It is certainly good news for A’s fans that first round pick Cliff Pennington has already inked his deal, which included a signing bonus of $1.45 million (which, incidentally, is $25,000 less than last year’s 21st pick, Greg Golson, received from the Phillies), as it hints at Pennington’s drive to start his professional career as soon as possible. It also means that A’s fans will get to see him in an affiliate’s uniform very soon.
The breakdowns of college versus high school players, pitchers versus hitters are everywhere, so I’m going to refrain from using space for it here. Instead I want to look at Oakland’s selections in each of the first ten rounds and offer my own alternative selection when I feel it is appropriate. I will list the remaining picks, but I do not feel I can speak with knowledge on many of them, which is why I’m limiting my analysis to the first 12 players. The A’s passed and ended their draft in the 39th round, giving them a total of 40 players in the team’s 2005 draft crop.
It is important to note that two players chosen late on the second day, shortstop Steven Braun out of Pierce Junior College in Los Angeles and pitcher A.J. Huttenlocker of Edmonds Community College in Seattle will likely both be draft-and-follow choices. The A’s will have until sometime in late May of 2006 to evaluate each player’s progress and decide if either merits a contract offer.
1 / 21 / Cliff Pennington / SS / Texas A&M U.
At first glance, Pennington is not a typical A’s pick. He looks like a player whose game is based on speed, which, in recent years, has been an almost non-existent part of Oakland’s offensive game. It would be a mistake not to look more closely though, because Pennington is the embodiment of the mistake anti-Moneyballers make when assuming that Oakland is synonymous with a hatred of bunts and steals and all things small.
Moneyball is not about hating steals and high school players while loving walks and college players. It is about identifying and exploiting inefficient aspects of a system. In this case, 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. If there is one thing that shows up in every scouting report on Pennington it’s that he gets more out of his abilities than every other player on the field with him. By contrast, the number of scouting reports that mention a lack of this trait in other players is negligible. Drive, passion and hustle are positives with Pennington, but not often negatives in the evaluation other players.
The A’s have a keeper here. With a bigger budget I might have considered Luke Hochevar or Craig Hansen with this pick, and with a better track record against good competition I might consider Matt Torra here as well. Financially there is no question that the A’s made the right decision, and I believe that the future will show that Pennington is a better choice than Torra.
1S / 36 / Travis Buck / OF / Arizona State U.
Travis Buck lives on the opposite end of the spectrum from Pennington. He isn’t fast and doesn’t have much of an arm, so he’ll probably wind up in leftfield or at first base as a pro. The A’s drafted him for his bat and what they think is the potential to hit 25-30 homers annually. He had a somewhat disappointing 2005 season for the Sun Devils but also has a good chance to get on track once he starts receiving professional instruction on a daily basis.
Interestingly, scouting reports on Buck describe him as a tireless worker who eats, sleeps and breathes baseball – a characteristic of Pennington’s. Still, there were a few players left who struck me as better choices. The one that stands out most to me is Cal Poly pitcher Garrett Olson. Olson, a 6’0, 190 lb. lefthander, put up sparkling numbers in 2005 after dominating the Alaska League in 2004. With the lefty cupboard bare in Oakland, a projectable lefthanded starter might have been a smart choice here.
2 / 53 / Craig Italiano / RHP / Flower Mound HS (Texas)
Of all of the high school righthanders available here, I was surprised that the A’s went with Italiano. One reason Oakland has focused on college players almost exclusively in recent years is that they have longer performance and injury trends upon which to base evaluations. Italiano is only 18 an has already experienced shoulder and elbow problems. His high-stress delivery only heightens concern for his future health. All that said, I like the pick as a change of pace and what it says about the club’s willingness to take a different route.
Others I’d consider here are Cuban shortstop Yuniel Escobar, Texas closer J. Brent Cox and Monte Vista High righty Jeff Lyman. And since I like the prep selection I’d go with Lyman, an East Bay product with similar stuff but better durability, over Italiano.
2 / 69 / Jared Lansford / RHP / St. Francis HS (Calif.)
