Last Thursday, guessatomo provided us with a primer for the upcoming amateur draft (Thursday, June 5th). The Oakland Athletics have the 25th pick, which may not sound particularly exciting, but let me tell you why it is.
Every year, elite prospects emerge from the 20-40 range. Mike Trout, the example of examples, was the 25th overall pick in 2009. Other notable names from recent drafts include: Eddie Butler, Henry Owens, Joey Gallo, Noah Syndergaard and Taijuan Walker. None of these players are big leaguers yet, but they all profile as first-division talents.
The A's, unfortunately, haven't lucked into any of these emergent prospects. From 2002-2010, they were unequivocally the worst team in baseball spending first-round picks. From Landon Powell, to Grant Green, to Omar Quintanilla, the list reads like a prospect book found at a mortuary (although busted first-base prospect Sean Doolittle has managed to make something of himself). In recent years, however, they've ditched the low-ceiling, low-floor college bat profile outlined in Moneyball, drafting for higher upside in talents like Sonny Gray, Addison Russell and Billy McKinney.
Here in 2014, most draft experts agree the A's have their cross-hairs set on a high-upside high school bat (Most of them mentioned in the Draft Preview).
Here's a look at them sliced and diced:
The Pure Hitters
The Hit tool, the one tool to rule them all.
Pure hitters are like unicorns, the rare species that combines elite hand-eye coordination, bat speed, and pitch recognition. They're sometimes an undersold commodity as they come in varying shapes and sizes (see Pedroia, Dustin). Recent history suggests that the bust rate for ball-barreling youngsters is significantly lower than players who, in spite of their physical projection, struggle to make contact (see Starling, Bubba). It's a scouting dictum that the Hit tool is the key that unlocks the tool box. Accordingly, teams are more willing than ever to forgive lack of physical projection or defensive home in favor of the bat.
The 2014 crop isn't lush with pure hitters. Alex Jackson (a high school catcher projected to go in the top 5-10 picks) is the only bat in the class given the "can't-miss, impact" label, and although Jackson has the best combination of hit/power/position, he's not the class's best "pure hitter." Nick Faleris, who heads Baseball Prospectus' amateur draft coverage, intoned that Michael Chavis (third base) & Forrest Wall (second base) are two of the best pure hitters in the class (he also mentioned Nick Gordon, brother of Dee, who's likely to go in the top-10). Chavis has plus raw power to along with his bat-to-ball abilities, and his arm strength, athleticism and instincts are all above-average as well. He has a chance to be an impact bat with the added benefit of a high-ceiling/high-ish floor (you never know with high school kids). Chavis isn't likely to make it to #25, but if he does it would be a coup.
Forrest Wall, on the other hand, will be definitely be there. Wall is a high schooler from Orangewood, Florida, a sweet swinging lefty with 70 speed (on the 20-80 scale) and hit and power tools that could one day be plus (60 or better). The reason he'll be available for the picking is his well below average throwing arm (he had labrum surgery in 2011). ESPN's Keith Law has him as a third-round talent because he's pigeonholed to second base, a position often reserved for fringy defensive talents. He's just the type of damaged goods (hey, Scott Kazmir) the A's could find value in. If selected, he'd be the highest-drafted high-school second baseman ever.
It's difficult to find impact talent towards the end of the first round without taking on considerable risk.
For this reason, the A's have been linked to two of the draft's superior athletes: Ti'Quan Forbes and Monte Harrison.
The A's have been linked to Forbes all spring, and although he's ranked by most publications in the 40-60 range, it's unlikely he makes it out of the supplemental first round. Forbes has impressive physical talent. At present, he's an above-average runner with enough bat speed for an average or better hit tool. His lanky 6'4" frame could hang considerably more muscle, leaving room for physical projection. Forbes' downside is the wide chasm between his present and future grades. He was a three-sport athlete in high school, so he's not nearly as refined as the kids who've spent the last 3-4 years focusing on baseball only. Some scouts think he's a good enough athlete to stick at shortstop, but depending on his physical outcome, he could end up in the outfield or third base. He's the essence of a high risk/high reward prospect.
Speaking of risk/reward, Monte Harrison could be the riskiest prospect in the draft. As guessatomo pointed out in his draft preview, Harrison is also a three-sport athlete who's an absolute physical monster, but lacks hit-tool projection. The power/speed combo is the best in the class, however, and while Harrison certainly has his warts, he may have the highest ceiling of any bat in the draft. He has a scholarship to play Wide Receiver at Nebraska, and is often compared to the aforementioned Bubba Starling. If he busts loose as a pro, he could be a 5-tool bag and superstar.
Michael Gettys is another option at #25. Entering the year, Gettys was seen as 2014's version of Clint Frazier, a Georgia high-schooler who's outrageous power/speed/arm combination graded out as plus to plus-plus. Last summer at the Perfect Game showcase event, Gettys set a record hitting 100 MPH on a throw from the outfield. While his ceiling is incredibly high, he faces serious questions about his ability to make contact. He's a rare high school prospect who struck out more than he walked this spring. His lack of feel for hitting and control of the strike zone would be atypical of an Oakland prospect.
The Safety Net
Derek Hill is the prototypical A's hitter. He's the son of a scout, and is lauded for his dedication and study of the game. He reads scouting reports, works counts like a vet, and his make-up is off the charts. The only tool that projects to be impact, however, is his speed. He has a line drive swing, and his ceiling is that of an excellent defensive center fielder who gets on base at an above-average clip and steals bases. The fear is he's a fourth outfielder; speed is the only above-average part of his game.
Last summer, Jacob Gatewood became a prospect darling, flashing massive raw power at Citi Field between commercials at the Home Run Derby. He was an early favorite to be the first prep bat off the board, but this spring concerns have emerged about his long-term ability to hit. He has legit 70 raw power, but if his Hit is well below-average, he could be the high-upside type that fizzles out at Double-A. The word is he's made some mechanical adjustments, and if he finds a way to improve his approach and contact ability, he could be a corner outfielder who challenges for home run titles.
The scouting report on the draft itself is that it's pitcher-heavy. While the A's have been linked all spring to the aforementioned bats, it's possible they go for an arm, especially given their current minor league dearth. Thus, next time we'll look at some potential arms available in the back-half of the first round.
(Editor's note: Welcome to Spencer Silva, who will be contributing to AN on a regular basis. Spencer also writes for SB Nation's fantasy site, Fake Teams, and he has his own personal baseball blog called The Sizzling Eephus.)