Flashback: 2006 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 past few months, we have been looking back at the A's drafts in 2002-2006 to see what Oakland got out of them. In the last of this series, we take a look at the 2006 draft.

Number of Draft Picks: 40
Number Signed: 27
Number of Drafted Players to Reach Majors: 0
Number of Signed Players to Reach Majors: 0
Number of First-Round Picks: 0
Best Player Drafted: Trevor Cahill
Best Player Signed: Trevor Cahill

Draft Highlights

After years of having multiple early round picks as a result of losing free agents, the Oakland A's found themselves in an unfamiliar situation going into the 2006 draft: not having a first-round pick. Not only did Oakland not lose any significant free agents after the 2005 season (the A's had dealt Tim Hudson before the season, who would have been eligible for free agency that off-season), they also signed a Type A player on the open market. The Esteban Loaiza signing was disastrous on its own thanks to Loaiza's dismal performance over the one-and-a-half seasons he spent with the A's. Coupling that with not having a first-round pick made the signing potentially very damaging for the future of the franchise. Despite those long odds, however, the A's were able to salvage what appears to be a pretty good draft, albeit one small on quantity, as the A's signed fewer players than at any point in recent history.

Going into the draft, many pundits speculated that the A's would use their top pick (pick number 66 in round two) on an established, presumably low-risk college player, the reasoning being that because the A's didn't have a first-round pick, they'd need their second-round pick to be a quick riser through the system. Oakland defied those expectations, however, taking a high school right-hander by the name of Trevor Cahill. Cahill was a relatively low-profile high school prospect. He was a late-comer to pitching, having been a shortstop at the start of his high school career, and he had made significant improvements with his velocity the summer before his senior season. In addition, he had a firm commitment to Dartmouth College to play baseball, one that was thought to be difficult to break.

The A's were able to convince Cahill to sign and since that time, he has pitched as if he was a first-round pick himself. In his first full professional season in 2007, Cahill posted a 2.73 ERA for Low-A Kane County and was named the organization's pitcher of the year. Cahill firmly established himself as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball in 2008 when he posted a 2.61 ERA between High-A Stockton and Double-A Midland and helped to anchor the Team USA Olympic rotation while winning his second consecutive organizational pitcher of the year award. He has been invited to major league spring training as a non-roster player and many expect the soon-to-be-21-year-old to make his major league debut at some point this season, barring injury.

The A's second pick was another unconventional choice for them, a high school position player. Matt Sulentic was the Triple Crown winner for Dallas-area high schools in 2006 and was considered by many to be the most polished high school bat in the second or third rounds. Sulentic proved his scouting report correct during his first taste of professional baseball, hitting .354 in 38 games for short-season Vancouver, where he was assigned after signing. Sulentic cooled off in 30 games with Low-A Kane County late in the season, but there was still great optimism surrounding Sulentic going into the 2007 campaign.

Things got off to a poor start for Sulentic in 2007 and he was never really able to get on-track. He hit only .175 in 56 games with Kane County and was sent back to Vancouver, where he saw his average dip nearly 100 points from the year before down to .261. It was expected that the A's would send Sulentic back to Low-A in 2008, but he had an impressive spring training and the A's showed their faith in the outfielder by sending him to High-A Stockton. There Sulentic re-established himself as a top hitting prospect by batting .309 with an 849 OPS in 95 games before his season ended early with a broken arm. The A's have a lot of outfield prospects at the moment, but Sulentic will be a prospect to watch over the next few years.

Oakland's next pick, Chad Lee, in round four has thus far not worked out the way that the team had hoped. The right-hander from Barton Community College in Oklahoma has missed much of the last two seasons with arm injuries. The A's fourth pick (fifth-round), Jermaine Mitchell, is coming off of a down 2008 season after posting strong numbers in 2007. He will have to play catch-up behind a few other outfield prospects who moved past him on the depth chart last season. Mitchell was the 2006 first pick made by the A's who was from a four-year college.

The A's sixth-round pick was a collegiate right-hander from a small school in New York, Wagner College. Andrew Bailey was only a year removed from Tommy John surgery at the time of the draft, but the A's felt that his velocity had returned and that his fastball-breaking ball combination would allow him to move through the system quickly. Bailey has done just that, reaching Double-A last season and pitching well at the Arizona Fall League. In 293.1 minor league innings, Bailey has a 3.50 ERA and 313 strike-outs. He was converted from being a starter to a reliever last season and could be one of the first arms the A's consider if they need bullpen help during the season. Bailey, who added a cutter in 2008 after moving into the bullpen, is a non-roster invitee to major league spring training.

Of the A's remaining picks, there were a few notable names. Right-hander Jason Fernandez was taken in the 11th round and he has posted a 3.46 ERA in 294.1 innings and has already reached Double-A. Lefty Ben Jukich was used by the A's in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds and he is currently one of the Reds' top left-handed pitching prospects. Carlos Hernandez was a 35th round pick by the A's. He was a draft-and-follow and he signed with Oakland out of West Valley College just before the start of the 2007 draft. After a rough first pro season in 2007, Hernandez improved by leaps-and-bounds in 2008, posting an ERA of 2.04 in 75 innings for short-season Vancouver and Low-A Kane County and then pitched well during the California League playoffs for Stockton.

