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Powell's Draft Odyssey Ends In Oakland

June 7, 2004
By Casey Tefertiller

OAKLAND--Four years can make a huge difference in perspective, and Landon Powell has had time to re-evaluate past adventures.

"Money? You mean they'll pay me money to play baseball," the South Carolina catcher Powell quipped Monday after the Athletics selected him with the 24th pick of the first round. He quickly vowed that he would not be a difficult sign and expected to have the deal completed soon.

This is much different from four years ago, when he was part of a scheme to circumvent the draft and attain shoot-for-the-stars bonus money. His advisor at the time, agent Scott Boras, and Powell's father, Ron, came up with an original plan. Baseball America had ranked Powell as the No. 2 junior in the nation, which would certainly draw attention. Powell was an 18-year-old junior at Apex (N.C.) High, and he took the GED exam to acquire his diploma ahead of his class. He then slipped through the draft unnoticed, making him a free agent.

Only something went wrong. Baseball teams did not come around waiving their checkbooks, and Powell ended up enrolling in school at South Carolina. "I don't know what we were trying to do," said Powell, who was involved in summer baseball at the time and says he was not fully aware of the plan. "It was something my father did.

"When I came to college, I wanted to change my path. That was something that was done to me; it wasn't my doing."

Powell went to South Carolina in January, missing fall ball, and rarely played as a freshman. He took over starting duties as a sophomore, and then came a surprise--he began putting on weight. He swelled up to 260 pounds on his soft 6-foot-4 body during his junior year, again scaring away scouts who feared he would just keep ballooning. The weighty Powell lasted in the draft until the 25th round, and he decided to return to college.

Powell took the summer off from baseball and concentrated on changing his ways. He altered his diet and became a glutton in the weight room, firming his body and strengthening his resolve.

"I wanted to lose weight while keeping my strength," he said. He returned to college at 235 pounds, lighter and stronger. While he has put on weight during the season, he also put together a solid offensive season, currently batting .339-19-64 with the Gamecocks still fighting for a trip to the College World Series. This was enough to convince the A's that Powell had put his past behind him, and he was ready to become a mature pro.

"We spent a lot of time on Landon Powell, getting to know him, his makeup," scouting director Eric Kubota said. "He's determined to go out and show what kind of player he is."

Kubota suspects that Powell's past played a role in many scouts becoming sour on him. Kubota says he tried not to let Powell's history influence the A's considerations. Rather, he looked to the catcher's ability and current mindset.

"His defense is very good. He has a plus arm, and he can catch," Kubota said. "He's a big-bodied athlete." As a senior with no eligibility remaining, Powell has little negotiating room. But now he is making his own decisions, and what he has to prove will be done on the field, not at the negotiating table.

A's ACORNS

With the 26th pick of the first round, the A's selected Fresno State center fielder Richie Robnett, an atypical pick for the organization. Oakland usually favors college players with long records of performance. However, Robnett has a different background. After playing high school ball in Visalia, he went to Santa Barbara City College for a year, then sat out a season before moving on to Fresno. He is a very toolsy player, with above-average speed, defensive skills and arm, and indications of hitting ability and power. For Fresno State, he batted .384-13-51 with 21 stolen bases and was named Western Athletic Conference player of the year.

The Athletics' most intriguing pick may be fourth-round righthander Ryan Webb, a 6-foot-4 prep pitcher from Clearwater, Fla. Webb is the highest high-school pick by the A's since they took Jeremy Bonderman in the first round in 2001. He is the son of former big league pitcher Hank Webb, and Kubota said the A's are confident he will be signable.

In the supplemental first round, the A's selected the two players that Baseball America had projected Oakland would take in the first round: Stanford outfielder Dan Putnam and Texas closer Huston Street. "We were ecstatic to get them," Kubota said. "If at 9:30 this morning, somebody told us we would have had Putnam and Street and Powell and Robnett, we would have been amazed. We are very pleased with how this draft went." Kubota said he expects the A's will keep Street in a relief role for at least the remainder of the season before deciding whether to move him to a starting role. Street said he is happy to start or relieve, and he will do whatever the A's desire. Putnam is an offensive who hit .378-16-62 this year for the Cardinal.

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