Athletics Draft Report
By Casey Tefertiller
OAKLAND--To hear Eric Kubota tell it, the Athletics war room erupted into a pep rally when Oakland could finally call Nick Swisher's name.
"Swisher was a guy we liked from the beginning," Kubota said. "As the season progressed he was the guy we wanted to get. We felt very confident with his ability and instincts. As it got closer to our pick, when somebody else's name got called a cheer went up. When we finally got him, everybody was cheering and yelling."
Kubota took over as scouting director this season and faced a massive task, as the A's had seven picks among the first 39, compensation for losing free agents Jason Isringhausen, Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi. Kubota's first pick came at No. 16, and that was when he called for Swisher, who had been watched closely by area scout Rich Sparks.
"Everybody liked him, really. It was a consensus pick," Kubota said, bleary-eyed and exhausted after limited sleep the previous several days. The whole Oakland team of cross-checkers agreed that he was the best player they could hope for in that position. Kubota said he tried to keep the A's interest in Swisher quiet for fear that the switch-hitting outfielder/first-baseman from Ohio State would be taken earlier in the round.
Oakland followed by taking Kentucky righthander Joseph Blanton with the 24th overall pick, then added Maryland shortstop John McCurdy at 26 and Fresno State righty Ben Fritz at 30. In the supplemental first round, the A's picked Alabama catcher Jeremy Brown at 35, Evansville righty Steve Obenchain at 37 and St. Mary's third baseman Mark Teahen at 39.
Kubota said that he anticipates all seven will be quick signs and will be playing professional ball at some point this summer. Swisher made clear he intends to do his part.
"There's no chance I'll be going back to college," he said on the A's teleconference Tuesday night, an agents' nightmare of a comment. Then he caught himself and said, "We have to do the negosh (negotiation), but if all goes right, I'll be signing."
That Swisher is a driven athlete who loves to play baseball is one of the ingredients that enticed the A's. He brims with exuberance when he speaks, and the A's say he plays the game with abandon. At 5-foot-11, 195, A's scout Sparks describes his ability at first base as "magical," but Oakland has little interest in using him in that position. "He's a center fielder," Kubota said. "He has excellent instincts in the outfield."
Swisher says that is fine with him. "I'll play first base or left field, or center field or right field. I'll play any position that will take me to the major leagues the quickest."
He owns something of a baseball pedigree as the son of former first-round pick and big league catcher Steve Swisher. "I've been around pro ball since I was 6 years old," said Swisher, who batted .348-10-52 for the Buckeyes this season. "My dad's been there and helped me so far throughout my career. To be able to share this moment with him, we're just so excited."
Swisher led the Big Ten in homers with 15 as a sophomore, and he said he had no real explanation for the dropoff.
"Last year I had Doug Deeds (the 2002 team home run leader) hitting behind me, and this year I hit behind him, but that's no excuse," said Swisher, who was sent home from Team USA last summer with a wrist injury. "I really don't know what caused it. I'm just planning to use my hands and get back to what it takes to hit home runs."
What it takes first of all is signing so he can get on the field and play. Both Swisher and the A's expect that will happen quickly.
McCurdy is one of the more interesting packages in college baseball. After hitting .300-6-36 for Maryland as a sophomore, he put together one of the great seasons in baseball this year, batting .443-19-77 with 20 stolen bases. He has five playable tools, but the A's expect he will wind up at either short or second. Kubota said the A's rated McCurdy higher than most teams, and valued his bat. Baseball America rated him second, behind Khalil Greene, among pure college hitters available for the draft.
Blanton is sort of an atypical pick for the A's in that he is more of a tools pitcher, while the A's usually value achievement. He finished 5-7, 4.59 this year, his first as a full-time starter after two years in the bullpen. Kubota said the numbers are misleading since the Wildcats did not play great defense behind him. At 6-foot-3, 225, the A's see Blanton as a power pitcher with four workable pitches--fastball, curve, slider and change. He led the Cape Cod League last summer in innings and strikeouts.
Fritz was one of the more interesting picks in the draft because he was a prospect as both a pitcher and a catcher. Kubota said the A's liked him as a pitcher all the way, and they see him as a power guy as well. Kubota said Fritz's swing had problems. Fritz said that he is more than happy to concentrate full time on pitching if that is what will take him to the majors.
Staying true to form, the A's selected college players with their first 23 selections before tabbing Puerto Rican prep righthander Jose Corchado in the 18th round, then following with righthander Dusty Barnard from Moore (Okla.) High.
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