Really can’t argue with this pick at all. There is a tiny concern about the Lansford family’s willingness to let Jared sign as a pitcher, but post-draft interviews have dispelled most of it.
Carney’s son has shown excellent velocity and an advanced feel for pitching as a late convert to the mound, and his bloodlines and connection to Oakland make him a perfect choice here.
3 / 101 / Vincent Mazzaro / RHP / Rutherford HS (N.J.)
Up until the A’s took Mazzaro, all their picks were from traditional baseball hotbeds – Texas, California and Arizona. It is good to see that they are willing to spend a high pick on a prep player in a cold-weather region because it means they probably aren’t skimping on their scouting budget. Contained in the anti-A’s, anti-Moneyball noise is the suggestion that ignoring high school players will result in missed opportunities. If the A’s were ignoring prep players, they aren’t anymore.
Unlike Pennington and Buck, scouts have raised concerns about Mazzaro's attitude, but the A’s chalk it up to youth and figure it will not be a problem once Mazzaro gets a bit older. What they have now is a righthander with a solid, 6’2'' frame who commands a fastball that touches 93. He is only 17, so he could add velocity as his body fills out.
In his place I might take a chance on SoCal’s Sean O’Sullivan, a 6’2 righthander who was the best prep pitcher heading into the 2005 season. His performance was spotty throughout the spring and his velocity dipped from 93-94 to the high 80s, but he was back to normal by May and may have been a steal at this spot.
4 / 131 / Jimmy Shull / RHP / Cal Poly U.
Shull’s late-season surge and the fact that his fastball started to hit 94 with regularity helped him climb into the fourth round, but this was probably still a bit of an overdraft.
I very much wanted the A’s to take Florida prep third baseman Josh Bell, whose biggest drawback in 2005 was a tendency to stray from his approach at the plate. With the proper instruction and daily feedback this won’t be a problem, making Bell the equivalent of a 2nd and possibly even a 1st round pick. Considering Bell ended up being taken five picks later by the Dodgers, this would have been the spot for Oakland to grab him.
5 / 161 / Scott Deal / RHP / Curtis HS (Wash.)
I like Scott Deal a lot. Aside from having a name that headline-writers dream about, he has the size and velocity to wind up eating up innings as a pro. Whether or not they will be high-quality innings remains to be seen (do we even need that line in a draft article?), but again, focused instruction will help Deal develop secondary pitches and refine his mechanics.
John Meleon, the Arizona Wildcats ace who wound up being drafted by the Dodgers a few picks after the A’s, might have been a good choice here, but his ceiling is not as high as Deal’s, and his name isn’t nearly as baseball-worthy.
6 / 191 / Justin Sellers / SS / Marina HS (Calif.)
According to scouting reports, Sellers is an amazing defensive shortstop. No team would turn down the chance to have an elite defender at the six, even if he is a bench player. My guess is that Sellers won’t be much more than that, but watching Jorge Velandia at shortstop for a few years made me see the importance of having a utility guy who can pick it up the middle. Here’s hoping that Sellers can develop the rest of his game and flash that glove work in the bigs.
7 / 221 / Kevin Bunch / RHP / Serrano HS (Calif.)
Bunch has a classic starter’s body, standing 6’5'' and carrying 210 pounds on a well-proportioned frame. He is new to pitching, having moved to the mound from behind the plate part-time. Now he’s hitting 90 on radar guns and is a good bet to add velocity as his body adjusts to pitching.
Yahmed Yema, an outfielder from Florida International University, was identified by John Sickels as a sleeper selection in this year’s draft. I’m tempted to make him my alternate pick here in place of Bunch, but Bunch’s upside and Oakland’s outfield depth make the latter a better choice for the A’s.
8 / 251 / Jason Ray / RHP / Azusa Pacific U.
Ray is a stocky righthander with a plus fastball who is also new to pitching. Since he’s 21, he is a bit behind and doesn’t offer the polish typically associated with college players, which might mean that he’ll end up in the bullpen. Baseball America reports that he maintains his velocity late into games, so he could also wind up as a starter who hits the big leagues a bit later than other 2005 college draftees.
