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Drafting a potential top of the line starter like Vanderbilt RHP Sonny Gray (7th ranked draft prospect) with the 18th overall pick is a heck of a way to kick off a draft. The A’s 2011 draft train flew right on off the track and into a puppy orphanage after that, but, to paraphrase a former Oakland great, we’re not here to talk about the past. We’ll get to the letdown that is the Oakland draft in toto later on, but it wouldn’t be right to let a bad overall haul taint the excellent first round pick. (Edit: After going through Oakland’s draft pick-by-pick, I’m not quite as down as it as I initially guessed. I still don’t like going so heavy on older depth over younger upside, but it is at least a defensible strategy. Super cheap, though.) Popular industry comps for Gray over the years focus on smaller righthanders like Roy Oswalt and Ben Sheets; my pre-draft comps to Tommy Hanson and Yovani Gallardo focused more on stuff/pro impact. I think Gray would have received the same amount of love Trevor Bauer wound up enjoying in any other non-Bauer draft year. Both guys are undersized with unorthodox deliveries and inconsistent command. Both guys also have dynamite fastball/curveball combinations, plus enough extras (Gray: change and maybe the slider; Bauer: change, slider, cutter, screwball, and splitter) to excel as a starter in professional baseball. This isn’t an argument for Gray over Bauer (heck, reading through the laundry list of pitches Bauer can turn to on any given day reminds me of Cliff Lee…needless to say, I love Bauer), but rather a comparison to show how similar the two players, one selected third overall and one that fell to the eighteenth overall pick, really are. The only thing holding back Gray from his front of the rotation destiny is the Oakland medical staff.
Vanderbilt JR RHP Sonny Gray: plus FB in mid-90s (92-97) with excellent movement; currently rarely dips below 93-96 with nice sink; 81-85 plus to plus-plus CB; average command that comes and goes; 84-87 SL can be a weapon in time; 82-85 CU slow to emerge, but now a weapon more often than not; plus athlete; 5-11, 180
While everybody was making — and wisely subsequently dismissing — Tim Lincecum comps for UCLA’s Trevor Bauer, the closest thing to the Giants star pitcher in this year’s class has always been Sonny Gray. Of course, Gray isn’t really anything like Lincecum (really, who is?), but the three biggest knocks on Lincecum coming out of Washington — control, size, and an unorthodox delivery — are all also questions that Gray will have to answer to at the next level. The inconsistent control and violence in his delivery are a tad worrisome — his size doesn’t concern me in the least — but when you have raw stuff like Gray’s, you get lots of opportunities to work through your other issues. The realistic floor here is a dominant yet occasionally frustrating to watch shutdown reliever; the ceiling is a first division top of the rotation arm. Gray reminds me a little bit of Braves starter Tommy Hanson, give or take seven inches and forty pounds. I’ve also heard a slightly more size appropriate comp (still forty pounds off, but only about a four inch height difference) of Yovani Gallardo.
I’m not quite ready to bury the Oakland draft. Southern Mississippi 3B BA Vollmuth (90th ranked draft prospect) is an unusually toolsy college prospect with high boom/bust potential. The boom is worth the bust with a third round pick. Vollmuth isn’t your typical Oakland college pick – if such a pick even exists anymore – in that he’s not a statistical darling but instead a tools gamble with above-average big league upside.
Some people believe in it, some don’t. Either way, I figured I’d pass along something two different people said to me with respect to BA Vollmuth. Two words were used to describe the Southern Mississippi shortstop: “star quality.” He has the requisite athleticism, arm, and above-average raw power to play third base in the big leagues down the line, but his loopy swing might need a tune-up at the pro level.
The scouting reports on Cal Poly OF Bobby Crocker have been all over the place, but I’m wary of a guy I think is a corner outfielder (good athlete, but too big to play up the middle) without a premium bat. Others think he’ll be good enough to stick in center with the bat and foot speed to be an offensive asset. Even though I’m not as high on Crocker as others, I have to admit a potential fourth outfielder with a shot for more is fine value (there’s that word again!) in the fourth round.
Bobby Crocker: good whole field approach at plate; poor arm limits him to LF; plus raw speed but closer to average in-game; too many K’s; arm has also been called solid; great body; great athlete; plus defender in corner, average or better in CF; plus bat speed; swing has come a long way, but still needs refining; real curious about arm…could be difference between RF and LF; 6-3, 210 pound
With some pop, a good approach to hitting, and better than average defense, Central Florida C Beau Taylor has all the makings of a well-rounded quality backup catcher.
