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Oakland A's 2012 draft review: Matt Olson can still turn this class from good to great

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 MLB Draft begins on Thu., June 9, meaning it is just two weeks away. After a poor 2015 season, the Oakland A's will have the No. 6 overall pick, plus two more in the top 50 (Nos. 37 and 47), which means that the draft will be just a bit more interesting than it has been the last few summers.

Let's get warmed up by taking a look at some recent drafts. We'll look at who the A's picked, what kinds of trends they may have followed in their selections, and also how much success the players are having in the pros. I started with 2011, and I'm doing a series of five posts going through 2015. Today we're looking at 2012.

As a quick refresher, in 2011 the A's went exclusively with college players. They picked only three high schoolers in the first 31 rounds and didn't sign any of them. However, other than grabbing Sonny Gray in the first round, they have nothing to show for what turned out to be an incredibly weak draft class. Let's see what they did the next year!

(Notes: Robertson* and Maxwell* were compensation for losing free agent Josh Willingham, and Olson^ was a comp for losing David DeJesus. Level and team refer to current 2016 status. Players in italics did not sign.)

R# Player Pos C/HS Level Team bWAR Coulda had ...
1 Addison Russell SS HS MLB ChC 4.5 Michael Wacha (4.9)
1* Daniel Robertson SS HS AAA TB - Stephen Piscotty (3.5)
1^ Matt Olson 1B HS AAA Oak - No one has reached MLB
2* Bruce Maxwell C C AAA Oak - No one has + bWAR
2 Nolan Sanburn RHP C AA ChW - Alex Wood (7.0)
3 Kyle Twomey LHP HS A ChC - Tim Cooney (0.8)
4 B.J. Boyd OF HS A+ Oak - Tyler Duffey (2.1)
5 Max Muncy 1B C AAA Oak -0.1 Rob Refsnyder (0.3)
6 Seth Streich RHP C - SD - Jake Lamb (3.0)
7 Cody Kurz RHP C A Oak - Kyle Barraclough (0.7)
8 Kris Hall RHP C AA Oak - No one w/ 0.2 bWAR
9 Dakota Bacus RHP C AA Was - No one w/ 0.3 bWAR
10 Brett Vertigan OF C AA Oak - Trevor Brown (0.3)
11 Matt Gonzalez SS HS - - - No one has reached MLB
12 John Caputo 3B HS - - - Keone Kela (1.6)
13 Stuart Pudenz RHP C - - - Devon Travis (2.5)
14 Austin House RHP C AAA Col - No one w/ 0.2 bWAR
15 Vince Voiro RHP C - - - Dominic Leone (0.6)
16 Melvin Mercedes SS C A+ Oak - No one has reached MLB
17 Tyler Olson LHP C AAA NYY -0.2 No one has reached MLB
18 Derek DeYoung RHP C - - - Matt Duffy (5.7)
19 Robert Martinez CF HS - Oak - No one has reached MLB
20 Boog Powell CF C AAA Sea - Ryan Dull? Got him later.
23 Tucker Healy RHP C AAA Oak Still just Ryan Dull
32 Ryan Dull RHP C MLB Oak 0.6 He's the late-round gem

The draft went 40 total rounds. Other than Healy and Dull, here are the picks after No. 20 who signed and are still active in pro ball:

28th round: Philip Pohl is now Oakland's bullpen catcher.
31st round: RHP Ryan Gorton, who was drafted as a catcher but switched to pitching last year and is now part of High-A Stockton's staff.

Regarding Dull, this was the second straight year that specifically the 32nd round provided an unlikely gem (in 2011, that round yielded Kevin Pillar and Billy Burns).

Best MLB players in overall draft so far: Alex Wood, Matt Duffy, Carlos Correa, Michael Wacha, Addison Russell, Marcus Stroman, Stephen Piscotty, Corey Seager, Kevin Gausman, Lance McCullers, Andrew Heaney.

This list is still very much in progress. Wood leads the group in bWAR for now, but that seems unlikely to last with some of those dynamic position players behind him. Most of those guys were 1st-rounders, but Wood went in the 2nd and Duffy went in the ... 18th? Seriously? To put that in perspective, imagine that Jaycob Brugman had made the Opening Day roster this year and was in the middle of putting up a 5-WAR season. That's what Duffy did for the Giants, because that's one team that really needed a break.

In addition to that list, there are also some top prospects like Byron Buxton, Joey Gallo, and Lucas Giolito who were drafted out of high school and are yet to make the full-time jump to MLB.

