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MLB Draft 2016: The Oakland A's recent history at the top of the 1st round

Mulder and Zito are what you can get if you do your top-10 picks right.
Mulder and Zito are what you can get if you do your top-10 picks right.
Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2016 MLB Draft just a few hours away, and the Oakland A's doing absolutely nothing of interest in the big leagues right now, it's time to forget the rest of this week and focus on the farm system. The A's are playing the Reds next anyway, and no good can come from that -- either they beat an awful team, which brings limited joy, or they lose to an awful team, which brings unlimited despair.

If you've missed any of our draft coverage so far, here are some links to help you:

2011 draft review
2012 draft review
2013 draft review
2014 draft review
2015 draft review
A's 2016 budget
A's 1st-round targets
A's org depth chart
How to watch

There's one more thing I'd like to look at before the big day tomorrow. For most of the last two decades, the A's have been a great-to-decent MLB team, which means they have usually picked in the middle-to-end of the 1st round. However, this year, after their first 90-loss season of the Billy Beane Era, they will pick No. 6 overall, their highest selection since 1998. The 1st round is always fun but it'll carry a little extra intrigue this year, and so I'd like to take a look at the A's recent history when they pick in the top 10 of the draft.

Billy Beane took over as GM prior to 1998, but I'm going to extend back to when he became an assistant GM prior to 1994. I am doing this simply to add a few more data points to an otherwise tiny list; I don't actually know what role Beane did or didn't play in those drafts as an AGM.

A's Top-10 picks since Billy Beane became AGM/GM
Year # Name Pos C/HS bWAR Result
1994 2 Ben Grieve OF HS 8.4 Won ROTY, but done by 29
1995 5 Ariel Prieto RHP C+ 3.3 Complete bust
1996 10 Eric Chavez 3B HS 37.4 Became a star! 6 Gold Gloves!
1998 2 Mark Mulder LHP C 20.0 Became a star! Cy runner-up!
1999 9 Barry Zito LHP C 32.6 Became a star! Won Cy Young!
2010 10 Michael Choice OF C -2.0 Complete bust

(The arbitrary cutoff here was being in the top-10 of the draft. That leaves out some No. 11 guys, like Chris Enochs and Addison Russell, or No. 12 Jemile Weeks. Gotta draw the line somewhere.)

What do we have in that table? Grieve wasn't a bad pick, but his success was short-lived. He was almost Butler-esque in that he brought nothing other than his bat -- he couldn't run or field, and before long the league figured out how to stop him at the plate too. He panned out at first and even had a good year for a playoff team in 2000, but then he flamed out instead. Prieto was already 25 years old when he was picked out of Cuba, so we can completely disregard that one -- he wouldn't even be subject to the draft under today's rules, instead signing directly with the highest bidder as an international free agent. It was an interesting zag for the A's to take back then, but it didn't work out.

Those next three picks turned out so well that they changed the entire franchise. Chavez was a star in Oakland for years and was a core member of five playoff teams. Mulder and Zito were two-thirds of the famous Big 3 rotation, which had at least one book written about it. Those years showed just how powerful the draft can be if you hit the jackpot.

That team, led in large part by Chavez, Mulder, and Zito, was so good for so long that they didn't pick as high as No. 10 again for over a decade. Choice turned out to be a poor ... selection, proving to be the A's fourth straight busted first-rounder. (Don't worry, they made up for it the next year with Sonny Gray.)

Most of these picks occurred in the 20th century, and the world is a far different place now. I'm not sure there's much that these picks tell us in terms of what the A's might do or how well things might go, but rather it illustrates the consequences of success and failure. They didn't do great with their picks in '94-95, which helped extend their dark years in the 90s. They did so well in '96-'99 that they were able to build a small AL West dynasty. Their bust in '10, on the heels of three straight previous blown first-rounders, is one reason they are light on talent today in 2016.

Finally, it's nice to look at that list and marvel at what it means. This is only the second time in the last 17 drafts that the A's have been in the top 10, which means they are never in the bottom 10 on the field. We haven't had a ring in a while, and there have been some boring, mediocre years mixed in, but it's still good to be an A's fan overall.


For fun, here are all of the 1st-round picks going back to 2001, sorted into three categories. I'm cutting off after 2011, since the draftees since then are mostly still working up through the minor leagues.

Oakland A's 1st-round picks, 2001-2011
Stars! Regular MLB players Reached MLB Total Busts
OF Nick Swisher
RHP Huston Street
LHP Sean Doolittle
RHP Sonny Gray
SS Bobby Crosby
RHP Jeremy Bonderman
RHP Joe Blanton
3B Mark Teahen
SS Cliff Pennington
LHP John Rheinecker
C Jeremy Brown
SS Omar Quintanilla
OF Danny Putnam
C Landon Powell
OF Travis Buck
OF Corey Brown
2B Jemile Weeks
SS Grant Green
OF Michael Choice

SS John McCurdy
RHP Ben Fritz
RHP Steve Obenchain
RHP Brad Sullivan
3B Brian Snyder
OF Richie Robnett
RHP James Simmons

Out of 26 total players, that's four All-Stars (15%), nine overall legit MLB players (35%), and 19 at least reaching MLB (73%). Those aren't bad success rates at all.