Flashback: Oakland A's 2004 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 them. In the third of this series, we take a look at the 2004 draft.

Number of Draft Picks: 44
Number Signed: 32
Number of Drafted Players to Reach Majors: 8
Number of Signed Players to Reach Majors: 8
Number of First-Round Picks: 4
Best Player Drafted: Huston Street
Best Player Signed: Huston Street

Draft Highlights

With six picks before round three, the Oakland A's had a chance to stockpile some talent in 2004. Oakland received compensation picks for the losses of Miguel Tejada and Keith Foulke, and they had selections at pick 24, 26, 36, 40, 49, 67 in the first two rounds.

Before the draft, the A's were linked closely to two collegiate players – Danny Putnam of Stanford and Huston Street of Texas. The A's would wind-up selecting and signing both players, but they were able to wait to select both players in the supplemental first round. Oakland spent their first two picks on catcher Landon Powell of South Carolina and outfielder Richie Robnett of Fresno State. After taking Putnam and Street in the supplemental first round, the A's then selected pitcher Michael Rogers of North Carolina State and catcher Kurt Suzuki of Cal-State Fullerton in the second round.

Powell had a tumultuous draft history even before he was selected by the A's. After a breakout junior season in high school, Powell completed his GED and declared himself eligible for the 2000 draft, as he was already 18 before the start of the draft and players who are 18 and have a high school degree are eligible for the draft. Powell's availability in the draft went unnoticed by all 30 teams, and he was not drafted in 2000. At this point, his advisor, Scott Boras (who has a long history of pushing the draft rules) attempted to have Powell declared a free agent. Whether through collusion or unwillingness to deal with Boras, all 30 teams declined to sign Powell and he departed for South Carolina rather than the major leagues.

A rare starter as a freshman, Powell starred at USC for four years. He had a big junior season in 2003, but he surprisingly went undrafted until the 25th round that year, perhaps a residual effect of his high school draft experience. He returned to USC in 2004 and hit 19 homers and hit .328 for the Gamecocks. Despite being a senior, Powell was considered a first round prospect before the draft and the A's grabbed him with the 24th overall pick.

Powell has had an injury-plagued career since turning pro. He tore his ACL during an off-season conditioning drill and had to miss the entire 2005 season. Powell returned for the 2006 season and was healthy for a season and a half before tearing the ACL again in July of 2007. He returned to the field by Opening Day in 2008, but had to have a minor knee operation in August. Powell has been what he was advertised to be when he has been healthy – a power-hitting switch-hitter with a good eye and excellent defensive skills behind the plate. However, his knee injuries have prevented him from reaching the big leagues thus far.

Powell's injuries opened a door for the A's sixth pick in the 2004 draft, Kurt Suzuki, who was taken with the 67th overall pick. Suzuki took Powell's place at the A's big league spring training camp in 2005 and he caught the eye of the A's coaching staff. That spring performance put Suzuki on the fast track to the big leagues, and he reached the major leagues by June 2007. He became the A's starting catcher soon after and he has taken a firm hold on the spot since that time. Suzuki hit .279 with seven homers for the A's in 2008 and was one of the big league's most durable catchers, appearing in 148 games.

The A's second pick in the 2004 draft was outfielder Richie Robnett. Although he was a college pick, Robnett was an unpolished hitter coming out of Fresno State. The A's liked his power potential, however, and took the risk that he would be able to translate those skills into big numbers. Thus far, Robnett hasn't been able to produce the numbers that were expected of him. He hit 20 homers in his first full professional season in 2005, but he hasn't reached that number in any season since. Strike-outs and injuries have been big problems for Robnett, who has whiffed 506 times in 449 games over five seasons.

Robnett appeared to have turned a corner in 2007 when he hit .267 with 18 homers for Midland and he was added to the 40-man roster before the start of the 2008 season. Robnett's 2008 campaign was a forgettable one, however. He missed the first six weeks of the season recovering from a medical procedure and never really got on track, hitting .240 with only four homers in 82 games.

