Flashback: Oakland A's 2002 Draft

While an organization can be built in many different ways, the Oakland A's have always been a team that has built its core through the minor league system. The lifeblood of any minor league system is the draft. Over the next few weeks, we will take a look back at the A's drafts in 2002-2006 to see what Oakland got out of those drafts. In the first of this series, we take a look at the 2002 draft.

Number of Draft Picks: 52
Number Signed: 45
Number of Drafted Players to Reach Majors: 12* (note that fifth-round pick Mark Kiger appeared in a major league post-season game (2006 ALCS), but has yet to appear in a regular season major league game. He is not included in this total.)
Number of Signed Players to Reach Majors: 8
Number of First-Round Picks: 7
Best Player Drafted: Jonathan Papelbon
Best Player Signed: Nick Swisher

Draft Highlights

Arguably more has been written about this draft class than any other draft class in baseball history. Author Michael Lewis famously wrote about the A's 2002 class in the book Moneyball. Looking back, although this class didn't end up revolutionizing the draft in the way Moneyball projected, it has had perhaps better results than many have given it credit for.

Of the seven first-round picks the A's made that season, all seven signed and four players reached the big leagues. Three of those four have become major league regulars: Nick Swisher (the top pick in the draft for Oakland), Joe Blanton and Mark Teahen.

In four-plus major league seasons, Swisher has 104 homeruns and a career OPS+ of 112. He has also proven that he can handle all three outfield positions, as well as first base. The defensive ability combined with his switch-hitting makes Swisher one of the more versatile players in the American League.

Blanton has also played four-plus major league seasons and he has a .526 career winning percentage and career OPS+ of 101. He has averaged 212.1 innings pitched per season, making him one of the most durable starters in the big leagues.

Teahen has played four major league seasons. His 2006 campaign was a standout one, as he posted an OPS+ of 122 in 109 games. Injuries and inconsistency have hampered him throughout his big league career, however, as his last two seasons have been below average (OPS+ of 98 and 86, respectively).

Catcher Jeremy Brown was the fourth A's first-round pick to reach the majors. He collected three hits in 10 major league at-bats in 2006, but retired before the start of the 2008 season.

Beyond the first round, the A's have had eight picks make the major leagues, although only four of those eight were picks signed by Oakland. Ironically, one of the picks not signed by Oakland that season was Brad Ziegler. After being drafted and signing with Philadelphia in 2003, Ziegler was signed as a minor league free agent by the A's in 2004 and made his major league debut with Oakland this season (and set a rookie record for most scoreless innings to start a career in the process).

Left-handed pitcher Bill Murphy (3), catcher John Baker (4), right-hander Jared Burton (8) and right-hander Shane Komine (9) were the A's four picks beyond the first round that were signed by Oakland to make their major league debuts. Only Komine made that debut with the A's. He made four appearances for Oakland in 2006 and 2007, posting a 4.86 ERA in 16.2 innings. Komine's career has been plagued by shoulder and elbow injuries, and he was sidelined for much of the 2008 season with another shoulder injury. He is a minor league free agent this off-season.

Murphy was traded to the Florida Marlins as part of the Mark Redman deal before the 2004 season. He was traded two more times after that and eventually made his big league debut with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2007, posting a 5.69 ERA in 6.2 innings. Murphy spent the 2008 season in the Toronto Blue Jays' chain.

Baker's career appeared stalled at Triple-A before he finally got the break he had been waiting for this season with the Florida Marlins. The left-handed hitting catcher spent parts or all of the 2004-2006 seasons with Triple-A Sacramento in the A's chain before being traded to Florida for first baseman Jason Stokes before the 2007 season. After spending all of 2007 and the first half of 2008 at Triple-A Albuquerque, Baker got the call from Florida in early July. He hit his way into regular playing time with the Marlins and finished his rookie season with a .299 average with five homeruns and an 839 OPS in 61 games. He is a favorite to start for Florida next season.

Burton had an injury-plagued start to his career in the A's chain, but he got healthy in 2005 and parlayed a strong season with High-A Stockton into an opportunity at Double-A and the Arizona Fall League in 2006. Burton showed enough with the Rockhounds and at the AFL that year to pique the interest of the Cincinnati Reds, who took the right-handed reliever in the Rule 5 draft. Burton earned his roster spot with a strong spring and a good rookie season in 2007, posting a 2.51 ERA in 43 major league innings. He followed that up with a solid 2008 campaign for the Reds, posting a 3.22 ERA and striking out 58 in 58 innings. Burton is now considered one of the Reds' top relievers.

There were four players selected by the A's in 2002 who didn't sign with Oakland that year but subsequently made it to the major leagues after being drafted by other teams: Ziegler (31), J.R. Towles (32), Jonathan Papelbon (40) and Ty Taubenheim (44). As mentioned earlier, Ziegler wound-up a member of the A's organization two years after this draft and, following a stellar 2008 rookie season, will enter the 2009 season as one of the A's top relievers.

