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Oakland A's 2014 draft review: The Matt Chapman gamble is working out

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A good-lookin' chap.
A good-lookin' chap.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 MLB Draft begins on Thu., June 9, meaning it is just a week 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. Today we're looking at 2014, and you can see the previous years' summaries linked below:

2011 draft review
2012 draft review
2013 draft review

As a quick refresher, the A's entered this draft feeling pretty good about their top pick from each of the previous three years: Sonny Gray, Addison Russell, and Billy McKinney. They also made clear that their general plan was to take the best player available, rather than showing a preference for college or high school or for filling any certain position. In the 2013 class in particular, they did a great job of maximizing their return in the middle rounds by (stop me if you've heard this one before) taking players with perceived flaws (signability, injuries) that caused them to fall to later rounds despite their high talent level. Let's see what they did the next year!

(Note: The "Coulda had" section is a bit thinner this time, since it's too early to know yet who Oakland coulda had. I listed a couple Top 100 prospects, a couple relievers who have already pitched in MLB, and a couple prospects whose names I happened to recognize; I'm open to suggestions here. "Level" and "Team" refer to current 2016 status.)

R# Player Pos C/HS Level Team Coulda had ...
1 Matt Chapman 3B C AA Oak A.J. Reed
2 Daniel Gossett RHP C AA Oak Brent Honeywell?
3 Brett Graves RHP C A+ Oak Daniel Mengden
4 Jordan Schwartz RHP C - Oak -
5 Heath Fillmyer RHP C A+ Oak Zac Curtis?
6 Trace Loehr SS HS A Oak -
7 Branden Cogswell SS C A+ Oak Stone Garrett?
8 Branden Kelliher RHP HS - Oak -
9 Mike Fagan LHP C A Oak -
10 Corey Miller RHP C A+ Oak -
11 Joel Seddon RHP C AA Oak -
12 Tyler Willman RHP C - Oak -
13 Max Kuhn 2B C - Oak -
14 Casey Schroeder C C A ChW Greg Mahle
15 Trent Gilbert 2B C A Oak -
16 Jose Brizuela 3B C A+ Oak -
17 Eric Cheray C C - - -
18 Mike Nolan LHP C - - -
19 Tom Gavitt C C A Oak -
20 Koby Gauna RHP C A+ Oak -
21 Tim Proudfoot SS C - Oak -
22 Brendan McCurry RHP C AA Hou -
23 Collin Ferguson 1B C A+ Col -
24 Dawson Brown RHP C - - -
25 Joseph Estrada CF HS - - -
26 Rob Huber RHP C A Oak -
27 J.P. Sportman OF C AA Oak -
28 Corey Walter RHP C AA Oak -
29 Cody Stull LHP C A+ Oak -
30 Derek Beasley LHP C - Oak -

The draft went a total of 40 rounds. Here are the A's picks after the 30th round who signed and are still active in pro ball:

34th round: 1B John Nogowski was promoted to Double-A Midland a couple weeks ago and is in the starting lineup most days.

A couple notes:

18th round: Mike Nolan was shot in Sept. 2015 and passed away three weeks later.
21st round: SS Tim Proudfoot didn't sign, but was drafted again the next year and is still in Oakland's system.

Best MLB players in overall draft so far: Aaron Nola (1R, #7), Michael Conforto (1R, #10), Carlos Rodon (1R, #3), Brandon Finnegan (1R, #17), Kyle Schwarber (1R, #4).

This is a great example of how weak the 2013 draft was. Three years later, that class has really only produced three legit big leaguers so far: Kris Bryant, Kendall Graveman, and Chi Chi Gonzalez. And even then, Graveman is struggling and Chi Chi is back in Triple-A.

But the 2014 class, despite being a full year behind in development, already has five good players: Nola, Rodon, and Finnegan are already in starting rotations, with Nola and Rodon striking out a batter per inning and Finnegan posting an average line overall; Conforto has already homered in a World Series; and Schwarber has hit five postseason homers while reaching the NLCS (though he's out for 2016 with injury).

Baseball America Top 100 prospects from overall draft so far: The number before their name is their place on the Top 100. After their name is the round they were drafted in, and then their exact pick. The A's top picks were Nos. 25, 65, and 101.

