Flashback: 2005 Oakland A's 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 fourth of this series, we take a look at the 2005 draft.

Number of Draft Picks: 40
Number Signed: 32
Number of Drafted Players to Reach Majors: 3
Number of Signed Players to Reach Majors: 3
Number of First-Round Picks: 2
Best Player Drafted: Travis Buck
Best Player Signed: Travis Buck

Draft Highlights

After having six picks in rounds one and two in 2004, the Oakland A's had a more modest total of four picks in the first two rounds in 2005. Thanks to finishing only a game out of first place in 2004, the A's were once again drafting towards the bottom of the list in 2005, with their first selection not coming until pick 21.

With their first two picks, the A's stayed true to their reputation, taking polished collegiate players Cliff Pennington and Travis Buck at slots 21 and 36, respectively. However, the A's took a big step in a different direction starting with their third pick, Texas high school pitcher Craig Italiano. Italiano would be the first of three straight high school pitchers taken by the A's and one of six high school players taken by Oakland in the first 10 rounds.

Pennington had the reputation of being an above-average fielder and a strong candidate to be a lead-off hitter when he was taken with the A's first pick out of Texas Tech. Scouts predicted that Pennington would move quickly through the A's system and perhaps take over for Mark Ellis at second base, as Bobby Crosby had a firm hold on the shortstop spot at the time. Pennington's pro career got off to a good start. The A's sent him directly to a full-season affiliate, and he had little trouble adjusting to wood bats with the Low-A Kane County Cougars. In 69 games in 2005, he hit .276 with a .364 OBP and 25 stolen bases in 31 chances. Midwest League scouts raved about his toughness and his baseball smarts.

Things fell apart for Pennington the next season. He began the 2006 campaign with High-A Stockton and immediately found himself in a big slump. That slump was then exasperated by a hamstring injury that wound-up costing him most of the season. He appeared in only 46 games for Stockton in 2006, and he hit an anemic .209. Pennington returned to Stockton in 2007 with something to prove. He had another slow start with the Ports, but was swinging the bat better by mid-season. In 68 games with the Ports, he hit .255 with a .348 OBP. He spent the second half of the season with Double-A Midland, where he hit .251 with a .343 OBP in 70 games.

Coming into the 2008 season, Pennington was in danger of being labeled a bust. However, he turned around his career with a strong showing with Midland and Triple-A Sacramento and was the A's starting shortstop for the final month of the 2008 season. In 50 games for Midland, Pennington hit .269 with a .379 OBP. He really turned it on with Sacramento, however, hitting .297 with a .426 OBP in 65 games. After a slow start to his big league career, Pennington wound-up hitting .242 with a .339 OBP in 36 games for the A's. With his legs fully healthy for the first time since 2005, Pennington stole 35 bases between the minors and the majors. In 377 minor league games, Pennington has a career .366 OBP and a 241:243 BB:K ratio. He will be competing for a major league roster spot this spring.

Before the start of the 2005 collegiate season, Buck was projected to go in the first half of the first round, so he was considered somewhat of a steal when the A's got him in the supplemental first round. The Arizona State alum signed a bit late thanks to the College World Series, but he still managed to appear in 41 games for short-season Vancouver and Low-A Kane County. He hit .361 in nine games for the C's and .341 in 32 games with the Cougars. Buck continued to tear through minor league pitching in 2006 when he hit .346 with a 995 OPS in 34 games with Stockton and .302 with an 843 OPS in 50 games with Midland. The only negative for Buck in 2006 was a sports hernia that ended his season a few weeks early and limited him during the Arizona Fall League.

Buck was expected to start the 2007 season with Sacramento. He changed those plans with a strong showing as a non-roster invitee to major league spring training and was on the A's Opening Day roster that year. Buck battled injuries all season, but he was productive when he was in the line-up for the A's, hitting .288 with an 851 OPS in 82 games. In 2008, however, Buck experienced his first rough patch as a professional baseball player. He was the A's lead-off hitter at the start of the season, but an ice cold April (557 OPS) had Buck on the bench by early May. He then landed on the disabled list and, soon after that, was sent down to the minor leagues.

Buck would spend a brief period with the A's in June before being sent back down to Triple-A. He would stay with Sacramento until mid-September, appearing in 45 games with the River Cats. His time with Sacramento was interrupted by a concussion, which he sustained making a great catch while crashing into the centerfield wall. Buck hit .296 with Sacramento and was swinging the bat well for the River Cats when he was recalled to Oakland on September 16. He finished the year off on a strong note in the big leagues, batting .367 with a 1088 OPS and four homers in only 49 at-bats. Buck is expected to have an inside track for one of the A's starting outfield spots this spring.

