When your major league team is as bad as the 2023 Oakland Athletics are, naturally, you’re going to be a little more invested in the amateur draft than the average fan. It’s especially true for this fanbase, which has been through the rebuild song-and-dance too many times and knows how critical the draft is for a non-spending (not small-market) team.
But before we look at some of the candidates for the A’s top overall pick this year, let’s take a stroll down memory lane and remember some of the team’s biggest draft hits and duds.
The Greatest Hits
Despite the many selloffs the A’s front office has engaged in, the leaders of those good 21st century Oakland teams were not always prospects that the team acquired from trades. Most of them actually came from the draft; here are some names you might remember.
2000-2003: Mark Mulder (1st), Barry Zito (1st), Mark Mulder (1st), Eric Chavez (1st), Jason Giambi (2nd), Tim Hudson (6th), Eric Byrnes (8th)
2006: Barry Zito (1st), Eric Chavez (1st), Nick Swisher (1st), Joe Blanton (1st), Huston Street (1st)
2012-2014: Sonny Gray (1st), Cliff Pennington (1st), Sean Doolittle (1st), A.J. Griffin (13th), Dan Straily (24th)
2018-2020: Matt Chapman (1st), Matt Olson (1st), Chad Pinder (2nd), Sean Murphy (3rd), Lou Trivino (11th), Seth Brown (19th)
Rattling off all those names makes it seem like the A’s front office is led by a bunch of fortune-telling wizards. But of course, there have been a myriad of draft duds throughout these runs, none more so than with the 6th pick, which the A’s find themselves armed with once again heading into June 9th.
The Curse of Sixth... Third Times the Charm?
In the past, the team earned the honor of drafting sixth by fielding the sixth-worst major league team in the previous season. This time around, drafting sixth feels like a curse in several ways.
Last year, the 2022 A’s put up the 2nd-worst season in franchise history (things couldn’t get worse... right?) and were the runner-ups to the Washington Nationals for the worst record in the big leagues. Normally, that would mean the A’s get the 2nd pick in the draft, but Rob Manfred doesn’t want Oakland to have nice things.
In one of many futile attempts to drum up more fan interest in the draft, the commissioner implemented a draft lottery in which all non-playoff teams had a chance to get the top pick with the four worst teams leading the pack with equivalent odds. Out of those four teams, the A’s were the only ones to drop out of the top 4, ending up all the way down at 6th, which was literally the worst-case scenario allowed by the lottery rules.
On top of all that misfortune, this gives the A’s a draft slot where they’ve built up some bad mojo in recent years. Starting with 2016, Oakland selected A.J. Puk out of college to hopefully lead the starting rotation to glory as Randy Johnson 2.0. Unfortunately, the injury bug hit and his major league debut was pushed back multiple years, leading A’s fans to wonder if he’d ever make it as a big leaguer.
To his and the organization’s credit, Puk worked his way back from various ailments and settled nicely into a setup role in 2022 before getting traded to the Miami Marlins and blossoming into a legitimate MLB closer. That trade also netted the A’s another former top pick in JJ Bleday, who’s shown flashes of being an above-average major league outfielder. So the pick did eventually pan out in a sense while still providing some present and future value to Oakland, but I’m sure A’s fans can attest that the painful journey didn’t feel worthwhile as it was happening.
The year after taking Puk, the team once again finished with the sixth-worst record and made an even grander gamble by picking Austin Beck out of high school. Extremely raw and unproven, the A’s banked on his loud tools and makeup eclipsing whatever challenges he’d have adjusting to professional pitching. Lo and behold, the rawness prevailed and Beck got stuck in the lower minors for years as he struggled to get any of his tools to show up in actual ballgames.
This past season, still only 23 years old, he finally started showing signs of life at High-A, improving in nearly all facets of the game. This resulted in a promotion to AA for the final month of the season where he once again had trouble adjusting. Then, Beck tore his ACL early in spring training this year and will have to wait until next season to continue pursuing his long-awaited breakout. I don’t think there’s any way to look at this pick as anything but a bust. The A’s will hopeto break “The Curse of Sixth” this third time around.
Anything is Possible
Even more ironic about the A’s falling to the 6th pick in the first ever draft lottery is that this year’s draft class is considered by most industry experts to have a clear top five... So the A’s possess the first pick after the dropoff in talent begins. Fantastic!
There is some noise that the Minnesota Twins may go with a wildcard if one of Dylan Crews, Paul Skenes, Wyatt Langford, or Max Clark isn’t available to them at 5th, so we’ll start by talking about one the remaining top-five prospect who might fall to the A’s.
