A's Draft History: Recent Top-15 Picks

This June, the Oakland A's will have a top-15 draft selection for the first time since 1999. It will also be only the eighth time that the A's have chosen in the top-half of the first round since 1987. It is a testament to their success on the field as well as an indication of how rare an opportunity this draft will be for Oakland. We take a look at the A's recent history with top-15 picks inside.

Billy Beane took over as the Oakland A's general manager in 1998. He had a top-15 draft pick in each of his first two seasons as GM, and hasn't had one since. That will change this June, as the A's will be selecting 12th after their first losing season in 10 years. In the coming months, we will discuss which players the A's might target in this year's draft. Today, we take a look at the team's history since 1987 with high draft picks to see what type of success the team has had when they have had a top-15 pick.

1999 – Barry Zito #9
The 1999 draft was the last time that the A's have found themselves in the top-15 of the draft. They used their pick wisely that year, selecting left-hander Barry Zito out of the University of Southern California. Zito would help the A's make five playoff appearances and he would win 102 regular season games and a Cy Young award for Oakland before signing with San Francisco as a free agent before the 2007 season. He is one of the most successful pitchers in Oakland A's history.

Other players the A's could have considered that were taken later in the first round that year include Ben Sheets, Brett Myers, Jason Jennings and Alex Rios. It would be hard to make the argument that any of those players would have been more valuable to Oakland than Zito, however.
Grade: A

1998 – Mark Mulder #2
The A's were in an excellent draft position in 1998, picking second only to the Philadelphia Phillies. Once again, the A's made a wise selection, going with left-hander Mark Mulder out of Michigan State. Mulder signed late, so he didn't debut professionally until 1999. He was sent directly to Triple-A and he was in the big leagues by 2000. Mulder has faced injury issues that have diminished what looked to be a possible Hall of Fame career early on. However, he gave the A's a lot of value, winning 81 games in five seasons with Oakland.

Mulder also proved to be a very valuable trade chip. He was dealt to St. Louis for Dan Haren, Kiko Calero and Daric Barton just before the 2005 season. After getting three strong seasons from Haren on the mound, the A's traded the right-hander to Arizona for Carlos Gonzalez, Brett Anderson, Aaron Cunningham, Chris Carter, Greg Smith and Dana Eveland. The A's have already netted 132 major league wins and four saves from Mulder, Haren and Calero and many of their top young players have come from those two trades. A pretty good return on the $3.2 million signing bonus it took to bring Mulder into the fold after drafting him.

Other players the A's could have considered who were taken later in the draft include Corey Patterson, J.D. Drew, Austin Kearns, Carlos Pena, Adam Everett, Jeff Weaver, Brad Lidge, C.C. Sabathia and Brad Wilkerson. Mark Prior was also selected in the supplemental round that year, but didn't sign. Of those players, Sabathia is the only player that one could make an argument for being as potentially valuable as Mulder was for Oakland.
Grade: A

1997 – Chris Enochs #11
The A's took another pitcher in 1997 when they had the 11th overall pick. Chris Enochs was a right-hander, but like Mulder and Zito, he was a polished, collegiate arm. Unfortunately for the A's, Enochs didn't come close to panning out the way that Mulder and Zito did. He never reached the big leagues, posting a 4.84 ERA in 894 career minor league innings over nine seasons. After a strong professional debut for the A's in 1997, Enochs never had a season with an ERA under 4.00 the rest of his minor-league career. Fortunately for Oakland, they were able to rectify that draft mistake by finding Tim Hudson in the sixth round out of Auburn.

There were a few players that the A's could have taken in the first round instead of Enochs that would have netted the team a nice return. It was, admittedly, a very weak first round. Mostly notably, the Houston Astros took Lance Berkman out of Rice University with the 16th overall pick. Berkman has always been an A's kind of player – lots of patience and good power – so he would have fit in well with Oakland.

Other options include Adam Kennedy, Jayson Werth and Jack Cust, whom the A's passed over in the first round twice (Oakland also had the 21st pick, which they used on left-hander Eric DuBose). One can only imagine what Cust's career path might have been like if he had been in an organization that had the DH and appreciated his skill-set from the beginning.
Grade: D This would have been an F, but for the weakness of the overall first round.

1996 – Eric Chavez #10
The A's had a lot of practice drafting in the top-15 in the 1990s, as the team was very bad for most of the decade. In 1996, the A's took a high school third baseman from San Diego with their first pick, Eric Chavez. Chavez is currently the longest-tenured Oakland A's player and, assuming he can overcome the injuries he has battled the past three seasons, stands a good chance of being behind only Rickey Henderson and Mark McGwire for most of the A's offensive career records. Chavez has won six Gold Glove awards, smacked 227 major-league homers and joins Barry Zito as the only constant on all five of the A's recent playoff teams.

Chavez's selection in the first round that season is magnified when one looks at the remainder of the players chosen. Of the 35 picks in the first and supplemental rounds in 1996, only Mark Kotsay has come close to having as much career success as Chavez. The picks before Chavez were Kris Benson, Travis Lee (who didn't sign), Braden Looper, Billy Koch, John Patterson, Seth Greisinger, Matt White, Chad Green and Kotsay. Players chosen after Chavez include Adam Eaton, Bobby Seay, Joey Lawrence (yo!), R.A. Dickey, Eric Milton, Jake Westbrook, Gil Meche, Damian Rolls and Jason Marquis. One could make the argument that Chavez was the best player selected in that first round.
Grade: A

1995 – Ariel Prieto #5
The A's, two-and-a-half years removed from winning the AL West, had the number five pick in the 1995 draft. Looking for a quick fix for their starting rotation, the A's selected Ariel Prieto, a Cuban star who was thought to be a player who could step right into a major league rotation. Prieto was already 25 and he joined the A's rotation soon after signing a contract for $1.2 million. He struggled almost immediately and was never effective for the A's. In five seasons with the A's, Prieto never posted an ERA lower than 4.15 and he only made more than 20 starts twice.

