to return to school if their bonus demands aren't met. The A's almost convinced high school slugger Justin Smoak to sign with them after picking him in the 16th round last season, but ended up $100,000 short of his demands. The A's could take a similar flier on a talented player like Smoak and should be able to close the deal this season.


Oakland Clubhouse Top Stories