Athletics Draft Preview
By Allan Simpson
Scouting Director: Eric Kubota (first draft: 2002).
2000 Draft (First five rounds, picking 20th)
2001 Draft (First five rounds, picking 25th)
2002 Draft (First five rounds, picking 26th)
(*Did not sign.)
Not surprisingly, a lot of clubs have taken note of how the A's have gone about their business. Their approach focuses on minimizing risk and getting the most bang for their buck. It's a philosophy that extends to the draft, where the A's have focused almost entirely on college players.
They secured the best rotation in the game through this approach, tabbing righthander Tim Hudson (Auburn) in the sixth round in 1997, and lefthanders Mark Mulder (Michigan State) and Barry Zito (Southern California) with consecutive first-round picks in 1998 and 1999. They carried the practice to an extreme last year, when they selected college players with their first 23 picks, including all seven first-round picks.
This year, at least four teams--the Blue Jays, Padres, Rangers and Red Sox--will emulate the A's approach by focusing on college players. It represents one of the most significant shifts in draft philosophy in the event's 38-year history.
The architect of the A's college-first approach was Grady Fuson, who was the team's scouting director before leaving the organization after the 2001 season to take a similar position with the Rangers. Not surprisingly, the Rangers have become one of the teams that has started to pass over high school talent. Texas didn't select its first prep player until the 17th round a year ago.
The A's made no effort to deviate from their approach when they hired one of Fuson's lieutenants, Eric Kubota, to oversee the club's scouting efforts. Kubota, who has been with the organization for 19 years, was the club's director of international scouting for three years before replacing Fuson.
Oakland's approach to the draft fits perfectly with its overall plan to reduce uncertainty. College talent doesn't always yield the highest return, but the tradeoff is less risk. College players are older and more mature; they have more of a track record. As a result, fewer mistakes are made on them.
The A's don't just take college players for the sake of taking college players. Their emphasis is on players from Division I programs who have a demonstrated history of success in both college and summer leagues.
This year there are expected to be more college players drafted in the first round than high school players--maybe even by a 2-to-1 margin. The A's won't pick until 25th but have three of the first 33 selections--with two extra picks as a result of the free-agent loss of Ray Durham to the Giants.
Like last year, when the A's didn't pay market value for a couple of their premium picks, they may dip down into the draft pool and go after a lesser player or ones with limited bargaining leverage, such as college seniors.