Best player drafted after 20th round: So far, it's Ryan Dull. Of all the players picked by all the teams after the 20th round, Dull is easily the top late-late-round gem. There's still pleeeenty of time for someone else to emerge, though. (Note: My criteria of post-20th-round is arbitrary and clearly Duffy is the big late-round find. But the 32nd round is a whole other level of low expectations, even beyond the 18th.)

The top pick

Although the A's had three 1st-round picks, two of them were comp picks that came after No. 30. Their top pick was clearly a notch better than the others, all the way up at No. 11. And for the second straight year, they absolutely nailed it.

Addison Russell came with plenty of risk, as you would expect from a high schooler, but he was the kind of high-upside pick that the A's hadn't gambled on in a long time. That was enough to get Alan Torres excited in AN's open thread:

Personally, I love this strategy (if it is one) and hope it continues. ... [W]hat the A's really lack are impact, superstar-potential bats in the minor leagues. And those types of players are the ones found in high school, not in college. The guys that can power their way to the majors at 21/22 and lift the A's offense above league-average. Am I saying that Russell et al are Justin Upton-level young superstars in the making? No, but this is a good start.

The scouting reports at the time focused on how Russell had lost a significant amount of weight, which increased his odds of staying in the middle infield (which he has in fact done). You can read more in Alan's roundup, but here's a quick (and relatively conservative) one from Baseball Prospectus:

Russell helped his stock considerably this spring by showing up with a much thinner physique, with one scout saying, "he looks like a shortstop now." He's athletic with smooth actions and a plus arm, and he has the size and swing for at least average power potential and maybe a bit more, although it will likely come with a good share of strikeouts.

Russell's stock appeared to be on the rise when the draft rolled around, and the A's were able grab him before everyone else had bought into it. He panned out almost immediately, passing every minor league test with flying colors and catapulting up the MLB prospect ranks. By the spring of 2013 he was a consensus top-50 youngster, and the next spring he was a consensus top-15.

Although Russell was traded away at the 2014 deadline as the centerpiece for win-now pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, his success since then has justified his selection by the A's. He debuted for the Cubs last year and posted a 3-WAR season, largely on the strength of stellar defense at 2B, and he's off to a similar start this year as a 22-year-old shortstop. His bat is still only average, but that's a great starting point for such a young player. He's arguably one of the two best players from the entire draft class, along with fellow shortstop Carlos Correa, and he's certainly in the top five until further notice.

Given all of that, it's tough to see how the A's could have done any better with the No. 11 pick. Correa was already off the board, having gone first overall, and none of the other top players are definitely superior, neither to this point nor for their projectable futures. Maybe Seager overtakes him, or Stroman wins a Cy Young or two, but so far Oakland probably picked the right guy and definitely picked one of the right guys.

It's a bummer that A's fans don't get to enjoy Russell now that he's in the bigs, but all we care about in this discussion is the wisdom of the pick itself. Besides, my stance remains that the first Shark trade was necessary to reach the 2014 postseason, while the second Shark trade brought back another young shortstop who is in the midst of a 2016 breakout and could wind up matching Russell's value over their six cost-controlled pre-FA seasons.

The rest of the first round

By the time the A's other two first-round slots came up at Nos. 34 and 47, the only now-big-name guys they passed on were Stephen Piscotty, Lance McCullers, and Wood. Note that the Cardinals ended up with both Piscotty and Michael Wacha in the first round, and the guy who was their Director of Scouting at the time (Dan Kantrovitz) is now one of Oakland's Assistant GMs.

Like Russell, both Robertson and Olson were high school hitters. Here is Director of Scouting Eric Kubota talking about the pick of Robertson (via Casey Pratt of CSN):

"We think he can stay at short stop, he may have to go to third base," Kubota said. "His standout tool is his bat. He is a very, very advanced high school bat with strength and power. We think he has a chance if he has to go to third base to be a plus defender, an average defender at short stop. We just really like his bat."

To be fair, that sounds like he's describing a "safe" college infielder, perhaps like Grant Green a couple years prior. But Robertson did stick at shortstop, so in that way he's already beaten those old scouting reports anyway. (Now he just needs to actually make MLB, which he isn't far from doing.)

As for Olson, here is Kubota again (via Jane Lee this time):

"For us, one of the best high school bats in the country -- just a very skilled hitter with strength, and the power's going to come as he gets bigger and stronger," Kubota said. "We really feel good about his bat. We saw him hit home runs off two first-round pitchers this year."

That sounds more like what you expect from a teenager: raw ability and a projectable frame. Lots of upside if things go right, but with no guarantee that it will ever come. As it turned out, Olson did grow into his power and has ridden it, along with a great batting eye and strong defense, all the way to Triple-A. His last test is to prove he can make contact against top-level pitching, so he hasn't quite panned out just yet, but for now it sure looks like the A's did well with this pick.

