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A’s Farm Report: Scouting Director Eric Kubota on A’s Top Draft Picks of 2018

A’s top pick Kyler Murray
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Last Tuesday, I talked to A’s scouting director Eric Kubota about the team’s top 11 picks in the first 10 rounds of the amateur draft. Many of you may have seen that interview on my Athletics Farm site, but for those of you who might have missed it, I thought I’d feature a portion of it here this week. You can find our conversation about the A’s top five picks (Kyler Murray, Jameon Hannah, Jeremy Eierman, Hogan Harris and Alfonso Rivas) below. And you can find our complete conversation, which includes the rest of the A’s top 11 picks (Brady Feigl, Lawrence Butler, Charlie Cerny, JJ Schwarz, Chase Cohen and Clark Cota) on my site here. I also took the opportunity to get Kubota’s take on last year’s top pick, Austin Beck. But here’s the first half of our conversation from last week…

AF: From your point of view, was there anything particularly distinctive about this year’s draft class for the A’s?

EK: Well, we took a football quarterback with our first pick. So, that was sort of different! I think we approach every draft similarly. Our process is always kind of…we line the players up the way we like them and then pick them as they fall on draft day. That’s kind of what we did this year. We’re certainly happy with how it turned out, but I don’t think there was anything necessarily unusual about it.

AF: Okay, well let’s start out with your football player, Kyler Murray. I think a lot of people would obviously characterize that as something of a ballsy pick. I’m curious to know, internally, how much discussion and debate went on about that pick, and how difficult was it to get everybody on the same page about pulling the trigger on that pick?

EK: Right, well it was certainly a process that started early in the spring from when our first scouts started going in and seeing Kyler playing. You know, it was hard to see Kyler. Really, since his junior year in high school, he hasn’t played a whole lot. He was identified back then as a top-tier talent, but we hadn’t seen him much. He started playing regularly this spring. And as the spring went on, in our eyes, his stock kept strengthening. So, that discussion started early in the season. Obviously, we had to consider all factors – the football and everything else. But it definitely was a more involved discussion than we have normally.

AF: Most people do view him as a very talented prospect. Do you consider him a potential five-tool player? And what about him really grabbed you so much that you wanted to go out on a limb and take that chance with him?

EK: Well, we certainly view him as a five-tool player. I’ve been doing this a long time, and I don’t know that there’s ever been a player that has excited me as much as Kyler – just the possibility of what he could become and where he was and his baseball development despite the lack of playing. He’s just, first and foremost, a tremendous athlete – an athlete we don’t see on baseball fields very often. But he could impact the game defensively, with his speed, as well as at the plate…

AF: So, with his football commitments, it’s my understanding that we shouldn’t expect to see him in a baseball uniform until next March. Is that right?

EK: Spring training, yeah.

AF: There have been some reports, but he hasn’t been announced as an official signing yet. Is it safe to assume that you have some sort of understanding with him and that you’re basically on the same page about things?

EK: Yeah, I think we’ve had a lot of discussions, and I think both sides are very confident.

AF: So, is there anyone at all you might be able to compare this kid to?

EK: Well, I think a lot of people have thrown out Andrew McCutchen. You know, you never want to compare anyone to the greatest player in franchise history, but a few of our scouts have mentioned Ricky Henderson. I know Kyler, his goal is to make an impact so someone else will be the next Kyler Murray.

AF: Well, I guess if he even comes close, that’ll be all right! So, with your second-round pick, you went with another speedy outfielder, Jameson Hannah out of Dallas Baptist. He’s known for his speed, but I guess you liked his bat quite a bit as well. Can you tell me what you liked about his swing or his approach at the plate that made you confident that this guy could definitely be a major league hitter?

EK: Yeah, we think Jameson’s just a natural-born hitter. I mean, he’s just got those hitter’s hands, and his approach is advanced. This is a kid we think can just flat-out hit.

AF: And does he look like a guy who could stick in center field?

EK: Yeah, you can never have too many center fielders.

AF: And is there anyone you might be able to compare him to?

EK: On Hannah, some of our guys compared him to Matt Lawton.

AF: Now with your competitive balance pick, you took shortstop Jeremy Eierman from Missouri State. I know that he was originally thought of by a lot of people to be a potential first-round pick. I heard he kind of changed his approach at the plate and changed his swing a bit and became a little pull-happy and started swinging for the fences this season. Is that what enabled him to fall to you at that point?

EK: Well, it’s hard to say exactly what happened. He certainly was a very high-profile guy coming into the spring. I’m sure he would be the first to admit that his performance wasn’t at the level that he hoped it would have been at [this season]. But it’s hard to know what any other teams are thinking. We were just happy that he got to where we were able to pick him.

AF: I guess he’s got plenty of speed and plenty of power and plays a premium position. So, is that pretty much all you needed to know to want to grab him at that point?

EK: Sure, yeah, and he also was able to hit over 20 home runs last year [2017]. There’s baseball bloodlines – his brother played professional baseball, his dad played professional baseball. He’s definitely got a speed and power combo. So, yeah, there’s a lot to like about Jeremy.

AF: He’s one of your few top picks who hasn’t signed yet. Should we expect that you’ll probably be coming to some sort of agreement with him?

EK: I’m hopeful, yeah.

AF: And do you have a comparison for him?

EK: Yeah, Paul DeJong.

AF: In the third round, you took your first pitcher, Hogan Harris, who’s a big, strong southpaw out of Louisiana. Since he was the first pitcher you took in the draft, I’m assuming there must have been a lot of things you liked about him.

EK: Sure, I mean, he’s left-handed, like you said. We’ve seen him up to 96-97 mph. We think he’s got a starter mix. He’s got a slider and a changeup that are both very effective pitches for him. And we think there’s a lot of upside here.

AF: I think he had an oblique injury this year and has had some other little injuries along the way. Has he had any arm injuries at all or has it just been other stuff?

EK: No, nothing major that we know of.

AF: Okay, so as far as we know, the arm’s been solid then. Are there any pitchers you might compare him to?

EK: Another kid from that neck of the woods, Wade Miley, is someone you’d compare him to a little bit.

AF: In the fourth round, you took Alfonso Rivas, who’s a left-handed first baseman who’s known as a real contact hitter with good plate discipline. That kind of sounded a bit like a guy you took a few years ago – Max Muncy. But how do you look at Alfonso Rivas?

EK: Yeah, they probably look a little different physically. Rivas is a very, very good first baseman. He is more than athletic enough to play either of the corner outfield spots. And he can really hit. We kind of compare him a little bit to James Loney.

AF: I was going to ask you about that. I know he’s listed as a first baseman, but he’s played a little bit in the outfield too. So, it sounds like you’re looking at him as a possible first baseman or a corner outfielder in the future then.

EK: Right.

You can find our complete conversation, which includes the rest of the A’s top 11 picks (Brady Feigl, Lawrence Butler, Charlie Cerny, JJ Schwarz, Chase Cohen and Clark Cota), as well as Kubota’s comments on Austin Beck, on my site here.

Visit Athletics Farm for updates on the A’s minor league teams and all the top prospects down on the farm.