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In a banner year for high school baseball talent in the state of Georgia, there was a young man from Quitman who zoomed to the top of the list for the Oakland A's. Outfielder Aaron Shipman may not have been as much of a household name as fellow Peach Staters Kaleb Cowart and Delino DeShields, Jr., but Shipman's name was well-known among A's scouts for some time leading up to the draft.
"I think he was a guy who was rated very highly that we liked and we maybe rated higher internally than perhaps the public perception of him, which by itself was quite high," Farhan Zaidi, A's Director of Baseball Operations, said.
Over the past several years, the A's have made it a draft priority to bring more pure athleticism into the organization, and they believe Shipman has that in spades. According to Aaron's father, Robert, who is also Aaron's high school baseball coach and a former minor leaguer himself, Aaron's 60-yard-dash time is generally 6.5 and he has even gotten it as low as 6.4, which is near the top of the scouting scale for speed for a baseball player.
"He's just a really good athlete. A well above-average runner. A guy who can fill out and maybe come into some power. A true centerfielder," Zaidi said.
The A's have also been an organization that values players who have strong bloodlines and Shipman fits that bill, as well. In addition to Robert Shipman's history as a minor league baseball player, Aaron's older brother, also named Robert, is currently playing first-base for the Georgia Bulldogs.
Aaron said that both his brother and his father have had a strong influence on his development as a baseball player.
"My big brother definitely pushed me and my dad taught me everything I know about baseball, so they were very important," Shipman said.
When Shipman's name was announced on the draft conference call on Tuesday, he was with his family listening to the draft and watching it on the computer. Although his family wasn't surprised that he was selected in the third round, there was some surprise that he was selected by the A's, even though Oakland scouts had been a heavy presence at Shipman's games and workouts over the past few years.
"We were sitting here watching the draft and talking to some folks about where he might be taken. There were some teams who were interested in taking him shortly after where Oakland drafted him," Robert Shipman said.
"When we noticed that his name came up on the screen, we were all surprised and it was just kind of neat to see his name go across there with the Oakland A's."
Aaron Shipman profiles as a prototypical lead-off hitter and centerfielder. The 18-year-old grew up admiring the game of former Detroit Tigers and current New York Yankees centerfielder Curtis Granderson, but he says that he has been compared more recently to Minnesota Twins centerfielder Denard Span and he likes the comparison. When asked to his describe himself, he said: "I'm a speed-catalyst, lead-off type. Get on-base and steal a lot of bases, that sort of thing. Pretty solid defensively."
Shipman was not only a leader in his Brooks County High School batting line-up, he was also a leader for his teammates, both on and off of the field.
"I know a lot of folks consider him a tools guy, but we had a young team this year. My older son Robert had graduated and had gone to Georgia and he had left a void as far as leadership is concerned," Robert Shipman said.
"Aaron went above and beyond the call of duty for us. He helped bring up the younger kids. We didn't have as much raw talent on our high school team as we have in the past. But all of the kids felt comfortable listening to him because he exhibited leadership, not just through talking, but through the things that he did, whether it was on the field or off the field. While doing that, he had an outstanding season. That is a lot of pressure on a 17- or 18-year-old kid and I think the scouts understood and realized that was what was going on."
The A's view Shipman as more than just a tools player, as well. They see someone who already has a solid understanding of how to play the game.
"Our guys really like the swing. That's really the toughest thing to project with high school position players. You can have a guy who has all of the tools and may have the makings of a swing but you just really don't know if guys are going to hit or not when they get to pro ball," Zaidi said.
"One of the phrases our scouting staff uses a lot is that they have a knack for the barrel and manage to square up the ball with high frequency. This guy does that. The fact that he was a guy we liked a lot and got a lot of looks at, it was the fact that everyone who saw him saw that same thing that I think really put this guy pretty high on our draft boards."
The A's will have until mid-August to come to terms with Shipman, who has a college commitment to Mercer. Shipman has heard a lot about life in the minor leagues from his father, who played in the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins chains in the late 1980s, although both acknowledge that a lot about the minor leagues has changed since that time.
Although Shipman is waiting for the contract negotiations to decide whether he wants to turn pro (he says that he is "split down the middle" right now when it comes to deciding between college and the pros), he expressed excitement about the idea of starting his pro career.
"I'm just ready to play some ball," Shipman said.
Shipman admits that he doesn't know a lot about the A's organization, having grown-up a Yankees fan in Atlanta Braves country. But he is ready to learn all there is to know about the green-and-gold.
"I am an Oakland fan now."
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