Italiano, the A's third pick, was the highest high school pitching draft pick made by the A's in nearly a decade. The Flower Mound, Texas, native came into the draft with a fastball that had been clocked as high as 98 MPH and was considered the hardest thrower in the draft. The tall right-hander was sent to the A's Rookie League team after signing. In 18.2 innings, he posted an inflated ERA (6.75), but he struck-out 27 batters. The next season he joined fellow 2005 high school draft picks Jared Lansford and Vince Mazzaro in the Kane County Cougars rotation. Italiano got off to a good start with the Cougars, posting a 3.50 ERA in four starts. However, he began experiencing shoulder problems and wound-up having surgery to correct a torn labrum.

The next season, Italiano returned to Kane County, but his stay with the team was as brief as it was in 2006. Italiano was able to pitch only 17 innings before his season ended when he was struck in the forehead with a line-drive. The third time around seemed to be the charm for Italiano in Kane County. In 2008, he was finally healthy and he dominated the Midwest League to the tune of a 7-0 record and a 1.16 ERA in 70 innings. He was the starting pitcher in the Midwest League All-Star game. Shortly after that game, Italiano was promoted to High-A Stockton. He struggled with the Ports to the tune of a 9.90 ERA in 30 innings, but given that his previous innings-high had been 18.2, his second half struggles could be attributed to fatigue. Despite the two lost seasons, Italiano won't turn 23 until late July.

Lansford was the A's second second-round pick and he was the most familiar name to A's fans because his father is former A's third baseman Carney Lansford. Jared, like Italiano, began his career in Arizona, where he posted a 1.27 ERA in 21.1 innings. In 2006, Lansford starred for Kane County, going 11-6 with a 2.86 ERA, although his strike-out-to-innings ratio was disturbingly low (50 strike-outs in 104 innings). He had three outings with High-A Stockton at the end of the year and was hit around, posting a 14.30 ERA. In 2007, Lansford returned to Stockton and was the team's Opening Day starter. However, he made only one start before being lost for the year with a torn muscle near his shoulder. He returned in time to pitch in the Hawaiian Winter League. In 2008, Lansford took a third crack at Stockton and this time found success as a reliever after a two shaky starts. He struck-out 75 in 63.1 innings for the Ports before advancing to Double-A, where he posted a 0.70 ERA and saved five games in 25.2 innings. Lansford then participated in the Arizona Fall League.

Mazzaro, the A's fifth pick, hasn't had the injury problems that have plagued his two fellow high school picks. He signed too late to play in 2005, but he has thrown at least 119 innings in each of his three professional seasons and more than 150 innings in each of his last two campaigns. In 2006 and 2007, Mazzaro struggled with inconsistency and posted mediocre numbers. However, in 2008 he had a breakout season, winning the Texas League Pitcher of the Year award after going 12-3 with a 1.90 ERA for Midland. He struggled some in a late season stint with Sacramento, and is expected to be back with the River Cats again in 2009.

Other notable 2005 A's draft picks include 12th round pick Jeff Baisley, who won the Midwest League MVP in 2006 and made his major league debut in 2008; Mike Madsen, a 21st round pick who was selected for the Futures Game in 2007; sixth-round pick Justin Sellers, who is one of the top defensive infielders in the A's system; catcher Anthony Recker, an 18th round pick who has reached double-digits in homers in each of his three full professional seasons; and lefty Brad Kilby, a 29th round pick who has a career 2.63 ERA and 262 strike-outs in 232.2 minor league innings.

Draft Impact on the Oakland A's

The 2005 draft's impact on the Oakland A's is just now starting to be felt. Buck was an important part of the A's 2007 squad and his offensive struggles in 2008 helped to contribute to the A's poor run output last season, as the team was counting on him to produce as he had in 2007. However, he is still expected to be a part of the A's outfield for the next several years. Pennington's injuries were costly for Oakland, as the team has struggled with the shortstop position over the last several years thanks to injuries and ineffectiveness from Bobby Crosby. Had Pennington been healthy, he may have challenged Crosby's spot as early as 2007 and the A's might not have been looking for a shortstop this off-season. As it stands now, Pennington projects as a utility infielder rather than a starter, although he could still slot in as a starter and lead-off hitter if the cards break right for him.

