Re-Evaluating the Oakland Athletics' Top Picks from the Past Decade
Take one look at the names in order and you'll notice something: The A's didn't do so well in the early goings. OK, you'll notice one more thing: The A's really nailed it in the last few years.
From Landon Powell to Billy McKinney, we'll check in on the last nine first-round picks.
This group has literally everything in it. There's an ace among them, as well as the textbook definition of a bust. There's a top-prospect-turned-trade-chip, a top prospect who got hurt and a top prospect who couldn't find his rhythm. There's even one who had it, but lost it.
Check out the list of players, complete with their pick selection, what they're doing now and a current grade (that's the beauty of hindsight).
Note: There was no 2006 first-round draft pick for the A's.
All statistics are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
2013: Billy McKinney
Pick No. 24:
Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle caught up with Eric Kubota, A's director of scouting, shortly after Oakland made the pick. Kubota told Slusser in June of 2013 that McKinney "always stood out" and compared McKinney to former Oakland A's center fielder Mark Kotsay.
Check out Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Adam Wells' full draft profile on McKinney here.
As for how he's doing since signing, it's been one year of up and one year of down so far.
After signing in 2013, he played 46 games in rookie ball, hitting .320. Defensively, he made two errors. Then in the same year, he moved up to Low-A, where he hit .353 in nine games and committed no errors. His OPS jumped from .798 to .964 after the move.
Now 19 years old, McKinney began the 2014 season with the Single-A Stockton Ports. In 43 games, he's hitting only .212 so far. There is a bright side, though. Whereas McKinney only hit three home runs in 55 games total in 2013, he's already hit six this season. He's also walked 31 times, 11 more than last year.
The low average may simply be a slump in a new setting. With adjustments, his teammates are sure he'll get out of it. Daniel Robertson, another top A's prospect, told Kelsie Heneghan of MiLB.com:
He's young though, first full season and it's the Cal League. He's going to learn a lot about himself, and he's taking a lot of information in. He was our first-rounder for a reason. He is a heck of a player. I think he is just trying to figure out what pro ball is all about. He has a solid approach, he can hit for power, he has speed [and] I think it just takes a while to see how it all works. I'm not worried. He's the purest hitter I've seen.
2012: Addison Russell
Pick No. 11:
Addison Russell is a 20-year-old shortstop from Pace, Florida. The A's drafted him in the 2012 amateur draft out of Pace High School where he hit .358 his senior year. In 32 games, he scored 40 times and finished with 29 RBI.
At the time of draft, Jane Lee of MLB.com spoke with Eric Kubota about Russell:
He's a very, very athletic kid who is also an outstanding baseball player. He could really be the prototypical five-tool player in the middle of the diamond. He's a guy we've seen a lot of, a guy we really like his athleticism and upside.
Lee also points out that Russell hit over .500 in the first three years of high school.
In a little over two years in the minor leagues, he's proving to be one of the most exciting prospects in recent A's history. At 18 years old, he hit a combined .369 in 55 games (rookie ball and Low-A). That included a little bit of everything: 10 doubles, nine triples, seven home runs, 45 RBI, 16 stolen bases and 23 walks.
In 2013, he had a fairly strong follow-up.
His batting average dropped to .275 in 107 games with the Single-A Stockton Ports. He struck out 116 times. However, the power show continued with 29 doubles and 17 home runs. His speed didn't take a dip either; Russell stole 21 bases and legged out 10 triples.
He finished 2013 in Triple-A, but went 1-for-13 in three games.
As for this season, an injury to Russell's hamstring has put progress on hold temporarily. He did hit .714 in two games (5-for-7) before landing on the disabled list. According to San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser, Russell has resumed baseball-related activities but does not have a return date scheduled yet.
2011: Sonny Gray
Pick No. 18:
You may have heard this already: Sonny Gray is kind of good. In fact, if you're an A's fan, you see visual proof of that statement every five days. Gray is looking like the best first-round draft pick of the last decade.
He was a very high prospect out of high school, and we had a lot of interest in him at that time. He's extremely decorated with very good stuff. We've gotten to know him personally for a number of years, and he just has incredible gumption and fortitude. He's one of those kids who isn't backing out of any situation. He's not afraid of anything. He's going to go out and do everything he can on any given day to get you out.
Check out this Sonny Gray timeline.