9 / 281 / Trey Shields / RHP / U. of Alabama
This is the third time Shields has been drafted – once out of high school by the Atlanta Braves in the 22nd round and again last year by the Twins in the 15th round as a draft-eligible sophomore. That’s a pretty good draft pedigree. On the downside, the reason he opted to return to school in 2005 was that he missed all of 2004 after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
At 6’7'', Shields generates a lot of power with his delivery. Sometimes that power is difficult to contain and his mechanics get wonky. I expect him to start for the A’s, and the fact that both the Braves and the Twins felt he was worth a draft pick bodes well for his potential.
10 / 311 / John Herrera / RHP / Lubbock Christian U.
A 6’6, 180 lb. righthander, Herrera made headlines during the Sooner Athletic Conference tournament when he struck out 20 batters in a 9-2 victory over Oklahoma Baptist University. Some might question the level of competition Herrera faced in posting a 9-4 record with nine complete games (two shutouts), a 2.80 ERA, 117 strikeouts, 35 walks and 61 hits allowed in 86 innings, but he was impressive nonetheless.
He has a tendency to be wild (6 wild pitches and 14 hit batsmen), but it seemed to be an effective wildness, and he could be a find here thanks to his maturity and strong feel for setting hitters up.
At this point in the draft my knowledge of alternatives gets shaky, but Brett Jacobsen, a righthander from Cactus Shadows High School in Carefree, Arizona was still on the board when the A’s took Herrera. Entering 2005, Jacobsen was throwing 95 MPH consistently and figured to be one of the first prep pitchers taken in the draft. A drop in velocity and a commitment to pitch for Vanderbilt scared most teams away, but the 10th round would have been an excellent spot to take him. I think I’m going to stick with Herrera though, since Jacobsen would have commanded a big payday for the A’s to convince him to forgo his scholarship.
Finally, as promised, here is the rest of the 2005 crop:
11 / 341 / Steve Kleen / RHP / Pepperdine U.
12 / 371 / Jeff Baisley / 3B / U. of South Florida
13 / 401 / Mike Massaro / LHP / Colorado State U.- Pueblo
14 / 431 / Brad Davis / LHP / Lewis & Clark College
15 / 461 / Jeff Bieker / OF / Fort Hays State U.
16 / 491 / Justin Smoak / 1B / Stratford HS (S.C.)
17 / 521 / Isaac Omura / 2B / U. of Hawaii
18 / 551 / Anthony Recker / C, Alvernia College
19 / 581 / Julio Rivera / C / Puerto Rico Baseball Academy
20 / 611 / Stephen Bryant / RHP / U. of Hawaii
21 / 641 / Michael Madsen / RHP / Ohio State U.
22 / 671 / Shawn Callahan / C / Central Missouri State U.
23 / 701 / James Bennett / OF / U. of Louisiana-Monroe
24 / 731 / Ben Ingold / SS / Wake Forest U.
25 / 761 / Zeke Parraz / SS / U. of Nevada-Las Vegas
26 / 791 / Ron Madej / LHP / Bellevue U.
27 / 821 / Jess Lacasse / RHP / Bellevue U.
28 / 851 / Michael Klug / 2B / U. of North Alabama
29 / 881 / Brad Kilby / LHP / San Jose State U.
30 / 911 / Tom Franco / RHP / U. of San Francisco
31 / 941 / Joshua Kay / RHP / U. Cincinnati
32 / 971 / Jake Hammons / C / Snohomish HS (Wash.)
33 / 1001 / Matt Singleton / C / Ball State U.
34 / 1031 / Edwin Mieles / RHP / Patria La Torres Ramirez HS
35 / 1061 / Steven Braun / SS / Los Angeles Pierce JC
36 / 1091 / Shane Keough / SS / Northwood HS (Calif.)
37 / 1121 / Anthony Huttenlocker / LHP / Edmonds CC
38 / 1151 / Nicolas Pulos / C / U. Pennsylvania