After 2012 success, A's adjust Draft approach
Oakland's 24th selection in first round is lowest spot since 2007
In recent summers, the A's have had the luxury of landing a reasonably high Draft pick, something they'll be without this year but for good reason, after putting together a 94-win 2012 campaign that culminated in a playoff appearance.
Twenty-three teams, all of whom finished the year with a record the A's trumped, will draft ahead of them come Thursday. That leaves Oakland with the 24th pick, marking its lowest slot since 2007, when it drafted 26th.
The A's have three selections in the first two rounds, with picks at Nos. 63 and 71 following their first overall pick, after having five in that same span last year, the result of compensation picks that aren't at their fingertips this time around.
Oakland scouting director Eric Kubota, in his 12th season in that capacity and 29th overall with the organization, explains that, no matter the slot of the club's first pick, "our approach is pretty much the same."
There just might not be as many teams eyeing the same player, lessening the intensity of what can be a highly frenzied process in the first round.
"What you end up finding out, obviously, is that the farther you go down the list, the players and how you like them, the less consensus there is among the teams around you," Kubota said. "There's more of a wide-ranging body of opinion, so it makes it a little more interesting and a little more in-depth because we're just not all talking about the same talent."
The 2013 First-Year Player Draft will take place Thursday through Saturday, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 7 p.m., with the top 73 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. Rounds 3-10 will be streamed live on MLB.com on Friday, beginning with a preview show at 12:30 p.m., and Rounds 11-40 will be streamed live on MLB.com on Saturday, starting at 1 p.m.
MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. You can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
Kubota has overseen each of the club's last 11 Drafts, turning several first selections into top-tier prospects, including current Triple-A players Sonny Gray, Michael Choice and Grant Green, all of whom could make their Major League debut by season's end.
Choice is among the few drafted by the A's expected to turn into an impact position player. Not one position player on their current 25-man roster was selected by them, with all landing in Oakland via trade or free agency, so there's no surprise that the latest mock drafts show the A's taking a college hitter.
But plucking an arm with high upside has always been their forte. Pitchers Dan Straily, A.J. Griffin and Sean Doolittle were all drafted by the A's, and their system is currently lacking pitchers at the top Minor League levels who are forecasted to make the kind of big league impact these three have, outside of Gray.
So it seems they could go either way with their first pick, and Kubota isn't ready to tip his hand. That's because they won't know until the minutes leading up to their selection.
"I probably sound like a broken record," Kubota said, "but we're basically looking for the best available talent at that point."
Here's a glance at what the A's have in store as the Draft approaches:
In about 50 words
Kubota and Co. are busy putting the finishing touches on what the organization deems "The Board." On it is a list of players they have recognized as potential early picks, a system that is set up to ease the selection process. The A's will pick at No. 24, 63 and 71 this year.
"We've been out, pounding the pavement, seeing guys, just getting into the process of meeting and taking all of those reports and kind of coming up with a preferential order from which we pick from. We're going over reports, talking about what we've seen, looking at video, just really plotting our way through this process. Hopefully we'll have our ducks in a row by Draft day, and that's just when you kind of react to what happens and all of the heavy lifting has been done." -- Kubota
The A's are notorious for playing it close to the vest with regards to their early Draft strategy, mostly because they take the process in stride and wait to see how the dominos fall. This year is no different.
"Wherever we pick, every year we're simply taking the next guy on our board, the next best available player," Kubota said. "Especially picking where we're at, you really don't have the luxury necessarily of pinpointing target guys just because there's so much that needs to happen for a guy to get to us at 24. Our intent is just to take the best prospect available when we pick. I know it's not a very exciting answer, but that's really the way we approach it."
A's bonus pool
Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team has an allotted bonus pool equal to the sum of the values of that club's selections in the first 10 rounds of the Draft. The more picks a team has, and the earlier it picks, the larger the pool. The signing bonuses for a team's selections in the first 10 rounds, plus any bonus greater than $100,000 for a player taken after the 10th round, will apply toward the bonus-pool total.
Any team going up to five percent over its allotted pool will be taxed at a 75-percent rate on the overage. A team that overspends by 5-10 percent gets a 75-percent tax plus the loss of a first-round pick. A team that goes 10-15 percent over its pool amount will be hit with a 100-percent penalty on the overage and the loss of a first- and second-round pick. Any overage of 15 percent or more gets a 100-percent tax plus the loss of first-round picks in the next two Drafts.
The A's have a total of $6,036,800 to spend in the first 10 rounds, with $1,893,500 to give to their first selection. All other picks will earn a signing bonus of less than a million.
The A's are among several teams that don't necessarily go into the Draft thinking about organizational needs, because those typically change in the time drafted players make their way through the Minors -- hence their ongoing philosophy of taking the best available player, no matter their position, while they're on the clock.
The A's are usually keen on college players, an approach that has aided their desire of getting draftees to help at the big league level as quickly as possible. But that trend was bucked just last year, when five of Oakland's first seven picks came from the high school level, including their first pick Addison Russell.
"Some of the Drafts tend to be more high school-oriented and some more college-oriented," Kubota said. "Obviously around the Moneyball era, we did take a lot of college guys. But since then, I think we've been an open book, and it's more been a factor of what the Draft has to offer and not necessarily a philosophy that we're trying to follow. It wasn't like we went out and targeted high school guys last year. That's just what was there."
• Recent Draft History •
Russell has been on the fast-track since the A's drafted him out of high school last season. At age 19, after finishing the 2012 season at low Class A, Russell was the youngest player in all of baseball to be invited to big league camp, and he's one of the youngest position players in the California League, where he's learning to make adjustments at the Class A Advanced level.
Once a top prospect in the A's system as a first baseman, 2007 first-round Draft pick Doolittle decided to turn to relief pitching nearly two years ago after injuries continued to sideline him. The lefty made his pitching debut in the instructional league later in the fall and, just months later, cruised through the Minor League system up to the Majors, where he's quickly making a name for himself as one of the best lefty setup men in the league.
In The Show
Doolittle, Griffin and Straily are the only players from the past four A's Draft classes in the Majors at the moment, though 2008 first-rounder Jemile Weeks is patiently waiting in Triple-A for his second turn. Choice and Gray could also be joining them soon, while Green, taken back in 2009, hopes to finally break through this year.
A's recent top picks
2012: Addison Russell, SS, Class A Stockton
2011: Sonny Gray, RHP, Triple-A Sacramento
2010: Michael Choice, OF, Triple-A Sacramento
2009: Grant Green, INF, Triple-A Sacramento
2008: Jemile Weeks, INF, Triple-A Sacramento