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Draft well or die slowly


I need to start today’s post with an apology.


I planned on doing something special today, rather than post an update on the farm system I got Blez to help me land an interview with A’s Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens and I was going to type up the transcript of that conversation for AN’s perusal today. Unfortunately, Muppets aren’t renowned for their technical savvy and somehow the interview was deleted from my digital recorder. I’ve already e-mailed apologies to Mr. Owens and Blez, and now I apologize to AN as a whole because I cannot provide you with hard "these are his very words" evidence regarding the A’s intentions in the June 9th amateur draft. I will not try to quote Billy Owens based on my memory of the conversation we had, I’ve got too much respect for the man and in the concept of journalistic professionalism (actually, I may have made that concept up just now) to attempt what could only end up a hack job.



I do want to talk about tomorrow’s draft though, in place of the weekly minor league update, and I’m going to use concepts and ideas that I learned from my conversation with Mr. Owens to try and paint a more accurate picture of what we might expect to see on Tuesday. I want to make something clear before we begin: at no point in my conversation with Mr. Owens were specific players ever mentioned as being possible targets for the 13th pick in tomorrow’s draft. Yes, I brought up specific names in the conversation and yes, Mr. Owens could talk intelligently about the players I brought up but in no way have any of the players I’ll talk about in today’s article been hinted at by the Oakland organization itself. I’m basing today’s discussion on the players most rumored (or hoped for on AN) to be under consideration by Oakland at #13 and have a strong likelihood of being around when it’s the A’s turn to draft.



Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and John Sickels have all released pre-draft rankings for the amateurs in tomorrow’s draft, the oldest of which (BA) came out on May 27th. The 2009 draft promises to be one of the most fluid drafts in recent memory, because after San Diego State RHP Stephen Strasburg no one is sure who goes where. North Carolina CF-1B Dustin Ackley is generally considered the 2nd best prospect in the draft, but latest word is the Mariners, who pick #2 overall, are starting to get a little worried about his bonus demands. Seattle’s still likely (and even expected) to pick Ackley #2 in spite of the potential 8-figure signing bonus but its rare to see a team blink on what is essentially the first real choice in the draft this late in the process. But if we assume that Seattle grows a pair and realizes that its picking 2nd overall for a reason (as in, they lost 101 games in 2008 and their 2 best hitters are 33 and 35, plus Beltre and Bedard are free agents after this season) then we can write in Dustin Ackley as the #2 pick in the 2009 draft. Maybe we’ll write it in pencil.


A lot of people consider Georgia HS OF Donovan Tate to have more upside than any draft eligible amateur. (Strasburg is already considered just about as good as he can get, thus not much upside. He’ll have to get by with his 99-101 MPH running fastball, 80 MPH curve and laser sharp control… woe is him.) Tate also has a baseball/football scholarship to Georgia and an estimated $6 million price tag… which would be fine if there wasn’t some concern over his bat. San Diego (read: Grady Fuson) is rumored to be well nigh enamored with Tate and might have even found enough change under the sofa cushions to afford the price tag. Or not. If the Padres don’t/can’t pick Tate he could fall quite a ways… possibly to Oakland at #13. I’ll talk about that possibility a little later. The point is after Ackley at #2 things get muddled, as there are a lot of good prospects but few who stand head-and-shoulders above the crowd. I mentioned that BA posted its Top 100 list on May 27th, that list is already outdated! Kyle Gibson, a consensus Top-10 (most would have said Top-5) pick at the time has been diagnosed with a stress fracture in his right forearm. A California HS arm by the name of Matt Hobgood ranked 40th on the May list but was just picked at #27 in a mock draft run by BA chief scribes John Manual and Jim Callis.


Gee, I wonder why I picked those names to highlight.


So what does all this mean for the A’s come Tuesday?


The A’s are (probably) still in the process of building their Draft Board, and on that board they will list the Top 100 draft eligible amateur baseball players in the world. After those 100 names (which will take the team through it’s 3rd round pick at #92) the team will then divide the rest of the draft class up by position. I can say one thing with certainty; the A’s are looking to add talent in this draft. To those on AN who clamor for a new SS or 3B, I will discuss the 2 names which could conceivably fit those needs at #13. Those 2 names are Southern Cal SS Grant Green and Florida HS 3B Bobby Borchering… there isn’t another SS or 3B prospect in the 2009 draft worthy of even being considered with the 13th pick in the draft so do not cry and wail if the A’s don’t spend their 1st round pick on a player at 1 of those 2 positions. Since I brought ‘em up, I might as well start with the discussion with them.