Draft Impact on the Oakland A's

The full impact of the A's 2006 draft won't be fully felt for a couple more seasons, but it is probably fair to say that as Trevor Cahill goes, so will go the 2006 class. In other words, if Cahill meets the current expectations surrounding him and he becomes a number one or two starter, the draft will be considered a decent success, especially considering the lack of a first-round pick. If Cahill stumbles, then chances are that this draft will be fairly forgettable. There are other players from this class with strong chances of major league careers, but none of them share Cahill's star ceiling.

The 2006 draft has already helped net the A's one major league player. Ben Jukich was traded with reliever Marcus McBeth for outfielder Chris Denorfia in 2007. Denorfia was injured for much of the first half of the 2008 season, but he finished the year strong and is one of the leading candidates to be a fourth outfielder and possible centerfield platoon partner for Ryan Sweeney this season.

Ones That Got Away

The A's failed to sign a number of players in 2006 and it remains to be seen if any of the unsigned players turn into stars. The A's highest unsigned pick was seventh-rounder Mike Leake, who has gone onto have a strong career at Arizona State as a pitcher. He will be draft-eligible again in 2009 and should draw some early round attention. The A's also failed to sign their ninth-round pick, Danny Hamblin, although the team did re-draft him in 2007 and signed him at that point. He retired in 2008. Oakland also failed to sign 18th round pick Mike Ambort, a catcher out of Lamar University. He was taken by the San Francisco Giants in the sixth round in 2007 and had a 1059 OPS in 34 games in the Northwest League this past year. He has been plagued by injuries for much of his career.

It's hard to know what the A's could have done had they had a first round pick, but there were a number of players on the board that would have likely interested them if they could have had one pick before selection 66. Washington used the A's pick to take high school pitcher Colton Willems. He probably isn't a player the A's would have targeted, but Oakland could have zeroed in on hard-throwing right-hander Daniel Bard, who went 28th to the Boston Red Sox, right-hander Adam Ottavino, who went 30th to St. Louis, shortstop Emmanuel Burriss, who went 33rd to San Francisco and is already in the big leagues, shortstop Adrian Cardenas, who went 37th to Philadelphia and who the A's acquired for Joe Blanton last July, and closer Chris Perez, who went at number 42 to St. Louis and is already in the big leagues.

The biggest prize in the late first round in 2006 was right-hander Joba Chamberlain, who was taken by the Yankees at pick 41. Chamberlain wasn't a likely draft target by the A's, however, even though he was a collegiate pitcher. He had high salary demands coming into the draft, and the A's weren't paying above slot back then. Oakland could have also used a first round pick on left-hander Brett Anderson, who went early in the second round to Arizona and who has had a minor league career with Cahill-like success. The A's don't have to think ‘what if?' too much with Anderson, however, since they acquired him last off-season.

It's hard to argue that there were any better players to take with the 66th pick than Cahill, although Justin Masterson was taken by the Red Sox in slot 71 and he has already had an impact in the big leagues. Still, Cahill looks like a max-value pick for round two at this point. There weren't too many notable players taken after Sulentic in round three. Zack McAllister is a rising prospect in the Yankees' chain and he was taken six slots after Sulentic. Chris Davis, the Texas Rangers' promising slugger, was taken in the fifth round in slot 148 and former Notre Dame football star and current Chicago Cubs' right-hander Jeff Samardzija was taken one pick later. Samardzija wasn't really an option for the A's – Chicago paid him a premium to give up the pads – but Davis would have been a nice fit in an organization starved of power.

If the A's were willing to go over slot back then, another pick that they may have made was Mat Latos, who went to the San Diego Padres in round 11. He signed with the Padres as a draft-and-follow just before the 2007 draft and, while he has been moved along slowly, he is a very promising prospect. The Angels also hit big in the middle rounds, taking right-hander Jordan Walden, currently one of the team's top pitching prospects, in round 12. Round 17 saw the Giants pick up right-hander Kevin Pucetas, who won 10 games in the California League last season, and the Yankees' take reliever David Robertson, who has already made it to the big leagues and whose brother Connor made his big league debut with Oakland. Red Sox top prospect Lars Anderson went in round 18, but he signed an above-slot deal.

Conclusion

The full implications of the 2006 draft won't be felt by the A's for another couple of years. However, considering that the chance of selecting a star-level player in the draft decreases significantly without a first-round pick, it could be a victory for the A's if Cahill is able to become a top level starter for Oakland. And if Sulentic ever cracks the everyday line-up or Bailey becomes a shut-down 8th inning reliever or closer, etc. that will be icing on the cake. The 2006 draft also serves as a reminder to the A's of the ramifications of signing a Type A free agent.


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