Flashback: Oakland A's 2003 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 second of this series, we take a look at the 2003 draft.

Number of Draft Picks: 42
Number Signed: 24
Number of Drafted Players to Reach Majors: 4
Number of Signed Players to Reach Majors: 2
Number of First-Round Picks: 3
Best Player Drafted: Andre Ethier
Best Player Signed: Andre Ethier

Draft Highlights

After having seven first-round selections in 2002, the Oakland A's had a more modest total of three (including the supplemental first round) in 2003. Their first pick was at number 25, the next at 26 and the third was at pick 33.

With their first pick, the A's took right-hander Brad Sullivan out of the University of Houston. Sullivan was a highly regarded starting pitcher who had been linked closely before the draft to the Toronto Blue Jays at pick 13. When Toronto decided to change course and take LSU shortstop Aaron Hill instead, Sullivan began to fall down the draft ranks. He was considered a possible steal at pick 25 when the A's grabbed him.

Part of the reason that Sullivan fell on draft day were whispers that a heavy workload at Houston had left his arm at less than 100 percent. As it turned out, those whispers were probably correct, as Sullivan never displayed with Oakland the velocity consistently that he had in college. Sullivan was considered a polished prospect and the A's started him at High-A Modesto in his first full season in 2004. He threw 147 innings that season and fared okay, posting a 4.65 ERA in the hitter-friendly California League.

Things went downhill for Sullivan after that season. He pitched only 77.1 innings over the next three years and never advanced above High-A. Sullivan was released after the 2007 season and didn't play affiliated baseball in 2008. He struggled with his mechanics for much of his time with the A's. Sullivan would often look great in bullpen sessions, but he was unable to translate that into success on the mound despite putting a lot of work into it.

With the pick immediately after Sullivan, the A's took Stetson third baseman Brian Snyder. Snyder set all sorts of records at Stetson and was considered one of the most polished collegiate hitters in the draft. He got off to a good start in his pro career, hitting .311 with 13 homers, a .421 OBP and a 905 OPS in 2004 for Low-A Kane County in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League.

Unfortunately, like with Sullivan, Snyder was unable to replicate that success in the years that followed. A torn hip flexor and groin sidelined Snyder for virtually all of the 2005 season. He got back on the field in 2006 and was sent directly to Double-A Midland, but he struggled with the Rockhounds, hitting .207 in 47 games (although he did have a .372 OBP). He spent the rest of the year with Stockton, hitting .279 with a .378 OBP. He returned to Midland in 2007 and got off to a good start, earning a spot in the Texas League All-Star game. Snyder struggled the rest of the year, however, and finished with a .254 average in 111 games. In 2008, Snyder returned once again to Midland, but he never got on track with the Rockhounds, hitting .248 in 61 games. He was released mid-season and signed with San Diego. For his career, Snyder has shown the ability to get on-base (.388 OBP in 429 career games), but he hasn't put up the power numbers that were expected of him and injuries have limited him, as well.

The A's took University of Texas shortstop Omar Quintanilla with their next pick, the 33rd overall. Since turning pro, Quintanilla hasn't had any trouble producing in the minor leagues, but he has failed to translate those minor league numbers into major league production. Quintanilla sped quickly through the A's system after being drafted. He split the 2004 season between High-A Modesto and Double-A Midland, hitting 13 homers in 131 games and batting .320. He continued to produce for Midland in 2005, hitting .293 in 78 games. At that point, he was traded to the Colorado Rockies as part of the Eric Byrnes/Joe Kennedy/Jay Witasick trade. Quintanilla would make it to the major leagues with the Rockies later that season. He has appeared in 158 games for the Rockies over the past four seasons, but he has hit only .226 with a 579 OPS. Conversely, he has hit .309 with an 818 OPS in six minor league seasons.