One more note on the first round: The picks of Robertson and Olson were made possible due to the old free agent compensation system, which is no longer in use. The A's acquired Willingham and DeJesus as one-year rentals for the 2011 season, and all it cost them in trade was four unexciting youngsters who didn't go on to do much of anything in the bigs. On the other side, though, they turned those veterans into three extra high draft picks, resulting in Robertson, Olson, and Maxwell. That's a good illustration of why that system is gone now.

Traded away

Several members of this draft class have been shipped away via trade. Some notables:

1st round: Addison Russell to the Cubs in Sharknado 1
1st round: Daniel Robertson to Rays in Ben Zobrist trade
2nd round: Nolan Sanburn to White Sox for Adam Dunn
6th round: Seth Streich to Padres with Derek Norris for Jesse Hahn
14th round: Austin House to Rockies for Rule 5 rights to Mark Canha
20th round: Boog Powell to Rays in Ben Zobrist trade
37th round: John Wooten to Nationals for Fernando Abad

With the exception of Russell, there's not much to miss here. Robertson and Powell are still good prospects even though both are scuffling in Triple-A, but the A's essentially turned them into Sean Manaea (via Zobrist). I'd make that trade directly if you offered it to me today. Sanburn hasn't done much as a reliever in the White Sox system, and Streich has missed the last two seasons due to serious injuries (shoulder surgery, and then TJS). Even despite his season-ending surgery, I'll still take Canha over House. Wooten topped out at High-A for Washington and hasn't yet played in 2016.

Still in the system

There are 12 players from this class who are still in the organization. Two of them have played for the A's this year (Dull, Muncy), and a few more are close enough that they look like good bets to make it at some point by the end of 2017 (Olson, Maxwell, Healy). The presence of Olson still gives them a chance to have a legit homegrown star to show for this draft class, depending on how his bat pans out. The full list:

MLB: Ryan Dull
Triple-A: Matt Olson, Bruce Maxwell, Max Muncy, Tucker Healy, 
Double-A: Brett Vertigan, Kris Hall
High-A: B.J. Boyd, Melvin Mercedes, Ryan Gorton
Single-A: Cody Kurz
Unassigned: Robert Martinez

The A's got more than just these names, though. Combine this section with those trades above, because Oakland also has those players to show for this class. That means Marcus Semien and Josh Phegley, for the most part, plus Manaea, Hahn, Canha, and Chris Coghlan (Coghlan arrived via Aaron Brooks, via Zobrist, via Robertson/Powell).

Add it all up, and the A's can thank the 2012 class for up to two members of their primary lineup (Semien, Coghlan), three quality bench players (Phegley, Canha, Muncy), two members of their starting rotation (Manaea, Hahn), one of their best relievers (Dull), and a fringe Top-100 prospect one step away from the bigs (Olson). Most of the group isn't technically homegrown, but that's a pretty good haul one way or other.

Trend: Back to high school

After going heavy on high schoolers in the early rounds of 2010, and then completely ignoring the high school ranks in 2011, the A's flipped the script once more in 2012. They selected high schoolers with all three of their 1st-round picks, as well as their 3rd- and 4th-rounders as well, for a total of five of their top seven choices.

The results have been as good as you could hope for. You'll never get a 100% success rate, but of the four top high schoolers who signed with Oakland, three of them are looking pretty good. Russell is already establishing himself in the bigs and is a budding star shortstop, while Robertson and Olson have reached Triple-A and have each been considered Top-100 guys at some point since the start of 2015. Only Boyd has lagged behind. Even if Robertson and Olson never make it, Russell's success alone would justify the A's high-risk, high-reward strategy in the early rounds of 2012.


For the second straight year, the A's came out of the draft as winners if only because their top pick was so excellent. The way things look now, they probably ended up with one of the two best players in the draft in Russell. Toss in a couple of solid role players, including Muncy and a late-late-round gem in Dull, and this class looks pretty good. But Olson is the catalyst that can boost it up to a great haul, if he makes it as a star or even just a quality regular. (And although this doesn't count as part of my judgment, they also increased their value in this draft simply by trading away several of the top picks for more established players.)

Current grade: B+ ... Landing one of the top players is the most important thing, but like with the 2011 class I want more than one big hit to go higher than this grade. It becomes an A if Olson becomes an everyday player. I guess technically the same is true if Robertson makes it instead, but that's less fun for us in the Bay Area.

Next time we'll look at the 2013 draft class.