Taylor’s scouting profile reminds me a great deal of James McCann’s – great defense, flashes of power, better than average plate discipline.
Feather River JC (CA) OF Dayton Alexander has two plus tools (speed and CF range) and the chance to hit if he hooks up with the right coaching staff. His speed would be better utilized if he was a lefthanded hitter, but sometimes you can’t have everything.
Small school senior signs don’t typically have the stuff South Dakota State RHP Blake Treinen has, but his is an unusual case. He has the size and stuff to start, but could be a late inning possibility if he stays in the bullpen. Either way, his inexperience means he’ll take some time to develop. On the plus side, however, said inexperience means he has plenty of bullets left in his right arm.
South Dakota State SR RHP Blake Treinen: 92-94 FB, 97 peak; improved SL; working on CU; improved command; 6-4, 220 pounds
Cal State Fullerton RHP Colin O’Connell got so lost in the shuffle in a stacked college rotation that, in my two week non-stop writeathon induced haze leading up to the draft, I had him mentally pegged as a short righthander with plus command in my head. I think I probably confused him with Tyler Pill. Pointless interlude aside, O’Connell is actually a strapping lad (6-6, 200 pounds) with stuff that doesn’t impress as a starter, but plays up nicely in the bullpen.
After his eye poppingly awesome summer playing in the West Coast League, Oakland made every attempt (update: or not! Check the comments section for a clarification on this) to sign Southridge HS (OR) LHP Jace Fry, but ultimately came up short. They’ll be kicking themselves for not laying the groundwork on a deal before he blew up for a long time. Lefties with plus fastball velocity and plus sliders are worth spending a little extra cheddar on. I’ve heard rumors that he’s shown good feel for a changeup in bullpen sessions; if that pitch becomes a weapon, Fry could have top of the rotation upside.
Fresno State OF Dusty Robinson has huge raw power and just enough speed, arm, and athleticism to hold his own in right field. Too many empty swings keeps me from endorsing him as a bona fide future big league starter, but he has the talent to slot in nicely as a big league bench thumper someday. I don’t buy the talk that he can play up the middle one bit, for what it’s worth.
Davidson LHP Chris Lamb (Round 11) has LOOGY with the chance for more written all over him (note: not literally as that would be one super weird tattoo). I saw him this year and came away very impressed with both his curve and splitter (redundantly I described both as “nasty” in my notes), as well as his control. Lamb isn’t a junkballing lefty per se, but his fastball is easily the least impressive pitch of his three-pitch mix.
North Carolina A&T OF Xavier Macklin (Round 12) is a sensational athlete who made a pretty shocking (in a good way) leap between his freshman and sophomore seasons, especially in terms of plate discipline. He has the speed to handle center, as well as the arm/power upside to move to right if necessary. He has as much upside as any freshly minted Oakland college hitter this side of BA Vollmuth.
[great athlete; big jump in plate discipline freshman to sophomore season; CF speed; raw, but plus makeup]
Mercer 3B Jacob Tanis (Round 13) and Stetson C Nick Rickles (Round 14) are a pair of small school standouts who look to make good on the bright stage that is low-level minor league baseball. While not being particularly fleet of foot, Tanis is a good enough athlete that he could be tried at multiple spots on the diamond, including behind the plate. Rickles, a catcher by trade, is a better version of Beau Taylor. He has the chance to exceed Taylor’s ceiling (backup catcher) and emerge as a good, cheap, young starting catcher at the big league level. It also isn’t out of the question that one day Taylor (a lefty) and Rickles (a righty) are both on the big league roster in some sort of platoon but not quite a platoon (this assumes Rickles winds up the better overall player, as I do) situation.
Tanis is an under the radar prospect who is capable of doing some good things at the next level if given the chance. His defense is good at third, his bat speed is more than adequate, and his athleticism gives him a chance to play a couple different positions in the field going forward.
The only negative I had on Rickles heading into the year was a report that his bat speed really tailed off as the year dragged on. Everything else checked out – good athleticism, a natural behind the plate with a great approach at it, and above-average power upside. Hitting close to .400 might not completely answer the bat speed question, but it is a clear step in the right direction.
Kansas RHP TJ Walz (Round 15), a long-time favorite of the Oakland scouting staff, has solid middle reliever stuff. He’s predominantly a sinker/slider guy, but enough flashes of a plus slider and sneaky hot fastball (up to94 inmy viewing) that could make him one of the better versions of the archetype. Maryland LHP Eric Potter (Round 19) is another reliever that could have gone five to ten rounds (give or take) sooner. His stuff is fine (88-92 FB, average curve and change), but his strengths (big bodied lefthander) and weaknesses (inconsistent control) are what define him best as a prospect.
