No doubt there were some bleak years, starting with the very first selections, such as head-scratching choices (Richie Martin) and hindsight fails (Austin Beck). And more recently the A’s ability to identify talent from other teams has come into question, with the majority of returns from this off-season’s and mid-season’s trades flopping like a barely touched soccer player.
But as the dust is clearing on the 2022 season it might be time to acknowledge that the scouting department appears to be experiencing an important resurgence of late, one made all the more crucial by lack of international success and the trades yet to yield clear returns.
Here are the A’s last 4 first round picks: Daniel Susac (C), Max Muncy (SS), Tyler Soderstrom (C), Logan Davidson (SS). None has yet reached AAA, so the jury is very much out on each, but here’s what we can say:
Susac, in a small sample, has been successful, opening his career batting .298/.354/.404 and drawing accolades from outside scouts who have weighed in. No one doubts his power, which is the biggest area yet to show up on the stat sheet.
Muncy. still a teenager for most of the season (he turned 20 on August 25th), has been raw but shows the upside worthy of a 1st round pick. He batted .230/.352/.447 at Stockton before struggling more in 42 games at A+ Lansing (.226/.305/.375), flashing power at both stops and walking plenty while also striking out far too much and making too many errors. Muncy is very much not a finished product but he is very young with plenty of time to build on his strengths and address the weaknesses, and he still has a chance to be a starting infielder for a future A’s team.
Soderstrom is widely seen as a future impact hitter in the big leagues and at age 20 has already made it to AA, where his .276/.324/.488 showing at Midland suggests he is ready to be challenged at AAA next year when he will be just 21. The organizational leader with 27 HRs this season, Soderstrom is a pure hitter whose future may be at 1B or LF if he moves off of catcher to accelerate his path to Oakland.
Davidson was a bust in the making who has resurrected his career in 2022. Still only 24, he has a chance to be a ‘late bloomer’ as his solid defense has been met with a .252/.333/.407 line that includes 14 HR, 50 BBs, and a strong September finish (.302/.380/.488). Davidson’s performance at AA has not been breath-taking, and he is old for his league now at 24, but the pedigree is there and it is looking like the switch hitter has a shot at least of reaching the big leagues, if not still potentially thriving like the A’s once envisioned.
Overall that’s a very good 4 year stretch of 1st picks, given that the A’s drafted very late in the round until finally selecting slightly earlier (19) with Susac.
Other high round picks
Where the A’s might be distinguishing themselves lately, though, is with other picks following the 1st round.
Zack Gelof was the A’s second round pick in 2021 and is looking like a star in the making. Slowed down only by a mid-season injury in 2022, Gelof profiles as a fast-track big leaguer every team wishes they had grabbed when they had the chance.
The 2022 stats (.277/.362/.449) tell only part of the story, as Gelof draws raves from scouts inside and outside the organization for his athleticism and overall game, and is in just his second pro season. The first one was “Gelof-domination”: .333/.422/.565 over 3 different levels as he shot up through the system.
Jeff Criswell was the A’s 2nd round selection in the shortened 2020 draft and remains one of Oakland’s best prospect bets to join the A’s future rotation, probably sooner rather than later.
Hogan Harris was the A’s 3rd round pick in 2018 and now coming back from injury Harris picks up where he left off as a promising SP prospect. The LHP dominated at Lansing (1.38 ERA) and Midland (1.67 ERA) to earn a late promotion to Las Vagas. For the season Harris has struck out 93 batters in 64.1 IP.
Mason Miller was the A’s 3rd round in 2021 and just earned a promotion to AAA on the strength of his “triple digit fastball” and slider carving up minor league hitters. His career is only 15 IP so far, but he has struck out 27.
Denzel Clarke was the A’s 4th round pick in 2021, and while he is raw there is no denying the upside as the 22 year old finishes two single-A levels with a .248/.365/.469 slash line, 30 SB in 33 tries, 15 HRs, and outfield defense that is fast improving from seemingly average to eye-opening.
Lawrence Butler was the A’s 6th round pick in 2018 and only a freakish injury has slowed him down in his age 22 season. Butler could move fast through the system as a 1B/OF batting .270/.357/.468 for Lansing this year.
Brett Harris, the A’s 7th round pick in 2021, garners relatively little attention as a player with that dubious reputation of “not being flashy but doing everything well”. That usually screams utility player or roster filler, but in Harris’ case it simply describes how he profiles as a major league player — and he is well on his way. Harris’ defense at 3B is excellent and he is batting .284/.359/.438 for AA Midland after overwhelming Lansing (.304/.415/.578). He also controls the strike zone expertly, with 50 BB and 82 K for the season.
Perhaps in the near future we will be able to add some other 2022 draftees to the “good job, front office and scouting!” list. 18 year old high school pick Henry Bolte (round 2) is just getting going, while the next 2 selections, Clark Elliott and Colby Thomas, will debut next spring due to injuries. All three, though, are legitimate prospects as they start their pro careers.
All of which is to say, no the A’s did not draft successfully for a stretch and it’s hard to say how well they did with the returns from the Olson-Chapman-Bassitt-Manaea-Montas deals, but they really do appear to have found considerable talent in their recent drafting efforts. Heck, the 2021 draft alone (Muncy, Gelof, Miller, Clarke, Harris) might save the franchise!
Hope, in a year where the A’s are — probably unsuccessfully — trying to avoid 100 losses. There really is talent coming. Really.
Extra credit: Offer suggested “80th percentile comps” for one, some, or all of these prospects. That’s the player they will become if they reach the big leagues and succeed toward the high end of their potential, but don’t do a Josh Donaldson and blow away every hope and expectation. (Example: An 80th percentile comp for Cristian Pache could be Juan Lagares, an excellent defensive CFer who hits LHPs fine and struggles against RHP, but has carved out a decent MLB career.)