Towles was actually selected by Oakland again in 2003, but failed to sign after that draft, as well. He eventually inked with Houston after being selected in the 20th round by the Astros in 2004. Towles rose steadily through the Houston system and had a splashy debut in the big leagues in 2007, batting .375 with a 1007 OPS in 40 September at-bats. He was a top prospect for the Astros entering the 2008 season and got a lot of playing time early for Houston behind the plate. However, he hit only .137 with a 503 OPS in 54 major league games and may have lost his hold on one of Houston's two catching spots going into next season.

Papelbon needs no introduction, as he is one of the most well-known relievers in the game today. He didn't sign after being selected in the 40th round as a junior out of Mississippi State in 2002, and was rewarded by jumping to the fourth round in 2003, when he was taken by Boston. The right-hander rose rapidly through the Red Sox system and has quickly become one of the game's top closers. He has developed a reputation as a big-game performer with 22 scoreless post-season innings thus far in his career. During the regular season, Papelbon has a career ERA of 1.84 and 113 saves in 230 innings. He has saved at least 35 games in each of his three major league seasons.

Taubenheim didn't sign with the A's in 2002 and was rewarded by moving up to the 19th round in 2003. He signed with Milwaukee and was a solid prospect for the Brewers when he was dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays as part of the Lyle Overbay trade. Taubenheim made one start for the Blue Jays in 2007, allowing five runs in five innings. He was released by the Blue Jays at the end of the season and claimed by Pittsburgh. Taubenheim spent most of the year with Triple-A Indianapolis, but he made one start for the Pirates, allowing two runs in six innings.

Draft Impact on the Oakland A's

Besides making A's GM Billy Beane and the team's organizational philosophy famous, the 2002 draft had a tangible impact on the A's on the field.

Murphy was the first of the A's 2002 picks to be traded, and he was dealt for Mark Redman before the 2004 season in what was supposed to be a final piece for a championship squad for Oakland. Redman didn't produce for the A's, and he was traded the following off-season along with Arthur Rhodes for catcher Jason Kendall. Kendall never performed to expectations in two-and-a-half seasons with Oakland, but he was a strong leader on the A's 2006 playoff squad. He was traded last July for reliever Jerry Blevins and catcher Rob Bowen. Bowen has served as the A's back-up catcher since that trade and Blevins had a 3.11 ERA and 35 strike-outs in 37.2 innings for Oakland this season. Blevins figures to be a big part of the A's bullpen next season.

Teahen was the next to be traded, as he was dealt along with Mike Wood to the Kansas City Royals as part of a three-team June 2004 deal that also sent John Buck to the Royals and sent Carlos Beltran to Houston and Octavio Dotel to the A's. Dotel saved 22 games for the A's after the trade, but that team fell one game short of the playoffs. He then injured his elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery early in the 2005 season, missing the majority of the year. Oakland let him leave via free agency after the 2005 campaign.

Swisher and Blanton were both important parts of the A's 2006 AL West Division Championship squad that made it all of the way to the ALCS. Although Swisher and Blanton were both traded away during the last 12 months, they may have an even bigger impact on the A's long-term if the players Oakland acquired for Swisher and Blanton blossom into everyday players. Ryan Sweeney (acquired in the Swisher trade) hit .286 with a .350 OBP in 115 games for the A's in 2008, while the other five players involved in those two deals (Gio Gonzalez, Fautino De Los Santos, Adrian Cardenas, Josh Outman and Matt Spencer) will be ranked among the A's top prospects going into the 2009 season.

Komine and Brad Knox are the last two players signed by Oakland out of the 2002 draft still in the organization, but both are minor league free agents this off-season.

Ones That Got Away

The A's first pick in the first round came at slot 16, when they took Nick Swisher, and their next pick came at 24 when they took Joe Blanton. Both were solid picks at those spots. However, their next five first round picks netted only two players who reached the big leagues: Jeremy Brown and Mark Teahen.

Although that doesn't sound like a great result, the returns were actually fairly good as it compares to the rest of the draft from first-round picks 26-41 that season. Among those 16 players, only three have appeared in the big leagues: Teahen, Brown and lefty Dan Meyer, who was selected by Atlanta at pick 34 but wound-up making his big league debut with Oakland after being traded to the A's before the 2005 season.

The second round that season netted a lot more big league players, however. Notable second round selections that year that Oakland could have taken in the first round were Joey Votto, Micah Owings, Jon Lester, Brian McCann and Fred Lewis. The A's selected Steve Stanley in that round at pick 67. Stanley reached Triple-A, but has retired from baseball. Chris Snyder is the only player taken later in that round to have reached the majors, but major league five-tool outfielders Elijah Dukes and Curtis Granderson were both taken in the first half of the third round that year.

Of the players the A's didn't sign, only Papelbon is a regrettable non-sign since Oakland would wind-up signing Ziegler two years later as a free agent.

Conclusion The A's 2002 draft class drew a lot of attention because of the Lewis book and the team's high number of first-round picks. In the end, the A's hit on their first two picks (Swisher and Blanton), but had fairly average results for the rest of the draft. Had the team signed Papelbon, the draft would have been an unequivocal homerun. As it stands, the A's 2002 draft was an important aspect of Oakland's 2006 playoff team and, through trades, could wind-up being a big part of the team's next playoff squad, but it isn't likely to be remembered as one of the greatest drafts in franchise history.

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