(National ranking per publication.)


Bobby Borchering, 3B Florida HS (BA: 16; BP: 15; JS: 15)


A switch hitter with power and good hand/eye co-ordination, he’s been climbing the draft boards lately. He’s considered maybe the best prep bat in the draft and he’s got a strong arm to go with soft hands. At 6-4, 195 pounds he’s not an especially graceful athlete although he did improve his agility while filling out his senor year. The best anyone will say about his defense at 3B is that he projects to be average; most feel that he’ll have to switch over to 1B. There in lies the rub for the A’s. Every mock draft I’ve seen has Borchering there for the A’s at #13 but that’s because most teams view him as a 1B. The publications have him rated as a solid mid-1st round pick and the talent/reliability level between the guys at the 5-20 spots is so close that a lot might come down to personal preference between the teams, so drafting the nationally 15th ranked guy at #13 is in no way an over-draft. But chances are Borchering won’t rank higher than some of the other guys I’ll be talking about unless the A’s are convinced that Borchering can play 3B.


Grant Green, SS USC (BA: 13; BP: 5; JS: 11)


Green seems to have suffered a bit from over-expectation. All the publications say the same thing: Green has the potential to be a solid hitting, starting SS for a contending MLB team… and some are saying he’s pretty much the only guy you can say that about in the entire draft! He’s certainly the guy with the best chance of achieving that goal, and as such it would be something of a coup if the A’s had a chance to draft him at all. There are at least a couple teams (Washington at #10, KC at #12) with up the middle needs. Does that mean Green is the pick if he’s sitting there at #13? Maybe not if the next guy is still on the board…


Mike Leake, RHP ASU (BA: 14; BP: 8; JS: 8)


Remember what I said about a team’s personal preference? Mike Leake doesn’t have a ton of upside, but what he’s got is still pretty damn good. "The most consistent pitcher in college baseball had a lower ERA than Stephen Strasburg while pitching in a tougher park against much tougher competition" – Kevin Goldstein, BP


Leake can touch 94 MPH but sits at 88-92 with a lot of run and sink, a change-up and a slider that both grade out as above-average. He’s got a bulldog mentality; he’s smart on the mound and has excellent control of his stuff (21 BB, 150 K in 132.2 IP). But he’s not a big guy at 6-0, 180 lbs and he’s pretty much done growing. The mock drafts have him going anywhere from #8 to #17 and while no one is expecting him to be a #1 SP everyone is expecting him to be in the middle of a big league rotation soon.


Oh, and he’d be a re-draft. The A’s used a 7th round pick on him in the 2006 draft but weren’t able to sign him. His college career hasn’t done anything to have lowered his value to the A’s.


Tim Wheeler, OF Sac State (BA: 15; BP: 25; JS: 17)


Wheeler is a high energy outfielder with good instincts on the bases and above average (some say plus potential) power. His LH bat is his best tool, but he has average arm strength and above average speed. At 6-4, 205 pounds he’s got the frame to get bigger (and potentially develop more power) but would it cost him speed if he did so? There seems to be a decent contingent of folks who think he can stick in CF but there are more voices saying he’ll end up in LF. If that’s the case then the extra power better come. There’s a lot of chatter in the mock drafts about the A’s selecting Wheeler, in fact BA’s last two mocks had the A’s taking the Sac State product. (Although both times Jim Callis made the pick… just saying.)


Tanner Scheppers, RHP Independent League (BA: 9; BP: 6; JS: 9)


Scheppers has a mid-90’s fastball and a hard curve and some say that his stuff is second only to Strasburg’s in the 2009 draft class. He ranks at the bottom of the Top 10 and shows up in the mid to late 1st round in most mock drafts because of the shoulder that went bad on him last year. He’s been cleared medically and has been pitching for St. Paul in the Indy League but he showed some rust with his command… which was never his strong suit at Fresno State. Scheppers is a very high risk pitcher (due to the previously mentioned shoulder injury which did not require surgery but was never fully explained) who probably won’t/can’t demand much more than a slot signing bonus. If he hits you could have an Ace. Or you could end up with a long string of medical bills. The A’s are right there on the edge of the 13th pick being too soon to take that kind of risk or the perfect time to gamble.


