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MLB Draft 2018 Preview: Who might the Oakland A’s take in 1st round?

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The A’s have the 9th overall pick, and here are two names who could be in the mix.

Draft Plan... BETA version

These are the things I know to be true:

  1. The MLB Draft begins on Monday, June 4 at 4 p.m. PST.
  2. Oakland has a bonus pool of $9,553,000. Teams can spend up to 5% over their allotted pool and NOT lose future draft picks; the 5% overage of Oakland’s pool is $477,650. Rounding that figure down to $477,600 to insure compliance with MLB rules, the A’s would face a 75% tax for every dollar spent within that $477,600 overage. That would add (up to) $358,200 in expenditures towards the 2018 Draft class. Total projection through the 10th Round: $10,389,000. Teams can spend up to $125,000 to sign picks in Rounds 11 through 40 and not have the signing bonus count against the bonus pool.
  3. The A’s are sitting with a Top 10 pick (No. 9) for what most Oakland fans are hoping will be the last time for the next several years.

All else is just a guess.

The general consensus has Casey Mize as the #1 prospect in the Draft but there’s some doubt as to how the Top 5 picks play out. Detroit (the Tigers have pick 1.1, meaning 1st round, 1st overall pick) might prefer to take a college bat and there’s always chatter about teams looking for prep talent that will sign under-slot deals. The 2018 prep class is underwhelming in terms of Top 10 level talent with two, maybe three, names in consideration for the first 10 picks. Therefore I’m fairly confident in saying that the top college talent (Mize, Nick Madrigal, Alec Bohm, Joey Bart) will be gone long before the A’s pick at 1.9. Most of the recent mocks have the A’s taking South Alabama outfielder Travis Swaggerty, while holding out hope that University of Florida infielder Jonathan India falls to them at 1.9. I’ll talk about why these two players fit into what the A’s tend to do in the draft later in the discussion.

My focus for this article was to go deeper than the nationally publicized mock drafts and try to find trends in Oakland’s draft strategy. I found some interesting things, particularly as it concerns scouting assignments and where Oakland looks to find their draft picks. This is all subject to where the top talent currently lives; if Oakland thinks the best amateur in the draft resides in some small town in Maine then the fact that they haven’t traditionally mined talent from the Northeast means bupkis. But there are some patterns that emerge and marrying these with some early season rumors as well as the prospect rankings from Baseball America and MLB allows me to make (what I think) are more coherent arguments for or against certain players.

Some of the trends I noticed are more obvious than others, like … the A’s haven’t drafted a prep arm in the 1st Round since taking Jeremy Bonderman (1.26) in 2001. In fact, Oakland hasn’t used a 2nd Round pick on a prep arm since taking Trevor Cahill (2.66) in the 2006 Draft. But what they’ve been willing to do over the past four draft classes is to take prep talent in Rounds 3 – 10 and pay them significantly above-slot signing bonuses. Nick Allen (3.81, 2017) earned the equivalent of Supplemental 1st Round money. Skylar Szynski (4.112, 2016) and Dakota Chalmers (3.97, 2015) earned the equivalent of mid-2nd Round money. Trace Loehr (6.192, 2014) and Branden Kelliher (8.252, 2014) earned the equivalent of 3rd and 4th Round monies.

When the A’s have gone the prep route they’ve almost exclusively taken players from warm weather/mild winter states like California, Georgia and Florida (with Skylar Szynski from Indiana being the lone exception). I remember Billy Owens talking about having their scouts get as many looks as possible on amateur prospects, so when a player like Wisconsin HS prospect Jarred Kelenic is missing game time due to ice storms I think it pushes him down the draft board. Over the last three years Florida-based area scout Trevor Schaffer has signed two 1st Round picks (A.J. Puk 2016, Richie Martin 2015) a Supplemental 1st pick (Kevin Merrell 2017) and a 2nd Round pick (Logan Shore 2016) … it’s clear that the Oakland Front Office listens when he pounds the table for his guys.

So let’s talk about one of his guys.

