Monday Near-Midnight Minors Musings: Predicting the Draft Edition

In preparation of June 5th's amateur draft, Erik Manning from the excellent Cardinals prospect blog Future Red Birds has assembled a crack-team of writers from across the blogosphere to stage a "Mock Draft" that will take place at this Wordpress page starting this Thursday, going through to this Sunday. Erik invited AN to participate in this unique opportunity and I decided to answer the call.

Erik's idea is intriguing and I think it'll be a great way for bloggers from every stripe to get acquainted with this year's draft class right before the real thing actually happens. He's been able to get a dedicated person for pretty much every MLB team which is pretty outstanding work.

As I don't presume to be the end-all-be-all voice of AN, I really wanted to open this process up and see what the community feels about the A's draft strategy and intentions. Erik's intention is for this mock draft to try to be as accurate as possible, so each blogger/site has been instructed to make picks that he/she/they think their team will actually make and not make picks that he/she/they hope they make. In other words, we should probably stay away from picking anybody with sky-high, over-slot bonus demands since it's pretty safe to assume that Beane and Wolff will not piss off the commissioner by going too far over-slot.

Without further ado, let's start the discussion up. I'll go through a few of the names that the experts are connecting with the A's and at the end I'll post a poll where everyone can post who they think the A's will choose at #12 overall. I'll use that poll as "the voice of AN" and make our pick for the mock draft based on it's results.

 

Draft Class Overview

There are plenty of prototypical "A's type" players in this year's draft class. By far the biggest strength and deepest pool of talent in the class are defensively-limited, power/patience-oriented hitters, primarily of the left-handed variety, who will more than likely end up as 1st basemen or DH's at the major league level. Usually those are the exact type of players that Beane targets in trades, drafts and free agent signings, so in every other year, with the A's picking in the 20's with their 1st round pick, predicting what the team will do would have been pretty easy.

But this year is different. As a "reward" for a sub-.500 2007 record, the A's will pick at #12 overall, the highest position they've held since 1999 when they picked Barry Zito at #9 overall, and will thus have access to the type of high-upside talent that is usually off the board long before they make their first pick. So instead of slotting the A's with just the most-signable, safest, high-OBP college hitter, I think it's safe to assume that with such a high pick, the team might consider eschewing their conventional draft strategy and aim more for the highest-upside talent regardless of position. As A's baseball ops guru Farhan Zaidi said in a recent interview with Scout.com:

The combination of having a high pick and having increased depth in the farm system is giving us a chance to take a higher ceiling player than maybe we have in the past...In the past, we really couldn’t afford to miss with our first pick. There was such a steady pipeline of guys to the big leagues that we had to hit with the first pick just to keep some sort of inventory in our farm system. We couldn’t go out on a limb as much and take a high-risk, high-ceiling type talent. Now I think we are in a position to do that, which is also very exciting because there aren’t that many opportunities to add high-impact type players and this pick could be one of those times.

Quotes like that, in addition to the organization's recent expenditures to increase scouting operations across the world and the team's recent willingness to draft high school players, certainly complicate the picture for us trying to predict what the team will do...but it also makes this process much more fun as we can now assume that the organization will likely take the best talent available for once.

The way I see it, there are only maybe 4 or 5 players that will certainly be drafted by the time the A's pick at 12. These include High School shortstop Tim Beckham, Vanderbilt 3rd baseman Pedro Alvarez, college arms Brian Matusz and Aaron Crow and former A's draftee Justin Smoak. In addition, it is highly likely that University of Georgia shortstop Gordon Beckham and Florida State catcher Buster Posey will be drafted before number 12. So for the sake of time, I'll eliminate all 7 of those names from consideration, Pretty much everyone else is up for grabs. Let's get to it:

College Pitchers: LHP - Christian Freidrich - Eastern Kentucky & RHP - Shooter Hunt - Tulane

With Fresno State righty Tanner Scheppers succumbing to a stress fracture on his pitching shoulder and being shut-down for the rest of the season, Freidrich and Hunt have become the two top college arms beyond Matusz and Crow. Freidrich is the safest bet. He's a polished lefty with four average-to-above-average pitches that he mixes well and can locate most of the time. So far this season, he's got 1.78 ERA with 86 strikeouts and 24 walks in 65.2 innings. He projects as a mid-rotation starter in the bigs. Hunt is a big, strong workhouse type righty with a good fastball/curveball combination and a developing changeup. He's a bit wild but his stuff helps him out. So far this season, he's hurled 91 innings and has 2.45 ERA with a 119 K's, 51 walks and is holding batters to a .156 batting-average-against. He projects as a solid 3/4 starter in the bigs.