In 2011, he's drafted out of Vanderbilt. The then 21-year old pitches in one game in rookie ball, then in six games for the Double-A Midland RockHounds. He finishes the year with a 0.82 ERA, two earned runs allowed, six walks, 20 strikeouts and no home runs allowed.
He then spends 2012 in Midland once again with fairly average results.
In 2013, he goes 10-7 with a 3.42 ERA, 39 walks and 118 strikeouts. This obviously earns him a September call-up where he shines in few—but impacting—playoff appearances, which then leads to earning a spot in the starting rotation for 2014. One Jarrod Parker injury later, and Gray is the Oakland A's ace.
Can he hang?
He sure can. Before the May 27 start, his 1.99 ERA was fifth-best in the majors. Now at 2.31, it's still ninth-best. A complete-game shutout? Yeah, he's got one of those too.
2010: Michael Choice
Taken by the A's out of the University of Texas, Michael Choice has gotten better and better each year since becoming a professional baseball player.
MLB.com's 2010 draft profile described Choice as a player with "raw power" but questionable swing mechanics.
That scouting report nailed the power analysis. Choice hit 61 home runs in four minor league seasons, including one 30 home run campaign in 2011 as a 21-year-old. From Low-A to Triple-A, Choice hit .284, .285, .287 and .302, respectively.
Last season, he had an opportunity to play for the A's. In nine games he hit .278, with one double, one walk and six strikeouts.
Choice initially was a center fielder, but transitioned to right field. With Josh Reddick locking up right, and Oakland desiring a more versatile outfielder, Choice became expendable. The A's sent him in a package to the Texas Rangers for Craig Gentry, trading power for speed.
Choice is hitting .198 with the Rangers in 2014.
2009: Grant Green
Former USC Trojan Grant Green has eaten up minor league pitching like it's nobody's business.
In his first season within the A's organization, he played in just five games, hitting .316 for the Stockton Ports. He hit .318 with 20 home runs the following season, still with the Ports. From there, he hit .291 and .296 in 2011 and 2012 respectively.
If he hit so well, why didn't he get called up?
The trouble for Green seemed to always be that he was constantly blocked. The A's had no room for him, so he bounced around in Triple-A Sacramento in an attempt to find a long-term position. For example, between 2010 and 2013, he played shortstop, second base, center field, left field, third base and one game at first base.
In 2013, the A's traded Green to the Los Angeles Angels for Alberto Callaspo.
The trade, at least looking back, looks like a swap of potential (Green) for immediate contributions (Callaspo). It didn't help that second base was a weak spot a year ago and Green went hitless in 15 at-bats.
Since joining the Angels, Green has hit .310 in 174 at-bats over the last two seasons. He did spend the first month of 2014 in the minors (hit .349 in 16 games), but he's made his way back up to Los Angeles where he's hitting .388 in the month of May.
Taking a walk down memory lane, here's what one AL scout said about Green back in 2011, according to David Laurila of BaseballProspectus.com:
He’s a tall middle infielder who I see as a future above-average major-league hitter with slightly below average plate discipline and on-base skills. He has some power. He’s a 13- to 15-home run type of guy, 15 to 20 in a really good year. He needs to get stronger and improve breaking ball recognition, but he showed improvements with both last season.
Though he isn't with the A's anymore, there is still time for Grant to live up to that profile or surpass it. He's still only 26 years old.
2008: Jemile Weeks
The A's selected Jemile Weeks out of the University of Miami. MLB.com described Weeks as "a line-drive, slashing type of hitter who squares the ball up well and can really get things going with leadoff-type skills."
Outside of Double-A—oddly enough—Weeks hit well in the minors, accumulating at least a .287 average at all stops (except for Midland).
In 2011, Weeks earned himself a call-up after hitting .321 with the Sacramento River Cats. He continued to roll, hitting .303 in 97 games. His performance nearly landed him in contention for Rookie of the Year honors. But just when it looked like Weeks would step out of brother Rickie Weeks' shadow and overtake his older sibling as the bigger name, Weeks' career began falling apart.
First he hit .221 in 2012. Then he hit .111 to start the 2013 season.
A send down and a trade later, Weeks is now a 27-year-old former prospect trying to catch on with the Baltimore Orioles. In three games, he's hit .273. For Baltimore's Triple-A squad, Weeks is once again hitting around his average, .288.
