In January of 2005, I wrote an article about the Oakland A’s that addressed baseball’s annual June draft with the question “What if?” What if the A’s had taken Todd Helton or Carlos Beltran in the 1995 draft instead of the thoroughly disappointing Ariel Prieto?
In that piece I covered every A’s draft during the 1990s. Though we’re just over halfway through the first decade of the new century, I thought I’d take a shot at applying the “what if” question to the organization’s 2000-2005 drafts. How did the A’s do? How could they have done better?
Following most of my self-imposed rules from the earlier article, here are the guidelines for this round of draft revisions:
1. I will only "revise" first or supplemental round picks. Last time I kept it to one pick per draft, but then I was dealing with more Oakland draft classes at the time. My goal is to revise a similar total number of picks.
2. If a first-round pick turned out to be a star, that draft will not be revised. I don’t think there are many A’s fans out there who would argue with the selections Nick Swisher (2002) or Huston Street (2004), so I’ll assume the A’s would keep those guys and concentrate on the remaining first- and sandwich-round picks.
3. A player who wound up with the A’s later in his career is ineligible for consideration.
4. If a player was chosen in a draft but did not sign with the team that drafted him then he too is ineligible for consideration.
It’s probably necessary to note that hindsight isn’t quite the same when dealing with drafts of only two or three years ago, but since this entire exercise is meant for fun and fantasy I’m going to give it my best shot.
So, without further adieu…
Thanks to a goof on the part of the A’s front office, the team lost its first round pick to the Anaheim Angels for signing lefty reliever Mike Magnante. By 2002, Magnante was out of baseball, though the player the Angels took in the A’s spot – righty Chris Bootcheck – never amounted to anything more than a passable sport-starter. Instead the A’s wound up making their first pick in the second round (60th selection overall). There they tabbed infielder Freddie Bynum, an athletic speedster out of Pitt County Community College in North Carolina . Bynum bounced around the A’s farm system for six seasons before really challenging for a big league roster spot in 2006. Despite being close, the A’s wound up trading him to the Cubs in a late-March deal (he has since been dealt to Baltimore).
Had the A’s not given up their first rounder for a mediocre relief pitcher, they would have had a shot at several intriguing names, including RHP Boof Bonser (Giants – 21), RHP Adam Wainwright (Braves – 29), RHP Aaron Heilman (unsigned, Twins – 32) and 3B/OF Xavier Nady (Padres – 49).
At 60th slot the pickings were slim, but Arkansas southpaw Cliff Lee, eventually taken by the Expos in the fifth round with the 105th overall pick, was still on the board. At the time Lee’s 90-94 MPH fastball was probably the best among all lefty starters in the college ranks. He did have some discipline problems and a spotty performance record, but I’ll make him the first revised pick of the decade, adding his arm to a group of A’s prospects that included Mark Mulder and Barry Zito.
Lee would eventually earn a spot on Cleveland’s roster in 2002 after being involved in the Bartolo Colon deal (the Indians also received SS Brandon Phillips and OF Grady Sizemore in one of the more lopsided deals in recent memory) that June. He became a regular member of the Indians’ rotation in 2004, then finished fourth in Cy Young Award voting in 2005 after going 18-5 with a 3.79 ERA and 143/52 K/BB in 202 IP.
Also considered: Grady Sizemore, Dontrelle Willis (both better picks, but as high schoolers they were unlikely A’s selections in 2000)
With three of the draft’s first 37 picks (25, 26, 37), the A’s had many chances to get this draft right. In retrospect they did pretty well, grabbing SS Bobby Crosby with their first selection, followed by RHP Jeremy Bonderman and LHP John Rheinecker.
A’s fans know all about Crosby, winner of the 2004 Rookie of the Year award and owner of a dubious health record ever since. Still, it’s interesting to note that the 6’3’’ Crosby was regarded as one of the best defensive players at any position available in 2001 and he certainly hasn’t disappointed on defense at the major league level.
Bonderman is widely recognized as the first high school junior to be picked in the first round thanks to a draft loophole that granted him eligibility after completing his GED as a 17 year-old. He was also the centerpiece of Michael Lewis’s draft room anecdote from Moneyball in which Billy Beane physically abused a chair. That story has since been refuted by Beane, who said the chair incident came several selections earlier.