The A's fourth pick was by far their best of the draft. With the 62nd overall selection, Oakland took Arizona State outfielder Andre Ethier. Ethier's career looked to be threatened by the injury bug early on, as he underwent back surgery in 2004 and was limited to only 99 games with High-A Modesto that season. He recovered from that injury, however, and had a break-through season in 2005 with Double-A Midland, hitting .319 with 18 homers and winning the Texas League Player of the Year award. Ethier also starred in the Arizona Fall League that off-season, raising his profile around the league. That raised profile allowed the A's to move Ethier in a big trade before the 2006 season, when he was dealt to the Dodgers for veteran Milton Bradley and infielder Antonio Perez. Ethier made his big league debut in 2006, hitting .308 in 126 games. Since that time, Ethier has become one of the Dodgers' top offensive players. In three big league seasons, he has a .299 career average and an 846 OPS.

The A's were the first team to stop drafting, passing in the 41st round. After the Ethier pick, none of the A's subsequent signed picks have made it to the major leagues. The closest pick to make the bigs was reliever and 35th round pick Mike Mitchell, who was a strong candidate to make the big league team out of spring training in 2007, but he was felled by a torn labrum at the end of camp and has pitched only a handful of innings since then. Two of the A's unsigned picks (J.R. Towles and Sean Kazmar) have reached the big leagues, but neither are stars at this point.

Draft Impact on the Oakland A's

The 2003 draft was a relatively mediocre one for baseball in general, but it was even worse than that for the A's. With tight budgets and a steady stream of free agent stars leaving in the early 2000s, the A's could ill afford to miss with their first round picks and expect to continue to compete year-in and year-out. Unfortunately for Oakland, none of their first round picks made it to the big leagues with the team.

The best pick in the A's draft was Ethier and even though he has made his mark with the Dodgers, he did have an impact on the A's by netting Milton Bradley in return. Although Bradley was only with the A's for a season-and-a-half, he was a big part of the team's 2006 AL West division title winning team. Bradley was then traded in 2007 for reliever Andrew Brown. Perez turned out to be a total bust, however.

Quintanilla was the big chip in the trade that netted the A's Jay Witasick and Joe Kennedy. Witasick pitched well for the A's in 2005, but after signing a free agent deal to stay with the A's after that season, he struggled for Oakland in 2006 and was released after 15 innings in 2007. Kennedy was a starter for Oakland in 2005 and 2007 and was the team's left-handed reliever in 2006. He was released and picked up by Toronto in 2007, and he tragically passed away because of heart problems after that season.

Ones That Got Away

While there are probably not any players that the A's drafted but didn't sign in 2003 that they regret not signing now, there are a few players who were selected after the A's made their first picks that the team would have been happy to have on-board.

The most obvious player is outfielder Carlos Quentin (pick 29), who was a local kid (Stanford product) and a polished college hitter. It took Quentin until 2006 to break-through to the big leagues, but in 2008 he was one of the top right-handed hitters in the American League. Matt Murton (pick 32) was another college hitter who fit the A's drafting profile and who has had some success in the major leagues. Of course, Murton is now property of the A's, although he is coming off of a down season.

Another player who was taken after the A's first two picks in 2003 was a high school catcher named Daric Barton. Barton was dealt to the A's one year later as part of the Mark Mulder deal with St. Louis and quickly became the team's top prospect. Back in 2003, the A's were more intent on focusing in on polished collegiate players with their top picks, so Barton wasn't ever going to be a likely target for the A's. However, his approach to hitting fits perfectly into the A's hitting philosophy.

There were a number of other high school picks that were taken after slot 25 who have turned into top prospects or major league stars, including Adam Miller, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Ryan Sweeney (who, of course, is now with Oakland) and Adam Jones. But, again, they weren't likely picks for the A's because they were high school players. In round four, Jonathan Papelbon was selected by the Boston Red Sox. The A's had taken Papelbon in the late rounds in 2002; therefore, he was likely on the team's radar.

Conclusion

It would be a stretch to say that the A's lack of return in the 2003 draft is the sole reason that Oakland has felt the need to re-stock their farm system via trades over the past few years, but it was certainly a contributing factor. The A's seemingly tried to play it safe by selecting polished collegiate players in 2003, but they soon discovered that even safe bets can go awry thanks to injury and other circumstances. It probably isn't a coincidence that in 2004 the A's took a more risky, "toolsy" player in the first round in Richie Robnett and a high school pitcher in Ryan Webb in the fourth round. Since that time, the A's have taken a number of high school and junior college players in the first 10 rounds, and with decent results.


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