9. Trea Turner (1R, #13)
11. A.J. Reed (2R, #42)
24. Sean Newcomb (1R, #15)
31. Bradley Zimmer (1R, #21)
34. Cody Reed (2R, #54)
53. Nick Gordon (1R, #5)
64. Luis Ortiz (1R, #30)
65. Brent Honeywell (2R, #72)
68. Jeff Hoffman (1R, #9)
72. Grant Holmes (1R, #22)
81. Justus Sheffield (1R, #31)
82. Erick Fedde (1R, #18)
89. Michael Kopech (1R, #33)
90. Touki Toussaint (1R, #16)
93. Bobby Bradley (3R, #97)
100. Alex Verdugo (2R, #62)

This soon after the draft, it's likely that the draft positions themselves are driving factors in many of these guys making the Top 100 -- there simply hasn't been that much time for a random 8th-rounder to push his way onto such a list. Therefore, it's not surprising that half of these 16 top prospects, as well as the five main MLB graduates, were off the board before the A's even picked. Six more were off the board before the A's picked Daniel Gossett in the 2nd round.

For now the best way to look at this class is to judge the A's picks on their own merits. Anyone disappointed with Matt Chapman so far? Didn't think so. Anyone disappointed with Gossett's sudden breakout season? Again, didn't think so, though an argument could be made for Brent Honeywell. We'll get a better idea of how the A's did, and who they may have missed out on in the mid-to-late rounds, over the next couple years.

The top pick

The A's first pick was No. 25 overall, which was the lowest their first selection had been since 2007 (when it was No. 26). They chose third baseman Matt Chapman from Cal State Fullerton, and as we know now that pick is looking phenomenal. But at the time, it appeared to be an enormous reach.

Chapman's name didn't show up in AN's draft preview, not even in the comments. Nor did it come up in our Scouting the Hitters post, by a different author to boot. And there's good reason why he wasn't on our radar at all: he wasn't projected to go even remotely close to the 1st round by the major experts. Here are where the various sources ranked him among the top draft prospects:

Keith Law: 56th
Baseball America: 64th
Mayo/MLB.com: 82nd

No. 56 would have been the 15th pick of the 2nd round, while No. 82 was all the way in the third round. Not only that, but all three sources had Oakland's 3rd-rounder, Brett Graves, ranked above Chapman; Law also had Oakland's 2nd-rounder (Gossett) ranked Chapman on his big board. Given that context, you can understand why the AN community had a decidedly negative reaction to the pick in the open thread (though our resident swing expert, Jerry Brewer, had mostly positive things to say about Chapman's swing.) The A's insisted he was the best player available, but it sure came as a shock to everyone else. It should come as no surprise that he signed under-slot.

Two years later, it looks like the A's bold choice was a good one. A few days after arriving in the pros, Chapman skipped short-season Vermont entirely and went straight to Single-A Beloit. When their season wrapped up, he jumped up to Double-A Midland for the playoffs and posted a .961 OPS (w/ 2 homers) in eight postseason games to help the RockHounds win the Texas League championship. In 2015, he navigated around a couple injuries to blast 23 homers in 80 games for High-A Stockton. And this season, he's up in Double-A leading the Texas League with 13 homers, albeit with a somewhat concerning strikeout rate (31.0%). He's also the best defensive third baseman in the minors, and he just cracked the Top 100 list on MLB.com at their latest update.

Chapman has so far turned into the best-case scenario of his draft-day scouting reports, with his raw power showing up in games and his defensive skills translating to the pros. He hasn't made it to MLB yet, but his odds are sure looking good, especially after leading the A's with six homers in the Cactus League this spring. He was an odd pick at first, but it's virtually impossible to be upset about it now. Oakland may have struck gold at the end of the first round.

The rest of the top picks

The A's didn't have any kind of extra comp picks like they had the previous couple years, but for the second straight summer they did a great job of maximizing their mid-round talent. They reached a bit to get Chapman and even Gossett, but they also got both players to sign slightly under-slot. This helped them land high school shortstop Trace Loehr later on -- he was ranked among the top 100 draft prospects by Law, BA, and MLB, but Oakland got him at No. 192 by throwing their saved money at him. That gave them four consensus top-100 guys despite only having two of the first 100 picks (okay, three of the first 101 picks). Law even had Fillmyer on his big board, so by his count the A's landed five of the top 100.