Beyond that, it’s mostly guesswork, though we know that Oakland tends to target position players in the first few rounds. General Manager David Forst confirmed this strategy, reasoning that good pitchers can be found anywhere since they can often make significant tweaks or additions to their arsenals. Hitters, on the other hand, tend to be who they are for the most part, so they’re safer bets, especially at the top where you can’t afford to miss. So we’ll look at four other position players who’ve been connected to Oakland and appear to fit what they tend to look for. Let’s begin!
Walker Jenkins, CF
The 18-year-old lefty is considered, alongside Clark, the best high-schooler in the draft. Walker Jenkins has strengths across the board and very few weaknesses, drawing 60s and 55s across the board from MLB Pipeline. He wields power to all sides of the field, possesses a strong throwing arm, and runs quick enough to stick in center field. It’s unclear if the A’s would select another high-schooler after missing so badly on Beck (Tyler Soderstrom should make them feel better; Max Muncy TBD), but Jenkins would be the obvious pick if he’s available.
Rankings: MLB Pipeline - 4th, The Athletic - 5th, Fangraphs - 5th
A’s Prospect Comparison: Lawrence Butler
Kyle Teel, C
If Jenkins isn’t available or if the A’s are too scared to take another teenager, 21-year-old Kyle Teel seems like the most Oakland A’s pick possible. Not only will he be one of the best hitters available, he’s a freaking catcher. And the A’s love young catchers. Teel’s history shows that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to be a hit guy or a power guy but he seemed to come into his own as an all-around hitter. Defensively, he has all of the athleticism and tools to stick at catcher, but he’s played a bit of outfield before as well. Who the Twins take is still a big wrinkle in the A’s draft plan, but in all likelihood, the A’s will likely end up drafting Teel to build towards a Langeliers/Soderstrom/Susac/McCann/Teel catching corps in 2026.
Rankings: MLB Pipeline - 7th, The Athletic - 6th, Fangraphs - 11th
A’s Prospect Comparison: Daniel Susac
Braden Taylor, 3B
Another fitting choice would be another 21-year-old, Braden Taylor, who has the offensive profile the front office typically targets: surefire power, strike zone discipline, and iffy contact. He has an advanced approach at the plate and, at least bat-wise, he sounds like he could put up Matt Chapman-like numbers. Though he isn’t quite the defender Chappy was, he can definitely be solid there with some experience at shortstop and second base as well. If the A’s finally get tired of taking catchers, Taylor seems like one of the likeliest choices.
Rankings: MLB Pipeline - 15th, The Athletic - 11th, Fangraphs - 31st
A’s Prospect Comparison: Zack Gelof
Jacob Wilson, SS
The son of former Pirates infielder Jack Wilson, Jacob Wilson is considered one of the best “pure hitters” in the draft. What that means is he makes a ton of contact and doesn’t show much for power. In 275 plate appearances last year, the 21-year-old struck out only seven times; that’s elite. Though his slugging percentage rose last year, his batted ball data still says he makes mostly soft contact at a near 0 degree launch angle. Being compared to players like Nick Madrigal, he has a batting profile that’s fun to watch but shouldn’t be depended upon to anchor a lineup. Beyond the bat, he’s one of best defenders in the class so if the A’s really want a high floor with this pick, Wilson would be an apt choice.
Rankings: MLB Pipeline - 10th, The Athletic - 24th, Fangraphs - 10th
A’s Prospect Comparison: Darell Hernaiz
Arjun Nimmala, SS
If the A’s are feeling daring and opt to go star-hunting, there’ll likely be a high-ceiling 17-year-old available for them to take in Arjun Nimmala. Despite a lack of size, the Florida native generates a lot of power through his hips and can drive it to all fields. As expected for someone this young, he still has a lot of work to do to refine his approach at the plate. The offensive upside is real, but so is the risk. Though he’s not particularly fast, his athleticism gives him good range at shortstop and he should stick there long-term. Way more so than Jenkins, Nimmala would be a huge gamble but the A’s, with no clear timeline to contention, may have enough need and patience to groom a star.
Rankings: MLB Pipeline - 11th, The Athletic - 8th, Fangraphs - 28th
A’s Prospect Comparison: Max Muncy
I’m 50/50 on whether to believe the Twins smoke, but if they do opt for chaos and pass over Jenkins or whoever else falls to them, it would be borderline malpractice for the Oakland not to take them. On the other hand, things end up going chalk, the A’s will have their pick of the lot with the rest of the guys and it’ll be hard to say whether they’re right or wrong with so little clarity beyond the first five. Personally, I’d probably go with Taylor since he seems the most well-rounded and my brain can’t handle any more catchers.
But regardless of who the A’s select with that blessed and cursed 6th pick, it’ll provide a much-needed injection of high-end talent into the farm system. He’ll likely instantly slot into the organization’s top five prospects as the fanbase rests all of their hope and faith on his shoulders to save the team from an abysmal era of Oakland baseball.
Stay tuned for more draft coverage as the A’s start making picks!