College Hitters: 1B - Yonder Alonso , Miami; 1B/3B - Brett Wallace , ASU

Alonso's one of the best all-around hitters in the class. He's a big lefty with big-time power (.799 Slugging Percentage so far this season), a great eye and good contact skills (.380 average so far). He's already hit 21 homers so far this season and has a wicked 65-to-28 walks/strikeout ratio. He's a decent defensive first baseman and isn't a terrible baserunner, despite his sizable frame. The big knock on him has been his platoon splits. Scouts say that even mediocre college lefties can get him out pretty easily. Wallace, although probably THE prototypical A's-draftee, is being heavily scouted by the White Sox and the latest rumors indicate Kenny Williams and Co. are likely to take him with the 8th overall pick. Even so, the draft is a constantly-shifting monster so the 6'1 Wallace might be available for Beane. Wallace, while playing a lot of 3rd for the Sun Devils, will almost certainly be limited to 1st base at the advanced pro-levels. As a hitter, Wallace is a lefty-swinging masher. So far this season he has hit .412 with a monstrous 1.291 OPS with 20 homers, 78 RBI's and an excellent 42 to 31 walk to strikeout ratio. If he falls to the 12th pick, Beane just might catch him.

High School Pitchers: RHP Ethan Martin, RHP Aaron Hicks & RHp Tim Melville

It's almost unfair to label either of the first two prepsters as exclusively pitchers. They are both legitimate position player prospects as well. Hicks is probably the most talented pure athlete in the draft class. Scouts drool over his tools. On the pitching side, he sports a mid-90s fastball and a plus, spiking curveball. As a position player, Hicks is a plus defender in center who's a switch hitter with raw power to all fields. Martin is brand-new to pitching as he was just converted to a starter after spending his first high school years in the left-side of the infield. He's apparently armed with three plus-pitches: a mid-90s fastball that he can sustain late into games, a power-breaking curveball, and a split-fingered fastball. He's also reportedly got good command and good mound presence. As a position player, Martin has plus raw power from a right-handed swing and he's a good defender at the hot corner.  Melville is a big-bodied righty with a low-90's fastball, a knuckle-curve and developing changeup. He's got good command for a high-schooler.

High School Hitters: C Kyle Skipworth ; 1B Erik Hosmer

Both of these guys could very easily be off-the-board by the time the A's select at 12th overall. But there's a bit of a gray area among the experts as to where they might go, so I'll keep them as options here. Skipworth, with a pretty lefty swing, improving defense behind the plate and good leadership skills, has been connected to the A's in rumors going around the Net. Hosmer might just be the best raw hitting prospect in the draft class, as he sports an advanced approach for a high-schooler to along with loads of power potential. He also is a good defensive first baseman...but he's "advised" by the Scott Boras Corporation which means that even if he's still around when the A's pick, there is little chance that he'd sign for anything resembling "recommended slot money".

Conclusion

It's certainly going to be an interesting 1st round for the A's. It's usually sure folly to even attempt to predict anything that Billy Beane might do, but the least we can do is to get a sense of whom Beane might target once he makes his mind up in whichever direction he wishes to take. For instance, if the organization is looking to play it safe and add even more pitching to the farm, then I can see Beane certainly taking Freidrich or Hunt with his first pick. Along the same lines, if Freidrich or Hunt is off the board but he still wants to play it safe and get a polished product in the system that has a chance to help out the big club by the end of this decade, then I could see him grabbing Alonso or Wallace (whomever is left on the board).

But if Beane is committed to getting the highest-possible upside player into the system, then you've gotta believe that he'll seriously consider Skipworth as a potentially high-impact talent at a premium position. Likewise, I could really see Beane targeting both Hicks and Martin. While both are raw products, the fact that both have top-flight skills as both pitchers and position players somewhat lessens the risks involved with selecting the high schoolers. For instance, say Hicks' power stroke never fully develops, he can always be converted into a power pitcher. Ditto Martin.

So what do ya'll think? Did I miss someone that might be a Top-12 pick? Will Beane follow his own tradition and play it safe with a polished collegiate product? Or will he take a big chance with this rare high-draft pick and go for a player that might be a long ways off from helping the big club but might be a star once he gets there?

 

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