My guess is that Beane’s anger began building with the Astros pick of Tennessee 2B Chris Burke at #19, grew with Toronto’s pick of Auburn OF Gabe Gross at #15 and the Mets’ selection of Notre Dame righty Aaron Heilman at #19, then boiled over when the Yankees grabbed Florida State OF John-Ford Griffin two picks before the A’s took Crosby. Regardless, Bonderman turned into a very good selection. Unfortunately for the A’s, all his value has been enjoyed by the Detroit Tigers, with whom Bonderman went to the World Series in 2006 and recently signed a four year, $38 million contract extension.
Rheinecker never amounted to much with the A’s and was eventually dealt to Texas.
I’m going to leave both Crosby and Bonderman alone since each has proven a very capable major leaguer. The Rheinecker pick could’ve been better though, so let’s take a look at who the A’s might have had in his place.
The easiest choice is the guy who was taken by the Mets immediately following the Rheinecker pick: prep 3B David Wright. Wright has obviously turned into a fantastic player who, with youth and big league success on his side, will very likely wind up garnering a fair share of MVP votes in the next five-to-10 years. Then again, the A’s had already taken one high school player and were unlikely to have taken another, even in my little fictional time warp.
Instead, I’m going to reach all the way to the fifth round and pick #140 for Southwest Missouri State’s first baseman – a lefty swinger with great power but a questionable body named Ryan Howard. Howard scared a lot of scouts off with his high strikeout rate, a poor junior year and because, well, basically he didn’t look good in jeans. Imagine if Billy Beane’s Jeremy Brown experiment took place a year earlier, but with Ryan Howard as the Moneyball poster boy? Beane would probably look even better than he does now, and would be hated even more by old school scouts and beat writers whose interest in new ideas extends only to cordless telephones and new menu items at Arby’s.
With the A’s, Howard would have cracked the big league lineup earlier than he did in Philadelphia, likely taking over at first base in 2004 and giving the team the “scary monster” it lacked in the middle of the lineup. Would it have been enough to overtake the Angels for the division crown in 2004 and 2005?
Also considered: David Wright, Dallas McPherson
Oakland’s selections of Ohio State 1B/OF Nick Swisher at #16 and Kentucky righthander Joe Blanton at #24 were both astute picks that gave them team solid big league contributors in both the rotation and lineup. They stay.
The organization’s #26 (SS John McCurdy) and #30 (RHP Ben Fritz) have both struggled in the pro ranks thus far, so these picks are ripe for change.
Since the Billy Beane Era began, the A’s have struggled to fill centerfield with a star presence on the level of the Dave Hendersons and Dwayne Murphys who manned that position during Sandy Alderson’s time with the team (Johnny Damon was a huge disappointment in his only season with the team), I’m going to revise the McCurdy and Fritz picks with two college CFs who wound up turning themselves into highly-regarded, and thus highly-valued, prospects: Long Beach State’s Jeremy Reed (taken by the White Sox in the second round, 59th overall) and University of Illinois-Chicago’s Curtis Granderson (Tigers, third round, 80th overall). Even with their budget concerns, the A’s could’ve saved money by taking Reed ($650,000 bonus) over McCurdy ($1.375 million) and Granderson ($469,000) over Fritz ($1.2 million), or at the very least given them the same deals.
Reed was eventually used by the White Sox as the centerpiece of a deal that got them starter Freddy Garcia from Seattle . Nice value even if he hasn’t done much but play great defense for the Mariners. And with Granderson in the system, the A’s very likely would also have dealt Reed away, which would still give them even more value.
Granderson plays great D, and in 2006 he showed good power (31 doubles, 19 homers). He strikes out a lot (225 times in 783 career ABs), but he also walks a fair amount (66 in his only full season) and looks like he could be a valuable offensive force for the next several years.
Also considered: David Bush, Jesse Crain
All in all, a disappointing draft for the A’s. With two picks in the first round – 25th and 26th – the A’s took Houston RHP Brad Sullivan and Stetson 3B Brian Snyder, respectively. Neither has made even the slightest impact for the A’s despite costing them a total of $2.7 million in bonus money, as both players have been hampered by injuries. The Snyder pick looks especially bad considering that just a year later Oakland wound up giving Eric Chavez the biggest contract in franchise history to play third base through 2011, which essentially blocked Snyder at the major league level.