The high school trio of Italiano, Lansford and Mazzaro are starting to come into their own after an up-and-down first few years. Italiano is back throwing in the upper-90s and with confidence despite the shoulder woes and the head injury, while Lansford has found a home in the bullpen and could be in the majors at some point next season. However, it is Mazzaro who has emerged as the top prospect of the three. His sinker has developed into a plus pitch and his command of his breaking pitches has improved greatly over the last two years. Mazzaro could either factor into the A's rotation or become a valuable trade chip for the team over the next year.

Injuries have effected the overall impact of the 2005 draft on the A's. Right-hander James Shull, the A's fourth-round pick that season, was off to a promising start to his career when he injured his elbow in early 2006. Since that time, he has missed three consecutive seasons with elbow and shoulder woes. Right-hander Jason Ray, an eighth-round pick, has also been slowed by injuries after a strong showing in 2006 and early 2007. Madsen was unable to follow-on his breakthrough 2007 campaign when he was felled by an elbow injury in 2008. High school pick Kevin Bunch, who was taken by the A's in the seventh round, never got his career on-track thanks to a myriad of injuries.

The draft has netted the A's some potential role players. Baisley made his big league debut last season and the power-hitting corner infielder could be the A's right-handed bat off of the bench and back-up to Eric Chavez and Daric Barton next season. Sellers hasn't found his groove offensively as a pro, but his defense has been above-average at both short and second and he could slot in as a future utility infielder for the A's. Recker has steadily moved up the A's chain and he has intriguing power for a catcher. Kilby has been one of the hardest relievers to hit in the A's system over the past three years and has the makings of an effective lefty specialist in the big leagues.

Ones That Got Away

Even if Buck develops into a star and Pennington earns the starting shortstop job for Oakland, the 2005 A's draft may still best be known for the draft that the team didn't sign Justin Smoak. The A's took the powerful switch-hitting first baseman out of a South Carolina high school in the 16th round. He was the A's highest unsigned pick. Smoak wound-up enrolling at the University of South Carolina, where he was a star for the next three years. He was recently selected with the 11th overall pick (one slot ahead of the A's first pick) in the 2008 draft. Some scouts have compared Smoak to Mark Teixeria.

In addition to losing out on Smoak, the A's passed on a number of players who may have made a big impact for Oakland. With players such as Justin Upton, Cameron Maybin, Jay Bruce, Andrew McCutchen, Alex Gordon, Jacoby Ellsbury and Ryan Braun all selected, the 2005 draft has developed a reputation around baseball for having one of the most talented first rounds in recent memory. By the time the A's picked, however, much of that high-profile talent had already been taken. However, there were a few players that the A's could have taken at pick 21 who might have netted the A's big results.

Some players who were selected after Pennington in the first round include collegiate draft picks Ellsbury, Matt Garza and Joey Devine. High school outfielder Colby Rasmus, who is one of the top prospects in baseball, was taken with the 28th overall pick. Major leaguers Clay Buchholz, Luke Hochevar (although he didn't sign in 2005 and was taken number one in 2006), Jed Lowrie and Garrett Olson were all selected after Buck was taken with the 36th pick, although it is debatable whether any of these players are better than Buck at this point. High school arm Sean West, currently a top pitching prospect, was taken with the 44th pick of that draft by Florida.

The second round offered the A's some different opportunities, as well. Shortstop Yunel Escobar, right-hander Kevin Slowey and third baseman Chase Headley were all taken after the A's selection of Italiano with pick 53 (in fact, Escobar and Slowey were taken after both of the A's second round selections). Third baseman Mat Gamel (one of the minor league's top power hitters), infielder Jeff Larish, infielder Steve Pearce and right-hander Jon Meloan were other players that the A's could have considered taking in the second, third or fourth rounds. Ironically, the A's have acquired a number of players from the 2005 draft over the past year, including Greg Smith, Ben Copeland (the A's 2008 Rule 5 pick), Josh Outman, Chris Carter, Aaron Cunningham and Devine.

Conclusion

The jury is still out on the A's 2005 draft class. Much of the eventual grade from that draft will be based on whether Buck develops into a star and whether the trio of Mazzaro-Lansford-Italiano ever reach the major leagues. Given the overall depth of talent in the 2005 draft, it seems, at least right now, that the A's underperformed in the draft that year.


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