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Oakland A’s 2019 Draft Preview: Exploring past trends

Past is prelude ...

Generic Draft Board!

The MLB Draft begins on June 3 with Oakland holding two picks on the first day. There has been little chatter about whom the A’s are looking at; undoubtedly this is in part due to the (welcome) lateness of Oakland’s first pick. Talking about who might be on the radar at 1.29 requires a fair amount of projection and I will attempt to inform that projection by analyzing Oakland’s drafts from 2012 – 2018.

Teams had to radically adjust how they went about the business of acquiring new talent through the draft when Major League Baseball imposed a cap on signing bonuses after the 2011 season. Therefore any template I create to view 2019 candidates will be best formed by focusing on comparable practices.

Utilizing the last 7 draft classes gives me 21 1st/2nd-round selections and 17 later-round, over-slot picks to build my sample pool. A player needed to receive a signing bonus at least 20% over recommendation and be drafted after Day One to count as an over-slot signing in my review. I admit 38 players are not the deepest of pools, but it beats picking names out of a hat and I believe there are some tendencies revealed.

Pitching trends

Only 14 of the 38 picks were used on pitchers and just two, A.J. Puk at 1.6 (2016) and Daulton Jefferies at 1.37 (2016), were taken in the 1st round. Four more college-trained arms were selected in the 2nd round but no high school arms were selected on Day One; what the A’s did instead was offer the equivalent of 2nd-round bonus money to three high school arms taken in the 3rd or 4th rounds of various drafts.

Kyle Twomey 3.106 (2012/Unsigned) Dakota Chalmers 3.97 (2015/$1.2M) and Skylar Szynski 4.112 (2016/$1M) represent Oakland’s efforts to balance their focus on stockpiling bats with their earliest picks with the need to add pitching talent. Oakland would also offer 3rd-round money to high school arms Dustin Driver 7.221 (2013/$500K) and Branden Kelliher 8.252 (2014/$450K) plus collegian Bobby Wahl 5.161 (2013/$500K).

Five high school arms does not a trend make but I think it’s notable that the three pitchers from “cold-weather” states, where scouts might not have as much opportunity to see them play, all profiled as being physically mature arms; their bodies didn’t have much in the way of projection. Twomey and Chalmers, from California and Georgia respectively, had much more physical projection. Twomey turned down Oakland’s money, went to college, and didn’t fill out as expected; he would get drafted by Chicago in the 13th round of the 2015 Draft and sign for $100K.

Over-slot bonuses

Nick Allen 3.81 (2017/$2M) and Skye Bolt 4.128 (2015/$650K) represent the two largest, over-slot investments Oakland has made in position talent since 2012. (Jameson Hannah and Jeremy Eierman both received over-slot signing bonuses, but as Round 2 picks they count in the Day One column.) Bolt was a raw, switch-hitting collegian with patience and at least above-average grades on his Arm and Run. He was projected to be a plus defender in CF, but would he have enough Hit to be anything more than a bench player?

Nick Allen was widely acknowledged as probably the best defensive SS prospect in the 2017 draft, but many were leery about his offensive potential due to his size. Listed at 5’9” and 155 pounds, would a big league fastball knock the bat out of his hands? Questions about the bat will be a recurring theme among Oakland’s more recent, high-value Draftees.

But to wrap up the big ticket over-slot selectees: Catchers Iolana Akua 20.611 (2013/$375K) and Santis Sanchez 5.141 (2017/$450K) received 4th round equivalent bonuses while SS Trace Loehr 6.192 (2014/$600K) received 3rd round money.

Day One picks

I see more distinct tells when viewing the team’s history of Day One picks. The A’s clearly focused on position talent, with 15 of 21 picks invested in bats. Five high school players picked, all in the 1st round, all position players. Four of the five earned full slot signing bonuses; Billy McKinney 1.24 (2013/$1.8M), a Hit-first CF with arguably the weakest secondary tools of the bunch, was the exception.

The only real “projection” pick was CF Austin Beck 1.6 (2017/$5.303 MM), who came to the organization with some question about the Hit tool but plus grades for his Power, Run and Arm. The college-trained position players taken in the 1st round were all more notable for their athleticism and/or defensive potential than their bats: Matt Chapman 1.25 (2014/$1.75M), Richie Martin 1.20 (2015/$1.95M), Kevin Merrell 1.33 (2017/$1.8M), and Kyler Murray 1.9 (2018/$4.66M).

Chapman brought an 80 Arm and 70 Glove, but would he hit enough to properly man the hot corner? Martin earned above-average-to-plus grades (reports vary) for his Glove, Arm and Speed and was a potential plus SS in the Show. Merrell offered at least plus-plus speed and projected to stick up the middle. Murray was such a phenomenal athlete that the belief was that, once he chose to give up the foolish notion of playing football, he’d showcase plus tools across the board and become one of the best CF prospects in the minors. (Oops.)

In fact, Matt Olson 1.47 ($1.08M) and Greg Deichmann 2.43 (2017/$1.7 MM) are the only two high-value draft picks who could be described as Bat-over-Glove prospects, being 1B/COF types that featured Power over Hit. Even here, both players featured above-average-to-plus Arm strength and the potential for average (Deichmann) or plus (Olson) defense at their primary position.

One last footnote regarding Chapman, Martin, Merrell, Murray … they all signed for a little under slot. This can’t be attributed to cheapness, as in every case the A’s would sign at least two other draft picks to above-slot deals. I see it more as risk management. Oakland is betting that it can fix or minimize the question marks in the bats they acquire and produce two-way talents. This approach produced a star in Matt Chapman and an Oriole in Richie Martin. Kevin Merrell remains a work in progress and Murray … welp. Szynski and Bolt are with the organization while Chalmers and Wahl were tradeable assets because of this financial plan.

Where does this leave us as June 3 approaches?

It has us looking for college-trained talent with some questions about the bat, at least one plus or better tool, and a future in the middle of the defense. We can probably ignore any bat-first collegian who doesn’t offer an above-average secondary tool(s) or some defensive versatility.

It also has us looking for physically mature high school bats, preferably on the upper end of the defensive spectrum. I would say the A’s prefer a little more certainty in the bats of their high school targets than they do college targets.

We can all but eliminate right-handed pitching in the 1st round, especially in a draft that has been labeled weak in arms. A dark horse move would be to try to push a falling prep southpaw to Oakland’s 2nd-round pick by guaranteeing an over-slot bonus.

My goal in the coming week is to find 3-5 names that fit these parameters and post their scouting reports on AN for discussion. Feel free to suggest names below, and if you’ve got a guy you want to champion then please do so.

Oakland’s 2019 Draft Order: (Round.Number:Slot Amount)

1.29: $2,424,600

2.66: $1,003,300

3.104: $560,000

4.134: $418,200

5.164: $312,400

6.194: $243,000

7.224: $191,500

8.254: $161,400

9.284: $149,300

10.314: $142,200

Rounds 11 – 40: $125,000

Draft Pool: $5,605,900

Overage (5%): $280,200