Oakland's third pick of the draft was a more polished collegiate prospect, outfielder Danny Putnam of Stanford. Putnam was considered one of the top college hitters in the draft, but some teams shied away from him because he was under six feet tall and was supposedly a poor defensive outfielder. Putnam got his career off to a good start in 2005, collecting 100 RBIs and posting an 867 OPS for Stockton. Injuries limited him in 2006 and in 2007, although he did make his major league debut in 2007, appearing in 11 games for the A's. Putnam was removed from the A's 40-man roster at the start of the 2008 season, but he responded to that demotion with a comeback season, hitting .276 with an 878 OPS with 15 homers for Triple-A Sacramento. He has also developed into a solid defensive corner outfielder.

The A's got almost instant gratification from their fourth pick in the draft, closer Huston Street of the University of Texas. Street was a decorated closer for the Longhorns and was thought to be a sure-fire top 30 pick at the start of the 2004 collegiate season, but a groin injury during the year caused his velocity to drop and he slipped on draft day. Street was healthy by the time he signed with the A's and sped through the Oakland system in 2004, moving from Kane County to Sacramento by the end of the year.

A strong spring and injuries to incumbent A's relievers gave Street a spot on the A's Opening Day roster in 2005, and he never looked back. He won the Rookie of the Year award that season and helped the A's reach the ALCS in 2006 by saving a career-best 37 games. Injuries limited Street in 2007 to only 48 appearances. In 2008, Street began the season by blowing a save on Opening Day and he never really got on-track from there. He posted a career-worst 3.73 ERA and lost his closer's job by the end of the year. The A's dealt Street as part of the Matt Holliday trade earlier this month. In four seasons with Oakland, Street saved 94 games and struck-out 271 batters in 269 innings.

The A's fifth pick in the 2004 draft may have been the most disappointing for the team. Oakland selected North Carolina State right-hander Michael Rogers with the 49th overall pick. Rogers was an excellent control pitcher with NC State, but he couldn't find the strike-zone consistently as a pro. His best season came in 2006 with Stockton when he went 11-6 with a 4.82 ERA. He only appeared in 17 games as high as Double-A before the A's cut Rogers after the 2007 season. He pitched in the independent CanAm league last season.

Oakland was able to unearth some gems in the later rounds of the draft, as well. The team's third round pick was right-hander Jason Windsor, who reached the big leagues in 2006. He has been battling shoulder injuries the past two seasons, but Windsor is expected to be healthy again in 2009. The A's fourth round pick was right-hander Ryan Webb, who was the highest high school pick the A's had made in nearly a decade. Webb has developed gradually since draft day, and the 6'6'' right-hander pitched a full season at Double-A last year and was added to the A's 40-man roster last week.

The A's fifth round pick was second baseman Kevin Melillo, a collegiate teammate of Landon Powell. Melillo rose through the A's system relatively quickly and made his major league debut in 2007 (he walked in his only at-bat). He was traded to Toronto during the 2008 season. The A's found another major leaguer in the 24th round of the draft in left-hander Dallas Braden. Despite not possessing an overpowering fastball, Braden has dominated in the minor leagues (3.30 ERA and 390 strike-outs in 346.2 career minor league innings) and he went 5-4 with a 4.14 ERA in 71.2 major league innings with the A's in 2008, his second big league season. Braden is a strong candidate to be the A's fifth starter in 2009.

Oakland also found big leaguers with their 31st and 32nd round picks. With pick 31, the A's took right-hander Connor Robertson, who blew through the A's system and reached the big leagues by 2007. He was traded with Dan Haren to Arizona before the 2008 season and he made six relief appearances for Arizona in 2008. Gray had a slower start to his minor league career, but he zoomed up the A's system after switching from being a starter into a reliever in 2006. He made his big league debut with Oakland in 2008 and is a candidate for the A's 2009 bullpen.