2007: James Simmons
Pick No. 26:
Drafted out of University of California, Riverside, pitcher James Simmons had a tough go.
The A's put the then-20-year-old right in Double-A where he pitched all over the place, starting two games and finishing two games of 13 total. He finished the season with a 0-0 record and a 3.94 ERA which by no means is bad. His walks, strikeouts, home runs allowed and hits allowed per nine ratios were all decent as well.
The next season, he repeated Double-A, starting in 25 games. He earned a 9-6 record with a 3.51 ERA. He walked less and struck out more per nine as well. Things were looking up.
Unfortunately, 2009 was not kind to Simmons.
In 23 games, he went 7-7 with a 5.72 ERA. His strikeouts per nine decreased; his walks per nine increased. And then he landed on the disabled list. A torn rotator cuff sidelined him for the entire 2010 season.
When he returned in 2011, he started over. Simmons started in Single-A and pitched two games at the rookie level. The following season, he split time between Double- and Triple-A. Simmons never quite recaptured his full form and was not re-signed after the 2013 season.
In 2014, he has split time between the Washington Nationals (Double-A) and independent ball.
Notes: Sean Doolittle and Corey Brown were also selected with first-round picks in 2007. Doolittle is currently the A's closer. Brown was traded to the Washington Nationals for Josh Willingham, then re-acquired by the A's. He is currently in the Boston Red Sox organization (Triple-A).
2005: Cliff Pennington
Former A's shortstop Cliff Pennington arrived via Texas A&M back in 2005. Here's what Todd Morgan, Senior Writer for Scout.com, had to say upon Pennington's draft:
Pennington fits the A’s because he has average to above-average physical tools across the board and because he has a performance record that matches those tools. More importantly in this case, however, is the fact that Pennington offers intangibles that might be undervalued in amateurs. In short, he cares. Drive, passion and hustle are positives with Pennington...
Average to above-average physical tools across the board? Well, he's a career .248 hitter. He hit .249 in five years with the A's. He averages about 50 walks and 100 strikeouts per 162 games. He knocks in around 50 RBI on a 162-game average as well.
So yes. Average.
Drive, passion and hustle? There's no stat that accounts for that. But dig deep into your memory banks and try to find a time when Pennington didn't hustle, or complained about anything. You'll be hard-pressed to find one.
Now 30 years old, Pennington plays for the Arizona Diamondbacks as a backup infielder. He's still very much average, so to say. But every team needs a serviceable backup, and Pennington plays that role better than average.
2004: Landon Powell
Pick No. 24:
Peter Gammons once referred to Landon Powell—the former South Carolina Gamecock—as the next Jason Varitek.
Chris Kline of Baseball America captured these quotes regarding Powell from a big league scout in 2007:
Extremely gifted defensive player with exceptionally soft hands, rocket for an arm, and quick feet. His numbers last year in the minors throwing guys out was in the top five in all of the minor leagues. Offensively he has power and a keen eye at the plate. I don't think he will ever be a high average type but should hit enough to be a regular. There is no question about Powell's talent.
Unfortunately, Powell didn't quite live up to those expectations. That's likely due to injuries, however, rather than a lack of development or simply being overrated.
After being drafted in 2004, Powell suffered an ACL (knee) tear that sidelined him for the entire 2005 season.
In 2006, he hit a very average .264. The following season, he bounced back and hit .292, but then re-tore the same ACL. And back down the average went in 2008, this time to .230.
Up and down stats and two major knee surgeries.
Still, Powell had an opportunity to be Oakland's backup catcher for three consecutive years. He never hit more than .229.
With Powell injured, it allowed fellow catching prospect Kurt Suzuki a chance to shine. Suzuki ultimately skipped over Powell and earned the starting role. Eventually Derek Norris stormed through the minors to take Powell's—then Suzuki's—role.
Powell is now the head coach of North Greenville.
Notes: The A's also selected Richie Robnett, Danny Putnam and Huston Street in the first round. An outfielder, as Robnett moved up, his batting average went down. He spent six years in the minors before playing independent ball. Another outfielder, Putnam appeared in 11 games and only hit .214. Street is a top-tier closer who the A's packaged to get Matt Holliday. He now plays for the San Diego Padres.