Before Prieto was added to the draft pool, the A's were strongly considering Todd Helton with that fifth pick. Obviously, that would have been a better use of the pick. The A's also could have selected Roy Halladay, Geoff Jenkins, Matt Morris, Mark Redman and Michael Barrett – all of whom were more useful players than Prieto turned out to be. The entire draft was a disappointment for Oakland. Only Mark Bellhorn, Jeff DaVanon and David Newhan wound-up having significant major-league careers out of the A's 44 picks. The failed draft helped to set back the A's progression to a winning record by a few years.
Grade: F

1994 – Ben Grieve #2
The year before the Prieto fiasco, the A's had the number two pick in the draft. They used it on a Texas high school outfielder, Ben Grieve. Grieve had a solid baseball lineage and one of the sweetest left-handed swings many scouts had ever seen. The outfielder arrived in Oakland by the end of the 1997 season and in 1998, he won the American League Rookie of the Year award by hitting .288 with an 844 OPS. He followed performance with two more seasons with 800+ OPS for the A's before slumping to a 759 OPS and struggling in the playoffs in 2000.

The A's saw that decline and got the Tampa Bay Devil Rays to buy high on a player the A's were guessing was going to regress. Oakland sent Grieve to Tampa Bay, Angel Berroa and A.J. Hinch to Kansas City for Johnny Damon, Corey Lidle and Mark Ellis in January 2001. The trade was one of Beane's signature moves and helped the A's make four more playoff appearances over the following six seasons. Grieve would only have one more season with an OPS greater than 800 after the trade and he retired after nine relatively disappointing seasons in the big leagues.

There were other players the A's could have chosen that may have netted them a better major league player than Grieve turned out to be. Nomar Garciaparra, Paul Konerko and Jason Varitek all went later in the first round. However, given how much the A's received in return for Grieve in that trade and the three good seasons at the plate they got from him, it's hard to be too down on this pick.
Grade: C+

1990 – Todd Van Poppel #14
In 1990, the A's were the premier franchise in baseball. They also had four first-round picks in the draft thanks to a number of free agents signing with other teams. A's GM Sandy Alderson intended to set-up the A's starting rotation for years to come by taking four pitchers the team hoped would help the A's dominate well into the 1990s. The first pick was Todd Van Poppel, a Texas high school kid who was widely considered the best player in the draft, but who was expected to go to the University of Texas rather than turn pro. The A's took the chance that they could buy him out of his college commitment and they did just that, signing him to a $500,000 deal. The deal was a major-league contract, which meant that the A's and Van Poppel would only have three years until he had to stick in the major leagues before he was out of options.

That accelerated pace did neither the A's nor Van Poppel any favors. In parts of five seasons with Oakland, Van Poppel never posted an ERA under 4.88 and he never developed the command he would have needed to be a front-line starter. He was claimed on waivers by Detroit in 1996 and floated around the league until finally finding some success as a reliever for the Chicago Cubs in 2000 and 2001. The other three pitchers the A's chose – Don Peters, David Zancanaro and Kirk Dressendorfer – also failed to pan out. Dressendorfer was the only one of the three to make the big leagues and all three struggled with injuries.

Instead of taking Van Poppel, Oakland could have selected a local product, Mike Mussina of Stanford. Mussina could have given the A's the ace that they never had until Tim Hudson debuted in 1999. Steve Karsay, who the A's acquired from Toronto in 1993, was also available to be selected. Ernie Young turned out to be the best player the A's selected that season, and the 1990 draft was arguably the start of the A's downfall from the top franchise in baseball to the basement dweller that the team was for much of the 1990s.
Grade: F

1987 – Lee Tinsley #11
In 1987, the A's were on the precipice of becoming a dominant team. Jose Canseco had won the Rookie of the Year award for the A's in 1986 and Mark McGwire was in the midst of clubbing a rookie-record 49 homers. Dave Stewart was also in the process of putting together his first 20-win season and Dennis Eckersley was being converted to closer.

Oakland had the 11th overall pick in 1987 and the A's used it on outfielder Lee Tinsley. Tinsley never reached the potential the five-tool outfielder was supposed to have. He never played for the A's at the major-league level, as the team dealt him to Cleveland in 1992 for third baseman Brook Jacoby. Tinsley would go on to play 361 major league games and post a .241 BA and a 647 OPS.

With the exception of first pick Ken Griffey Jr., there weren't many great players selected in the first round in 1987. The other notable exception was Craig Biggio, who put together a Hall of Fame caliber career for Houston and was selected with the 22nd pick. The A's also would have done better to select Travis Fryman, a shortstop/third baseman who had a few good years with Cleveland and Detroit. In addition, Delino DeShields, who was one of the most dynamic base-stealers of his era, was selected one slot after the A's took Tinsley.
Grade: D+

Conclusion
Looking at these eight drafts, there isn't any clear pattern of what type of player the A's should select with a top-15 pick. They have had success and failure with college and high school picks, as well as pitchers and position players. The team's experience with giving Van Poppel a major-league contract may dissuade the team from selecting a player who is going to require a major-league contract to sign. The A's may also learn a valuable lesson from the Prieto fiasco that taking a player who can help the team immediately over a player with more long-term potential can lead to mediocre results.

The good news for A's fans: Beane is two-for-two with top-15 picks. Considering the influx of young talent the team has added this past off-season, the A's could set themselves up for a sustained period of winning teams with a successful 2008 draft class.


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