Donovan Tate, CF Georgia HS (BA: 3; BP: 3; JS: 6)


Let’s check the tool shed, shall we? Depending on the scouting report, Tate has a minimum 70 (out of the 20-80 scale) in raw power, speed and arm strength. If he becomes everything the scouts think he can become he’s the next Andruw Jones (Good Atlanta Version) with Gold Glove defense and 30+ HR power. There are some caution flags, however. I already mentioned the $6 million signing bonus thanks to the Georgia scholarship. He’s so damn good that he can coast and dominate at the high school level. The big question is his bat, in particular his hitting ability. He’s shown some ability to make adjustments but he’s not a natural hitter. I mentioned a Good Andruw Jones as the top end of his ability, but the name he’s most compared to is that of a different Atlanta outfielder… Jeff Francoeur. Tate is an incredible athlete and he knows it; he has the potential to be a perennial All-Star and he might even be flashy enough to get SportsCenter to show some A’s highlights. But there is risk.


Can the A’s even afford Tate? Keep in mind the A’s don’t have a 2nd round pick this year and last year they spent almost $2.7 million to sign Weeks and Ross to slot bonuses in the 1st and 2nd rounds, respectively. They also went well above slot to sign Hunter, Dixon, Leyja and Coleman. So the cash is (probably) there to sign Tate, although I’m not sure how much extra would be left over to sign additional players to over slot bonuses. Donovan Tate is the ultimate high risk/high reward option for the A’s in tomorrow’s draft. Drafting him commits the bulk of their available cash into signing him, essentially making the success or failure of the 2009 draft class fall all on Tate’s shoulders.


Feeling lucky?


Kyle Gibson, RHP Missouri (BA: 4; BP: 12; JS: 3)


(The BA grade was made in May, Sickels’ in early June and BP’s after the drop in velocity during a complete game shut-out but before the diagnosis. Interestingly, in BA’s last mock draft Jim Callis picked Gibson at #11 to the Rockies.)


Gibson was, as I said before, a probable Top 5 pick in the draft before his forearm injury. No one’s whispered his name in conjunction with the A’s; ergo here I am shouting it from the rooftop. The guy had slightly better stuff than Leake, with a consistent low-90’s fastball with good sink, a good change-up and a good slider. At 6-6, 210 he could use a few more pounds and maybe that would help the fastball. Good control and a calm demeanor on the mound, he projects as a #2 or #3 SP in a big league rotation.


But he’s hurt. Yeah, I know but he’s supposed to be healthy well in advance of the August 15th signing deadline, meaning whichever team drafts him will get to see him pitch again before making a decision on how much to spend on him. In the A’s case, if things don’t work out Oakland has the option of letting him go back to school and they get the 14th pick in the 2010 draft, as well as whatever pick they earn from the 2009 season. But if he’s healthy, the A’s just took a gamble and it paid off for them by landing 1 of the consensus 5 best amateurs in the country at little more than slot wages, an opportunity that typically doesn’t happen unless the big league team struggles epically.


The key to answering all of these questions lies in the A’s Draft Board. Having talked to Billy Owen I feel pretty confident in saying that the A’s plan on sticking to their internal rankings… although how much their rankings are influenced by signability (Tate) and minor injury (Gibson) remains an open question. As I’ve said, draft boards can be heavily influenced by a team’s personal preference… some teams tend to lean towards rawer/higher upside guys while the A’s have tended towards more polished players. I think the fact that the A’s have already drafted Mike Leake once will push him up their draft board a bit and if he’s still around at #13 he’ll tempt the team quite a bit. Donovan Tate is a very pretty dream, but in the course of writing this I think I kinda talked myself out of going that direction. I think I’d rather see the A’s spend (essentially) $3.5 million over slot on 4-5 players than see it all go to one guy. I’m going to roll the dice here and put Grant Green higher on the board than Leake. Grant gets a lot of Troy Tulowitzki comps, the 2005 1st round draft pick of the Colorado Rockies who made his big league debut in August, 2006 and was the Opening Day SS in 2007. If the A’s think Green can move that fast through the system it’s tough to see them going in another direction if he’s sitting there at #13. Kyle Gibson makes a lot of sense if Grant and Leake are already off the board, which is a very possible scenario tomorrow. In fact, since I’ve pretty much talked myself out of Tate at this point I’d say Gibson is my 3rd choice behind Grant and Leake.


So I hope you found this helpful, and I’ve no doubt that the A’s are going to go and draft someone that I didn’t mention. Hopefully that guy will be even more amazing than the guys I wrote about! See you manana, folks.