OAKLAND -- One defining characteristic of the First-Year Player Draft is how much projection is involved in it. With almost all selections -- high school picks, especially -- predicting when they'll make it to the big leagues, and what kind of player they'll be if they do they make it, is an exercise in futility. It's simply too difficult to tell.
The consequence of that is that most teams never draft for need, because it's equally impossible to guess what the state of the roster will be when Draft picks do ascend to the Major Leagues. The A's, for one, stick to this line of thinking, according to team scouting director Eric Kubota.
Though Kubota insists that he and his staff were just taking the best players on their board this year, the organization still managed to do a solid job of addressing spots in need of talent infusions.
Oakland is relatively weak organizationally at the infield spots, and the big league club's struggles offensively this season are well known. Even apart from just this year, the A's have traditionally had plenty of pitching talent but less in the position-player department.
The team's early picks in this year's Draft should do much to alleviate all these concerns. By using its first three picks to select high school infielders Addison Russell (11th overall), Daniel Robertson (34th overall) and Matt Olson (47th overall) and its fourth on small-college catcher Bruce Maxwell (62nd overall), Oakland took four players that all possess considerable hitting ability, even at this early stage in their careers.
Versatility is another hallmark of the first four picks. All are athletic enough to be able to adapt to new positions should they outgrow their current ones, which is particularly a concern among scouts with Russell and Maxwell. And when fifth-round first baseman Max Muncy from Baylor University is thrown into the mix, the A's, all told, nabbed a solid mix of bats that should provide help both down the line and in the near future. It's a bit more balanced than the team's Drafts have been recently.
"It's just like I've always said, we've always liked high school players, it just hasn't worked out how the board fell [in past years]," Kubota said. "This year, it fell that those first three were high school guys, but after that, it fell such that there were college guys available."
But Oakland didn't ignore the mound in the Draft. The A's went after several pitchers after the initial run on position players, mostly tabbing collegians. The theme that emerged with those they took was explosiveness -- most of them have high-velocity arms.
Second-rounder Nolan Sanburn, a right-hander from University of Arkansas, dials his fastball up into the high 90s, and though he mostly relieved for the Razorbacks, Kubota said he'll be given a chance to develop a starter, making his arm even more intriguing.
Joining Sanburn are sixth-rounder Seth Streich, a righty from Ohio University, and eighth-rounder Kris Hall, a lefty from Lee University, both of whom can throw their fastballs into the mid 90s and could also stick as starters.
The A's also took a pair of high schoolers early who could rise quickly through the Minor Leagues. Third-rounder Kyle Twomey, a lefty from El Dorado High School in Placentia, Calif., already has five pitches in his repertoire, and fourth-rounder B.J. Boyd, a center fielder from Palo Alto High School, combines some of the best athleticism in the Draft with an advanced bat full of power potential.
"When you see a kid that's never really had a true weight program, with tremendous bat speed, that isn't mechanically sound offensively, you put those three things together, I think those are ingredients for a guy to be pretty big offensively with power," said Erick Raich, Boyd's coach at Palo Alto.
And while the later rounds of the Draft are often used to select players that aren't likely to sign or are relatives of members of a team's organization, good players can still be found. Current A's pitchers Jerry Blevins, Ryan Cook, Dallas Braden and Brandon McCarthy were all picked in the 17th round or later. Most notable among Oakland's late-rounders this year are two local high school picks: shortstop Devon Gradford from Modesto (34th round) and first baseman Dalton Blaser from Roseville (39th round).
The Draft can sometimes resemble a crapshoot, but so far, early returns are positive.
"We really liked all the guys we got," Kubota said. "We're just excited to see what happens, and we'll see what happens when we get them out there to play."