Michigan State RHP Kurt Wunderlich (Round 20) and Georgia RHP Cecil Tanner (Round 23) make a fun late round pair in much the same way Oscar and Felix made for a fun pair of roommates. Wunderlich, an accomplished college arm, gets by on pitchability and command. Tanner, a disappointment at Georgia any way you slice it, has the stuff to thrive in pro ball (mid-90s fastball, good upper-70s slider) but wasn’t able to iron out his mechanics (a major factor explaining his poor command) in three years at college. Both pitchers face long odds to make it even to AA, but, forced to choose, I’ll take the guy with big league stuff.
Georgia JR RHP Cecil Tanner: 91-94 FB with sink; 96-98 peak FB; good 77 SL; below-average command; Jonathan Broxton and Bobby Jenks body comps; hasn’t ironed out mechanics in three years at Georgia; 6-6, 260
Unsigned Zionsville Community HS (IN) SS Max Kuhn (Round 24) surprised those who thought him quite signable by heading off to college with the hope of taking his advanced bat to the early rounds in 2014. Aquinas Institute (NY) SS Chris Bostick (Round 44), seen by many as a sure thing to land at St. John’s, is now one of the newest members of the Oakland Athletics. Baseball is a funny game, both on and off the diamond. A big pro start for Bostick is great to see; sure, he’s really a .442 hitter, but the hit tool is solid, he’s got speed coming out of his ears, and he’s a slightly better than 50/50 shot to stay at shortstop.
Three reasons why I like Max Kuhn: 1) his upside with the bat, 2) any early round prep prospect from Indiana is fun, and 3) baseball could use another quality Max. One of my first — and as it turns out, only — autographs came from Max Patkin, the Clown Prince of Baseball, at a shoe store when I was six.
I don’t intentionally group every mid-round prospect with a partner, but the Oakland draft just lends itself to pairs. Tennessee Tech OF Chad Oberacker (Round 25) and Virginia Military Institute RHP Sam Roberts (Round 26) both come from non-traditional baseball schools. Neither player, however, lacks in talent. Oberacker is a patient hitter with a strong wood bat track record, good speed, and enough pop to keep a pitcher honest. He might be stretched a bit defensively in center, but his strong arm makes him an asset in right. Roberts was announced as a pitcher on draft day, but played shortstop for Vermont after signing. I’m not sure if this is the long-term intention or just a nice way of giving his arm a breather before heading back to the mound next year. I like him just find on the left side of the infield for now; even without a standout offensive tool, there’s enough in the total package to give him the look of a utility guy assuming the proper developmental breaks.
Tennessee Tech SR OF Chad Oberacker: good history with wood; above-average speed; decent pop; strong arm; (431/507/661 – 33 BB/24 K – 14/18 SB – 239 AB)
Roberts is a do-it-all utility player for VMI that leads off, plays short, and takes the hill every weekend as a starting pitcher. As a college player, there’s little he doesn’t do well and he’s been producing at a big time clip since first stepping on campus. He’s got just enough speed and power to be interesting on offense, and plenty of arm strength to play either spot on the left side of the infield.
After first round pick Sonny Gray, Harvard RHP Max Perlman (Round 35) might be the best known name to prospect fans that don’t care too much about amateur ball. Perlman made the leap from Harvard to Rookie League all the way to AAA Sacramento for two solid starts all in the matter of ten weeks. I also could have sworn he threw a no-hitter after signing, but five minutes of Google leave me with nothing but regret for five minutes I’ll never get back. No-hitter or not, Perlman had a great pro debut. I’m bummed I never wrote him up, especially considering my strange fascination with the Ivies. Apologies to Perlman, Vince Voiro (Penn), Dan Bracey (Columbia), and all of the other Ivy League players I neglected this spring.
I’ll spare you any of the dumb jokes that come to mind and just share Oakland’s final selection in the 2011 MLB Draft: Cypress JC (CA) RHP Travis Pitcher (Round 50).
Because I don’t want to go out on that note, I’ll instead close with something sad. Elon RHP Thomas Girdwood (Round 28) turned down the Twins as a fifteenth rounder last year. He returned to Elon for a senior year only to fall in the draft and eventually get his meager senior signing bonus voided due to injury. He has the plus fastball/plus slider (92-95 FB, 82-84 SL) mix to possibly make it as a reliever, if he can get healthy and land on his feet somewhere.