Jonathan India: 3B / University of Florida (JR)

  • DOB: 12/15/1996
  • Size: 6’1”, 185
  • B/T: Right/Right
  • Stats: .362/.502/.723 in 188 AB (11 Doubles/3 Triples/17 Home Runs/47-47 BB-K Rate)

MLB Scouting Grades:

Hit = 55 / Power = 50 / Run = 55 / Arm = 55 / Field = 55 / Overall = 55

Pros:

There isn’t a below-average tool in the shed. Jonathan India was arguably the best all-around hitter in the toughest conference in college baseball. He can stick at 3B or move to 2B and might be able to play some SS if a team doesn’t mind less-than-average defense. His breakout coincided with getting into better shape. He’s shown an advanced approach at the plate and good instincts on the base paths.

Cons:

There isn’t a plus tool in the shed. India posted a 1.225 OPS in 2018 but that comes after a .783 in 2017 and a .807 in 2016. He also had a lackluster showing with wooden bats in the Cape Cod League the last two summers, so how much stock to put into one year’s performance?

Monster:

When I saw the reports that some teams think India could play a “passable” SS I immediately thought Oakland. (I think the Adrian Cardenas Experience scarred me for life. Or maybe that was Marcus Semien?) I’m a little worried about the big, breakout year skyrocketing his draft stock. India also strikes me as more of a High Floor than a High Ceiling guy. He doesn’t have any Plus tools, which stands in stark contrast to previous Top 10 picks Austin Beck and A.J. Puk. Area scout Trevor Schaffer has been watching India since his freshman year and my guess is he has a solid relationship with the Florida coaching staff … he’s got a good idea how “real” this breakout is. The Mets hold the key here: there’s a lot of chatter about them taking India at (1.6). If he makes it past them than there’s a real good chance he makes it to Oakland at (1.9) and that probably makes him the pick over …

Travis Swaggerty: CF / Southern Alabama (JR)

  • DOB: 8/19/1997
  • Size: 5’11”, 180
  • B/T: Left/Left
  • Stats: .296/.455/.526 in 213 AB (10 Doubles/13 Home Runs/54-38 BB-K Rate)

MLB Scouting Grades:

Hit = 55 / Power = 50 / Run = 60 / Arm = 55 / Field = 55 / Overall = 55)

Pros:

Scouts are confident Swaggerty will stick in CF. He’s a bit young for a college Junior, not turning 21 until August. Swaggerty’s breakout season came in 2017, when he posted a 1.054 OPS and hit 10 home runs. This led to a stint last summer with Team USA where he hit .328/.449/.406 as the starting CF. There are some scouts who’ll give his Arm and Glove 60 Grades, giving him (at least the potential for) 3 Plus tools. He’s raised his BB-Rate and lowered his K-Rate each year.

Cons:

The level of competition in the Sun Belt Conference isn’t that great. His .981 OPS looks sharp but three teammates posted +.900 OPS and five opponents surpassed his mark. He started 2018 blistering hot .390/.609/.707 in his first 13 games but tailed off after that. Swaggerty has a tendency to chase breaking balls that will only be exploited when he faces more advanced pitchers.

Monster:

Swaggerty is a slightly spiffier version of 2017 draftee Adam Haseley, who went (1.8) to the Phillies and has had a fairly meh start to his pro career. I like that he’s a legit CF. I wonder how many of his walks came from pitchers who couldn’t or wouldn’t throw him a strike. Can he lay off close pitches? I’m not saying you can’t find big league talent in the Sun Belt Conference … but I’m starting to subscribe to the theory that if you have pro-level talent then you should be posting dominant performance against inferior competition. Swaggerty doesn’t quite hit that mark for me. Area scout Anthony Aloisi signed Nick Allen to a well over-slot $2 million bonus in 2017; can he convince the A’s to take his guy at (1.9)?

Personally, I don’t love either guy. I’ll preview a couple more names that I think could be in play for the A’s over the next few days. Until then, thanks for reading.