Unfortunately, Loehr has not panned out at all in any way, though at age 21 the book isn't completely closed for him. He's still stuck in Single-A Beloit, with a .471 OPS. The A's also nabbed high school hurler Branden Kelliher in the 8th round by tripling his recommended slot bonus, but the now-20-year-old hasn't yet pitched above rookie ball. Even if these guys fade away, the high-upside strategy was still a good one.

(Perhaps even more impressive are the later rounds, where three of the mid-20s picks are already in the upper minors: McCurry, Sportman, and Walter.)

Still in the system

The A's signed 15 of their top 16 picks in this draft, and every single one of them is still in the organization. Taking it further, 17 of their top 20 picks are still around, as well as 22 of their top 30, with 23 of their overall selections currently present in their system. Here are their current MiLB levels:

Double-A: Chapman, Gossett, Seddon, Sportman, Walter, Nogowski
High-A: Graves, Fillmyer, Cogswell, Miller, Brizuela, Gauna, Stull
Single-A: Loehr, Fagan, Gilbert, Gavitt, Huber
Unassigned: Schwartz, Kelliher, Willman, Kuhn, Beasley

Not a bad haul at all. Granted, only Chapman, Fillmyer, and Gossett made our Community Prospect List Top 30 entering the season, but there are enough intriguing names in this group that another one or two could push their way into relevance -- especially with six of them already reaching the upper minors, all as either starting pitchers or everyday position players. One great step toward getting something out of the draft is to have a couple dozen of your picks still playing in your system two years later.

McCurry traded

By the time this draft class became trade-eligible after the 2014 season, the A's were already prepping to hit the reset button and ship away a bunch of All-Stars. They haven't been in full win-now mode since then, so it makes sense that this class hasn't been used as trade chips like many of the 2012 draftees were. There has been one deal, though, sending reliever Brendan McCurry to the Astros for MLB infielder Jed Lowrie.

McCurry had become a popular prospect here on AN, and he's dominating in Double-A for Houston just like he did in Oakland's system, but trading him for Lowrie was still a no-brainer. Lowrie is hitting .315 with a 101 OPS+ in real-life MLB games, providing positive overall value at a position (2B) where the A's have sucked for years. Even if McCurry ends up panning out, you still take the solid everyday position player over the non-closer reliever every time. And with the way Lowrie is playing so far, the A's could almost certainly flip him (either at the deadline or after the season) for a prospect as good or better than McCurry.

Here's another way to look at it: With their 22nd-round pick in the 2014 draft, the A's got their 2016 starting second baseman, on a reasonable, non-prohibitive two-year deal.

Trend: College pitching

I think the A's made it clear in both 2013 and '14 that they simply target the best player available. Most teams probably do, honestly, with the real question being the differences in how they value amateur players. But in this draft, taking the BPA led to a lot of college pitching.

Eight of their first 12 picks were college pitchers. (Mixed in were infielders Chapman, Cogswell, and a couple of high school lotto tickets.) Of those eight arms, Gossett and Fillmyer definitely look like keepers, and Seddon is at least starting in the upper minors. Graves is struggling as a starter, but I still wonder if he could be an impact reliever down the road. Predicting pitching is tough, and having half of these hurlers remain relevant two years later isn't a bad success rate.

Conclusion

The A's ignored the conventional wisdom and did their own thing in the first two rounds, and so far it's worked beautifully as both players are thriving and have reached the upper minors already. It's debatable if anyone beyond those two (and maybe Fillmyer) is even a decent bet to ever make it, but in a running theme for this draft review series, if you nail your top couple of picks then the rest is just gravy.

Current grade: B ... You don't get to truly gloat about nailing your top pick until he actually reaches the bigs, and while the A's have a lot of quantity to show for this class it is yet to translate into a lot of quality from the promising middle rounds. It doesn't look like a bad draft, but it's not yet a great one either. (This is purely a draft grade and so there is no credit for turning the 22nd-rounder into Lowrie, but if you want to consider that then you could make it a B+.)

Next time we'll look at the 2015 draft class.