Draft Impact on the Oakland A's

Although it didn't receive the kind of coverage that the 2002 draft did, the A's 2004 draft was almost a "Moneyball, Part Two" given the number of early round picks the A's had at their disposal. Although injuries have limited some of the A's top picks (Powell in particular), Oakland's return from the 2004 draft has been pretty good thus far. Eight players have made the big leagues, with three having a significant impact for Oakland (Street, Suzuki and Braden). Powell is likely to make that number nine in 2009 if he remains healthy, while Webb and Robnett are both on the 40-man roster and could contribute for Oakland in the near future. Tenth round pick Tom Everidge has had a slow climb up the A's system, but he has compiled impressive numbers throughout his minor league career and is expected to be at Triple-A for the first time in 2009 after leading the Texas League in RBIs in 2008.

The selection of Street had the biggest early impact on the A's, as he took over as the team's closer less than a year after he was selected and brought some stability to a position that was a disaster for Oakland in 2004. He faded some in 2008, but was still effective enough to be a valuable trade chip for Oakland this off-season, when he was dealt as part of package that netted Oakland perennial All-Star Matt Holliday.

Suzuki may ultimately be the most important pick for the A's in this draft. An offensive-minded catcher coming out of college, Suzuki has transformed himself into a solid defensive backstop. He has also proven to be a good contact hitter and one of the most durable catchers in the big leagues.

Injuries have prevented this draft class from being a spectacular success, however. Powell has shown when he has been healthy that he is a plus defensive catcher with good power from both sides of the plate, but that knee injury could prevent him from demonstrating those skills at the big league level. Putnam and Windsor both were sidetracked by injuries in 2007, as was Melillo, who suffered a wrist injury that sapped a lot of his power in 2007 and cost him a shot to challenge for a roster spot last spring. Robnett has yet to translate his immense talent into consistent performance, while Rogers was a disappointment from the start.

Finding Braden, Robertson and Gray in the late rounds of the draft were impressive scouting finds for the A's. Braden and Gray could figure prominently in the A's pitching staff next year, while Robertson was used to help the A's acquire a big package of talent from Arizona last off-season.

Ones That Got Away

The A's had four picks in the first and supplemental first round and while only two have reached the big leagues at this point, there weren't too many other players that the A's would have considered taking that would have worked out better. There were a number of good high school picks after the A's made their first selection, but Oakland wasn't taking risks on high school players that often back then.

Had they been looking at high school picks, Oakland would have done well to take infielder Blake DeWitt, right-handers Eric Hurley and Jeff Marquez or left-hander Gio Gonzalez (who they ended up acquiring anyway a few years later). Right-hander Yovani Gallardo was taken early in the second round out of a Texas high school, and he would have been a good first round pick for the A's. J.P. Howell is probably the only college pick taken in the first round after the A's chose that Oakland may regret not taking.

Oakland's selection of Rogers with the 49th pick is more regrettable. There were a number of college prospects taken later in the second round who would have been good fits for the A's, including second baseman Dustin Pedroia, outfielder Hunter Pence and right-hander Billy Buckner. The A's did hit on the selection of Suzuki, who falls just behind Gallardo, Pedroia and Pence in terms of impact in the major leagues to date for players taken in the 2004 second round.

The only unsigned pick by Oakland who looks like "one that got away" is outfielder Jeremy Slayden, who was taken in the 18th round out of Georgia Tech. He was picked in the eighth round in the 2005 draft by Philadelphia and he hit .298 with 17 homers at Double-A in 2008 and batted .286 in the recently completed Arizona Fall League.

Conclusion

It doesn't look like the A's wound-up with any superstars in the 2004 draft, but they did acquire some important pieces. Selecting Pedroia or Pence over Rogers would have made this draft spectacular, but certainly the 2004 draft did more to help the A's as an organization than it did to hurt it.

Perhaps the most important development that came out of this draft was the A's selection of Webb, a high school pitcher, in the fourth round. That pick seemed to break the ice for the A's when it came to high school talent. In 2005, the A's would take three high school arms in the first three rounds and in 2006, Oakland would spend its top two picks on high schoolers.


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