Heading into the draft, the A’s were looking at getting only a year or two more out of their vaunted Big Three of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito before they’d need to dip into their farm system for replacements. Aside from Rich Harden and Joe Blanton, the cupboard was pretty bare. The team was in need of a new layer of pitching prospects, and would have gone a long way toward building it by taking Oklahoma State righty Scott Baker and Cal Lutheran righthander Jason Hirsh instead of Sullivan and Snyder.
Baker, taken by the Twins in the second round (58th overall), fit the Oakland draft profile perfectly. He was polished and close to the majors, but did not have the upside offered by other early selections. He earned a promotion to AAA just a year after signing. The Twins may have rushed him a bit, but it’s safe to say that the A’s would have been more patient and likely would have been careful to give him a shot in the big league rotation at a time when he’d have the best chance to succeed.
Hirsh, taken by Houston one pick after the Twins took Baker, ended up being quite a surprise for the Astros. The 6’8’’, 250-pounder was much more polished as a professional than he showed as an amateur. He also wowed many with his makeup throughout his minor league career. I admit to a particular fondness for Hirsh, who impressed me so much in a 2005 Futures Game interview that I began following him closely and reading everything I could find on him. He made it to Houston for good in 2006 and became the centerpiece for starter Jason Jennings in what I feel will be turn out to be an ill-advised deal with Colorado.
Also considered: Carlos Quentin, Jon Papelbon
The consensus among prospect pundits was that the A’s achieved in 2004 what they set out to do in 2002. That is, they believed that Oakland had a great draft, taking advantage of their huge stash of draft picks. Picking twice in the first round yet again, the A’s took South Carolina catcher Landon Powell with the 24th pick and Fresno outfielder Richie Robnett with the 26th pick. Neither has made it as far as AAA, but the A’s still have reason to hope that one or both will wind up making an impact in the big leagues.
If they had it to do over, however, they might consider taking Florida prep lefty Gio Gonzalez and University of Texas-Arlington OF Hunter Pence. The A’s were primed to take a chance on a prep player, and who better than Gonzalez, who was polished for a high school pitcher and whose performance suggested that he would be a much higher selection. He lasted until the supplemental round (38th overall) because scouts feared he was undersized at 6’0’’, 170 lbs. and because he had a run-in with his high school coach over his brother’s role on the team. His fastball sat between 90 and 92 and touched 95 MPH somewhat regularly in his professional debut, though since it has been closer to the 88-91 range.
Pence has mashed from Day One after being taken by the Astros in the second round with the 64th overall pick. He enters 2007 as the best hitting prospect in the Houston system. He takes walks, hits homers and could turn into a consistent .280-.300 hitter in the big leagues. His defense is sub-par, but that would hardly be a problem in the American League.
Also considered: Adam Lind, Dustin Pedroia
Easily the most difficult draft to revise, due to its close proximity to the present, 2005 has already turned out several draft disappointments, the most noticeable of which are a terrible 2006 season from SS Cliff Pennington and a shoulder injury to second rounder Craig Italiano.
Had Pennington turned a solid year of development in 2006, I would have to refrain from revising this pick. Instead, his poor showing gives me room to make one last change to Oakland’s draft history.
In this case the choice is pretty easy: With the 21st pick, the A’s would select Oregon State leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury. To date Ellsbury has done nothing but impress in the Red Sox system, and enters 2007 as the team’s top prospect. Boston has every reason to believe that he will be leading off and playing centerfield at Fenway Park on Opening Day of 2008, with a likely stint in the majors coming as early as July of 2007.
Also considered: Matt Garza, Kevin Slowey
So what would the A’s big league roster look like with all these revisions in place? With Ellsbury likely the last of my choices to become a regular in the big leagues, I’m going to concentrate on how Oakland ’s 2008 roster would shape up. Take a look:
C: Kurt Suzuki
1B: Ryan Howard
2B: Mark Ellis
3B: Eric Chavez
SS: Bobby Crosby
LF: Curtis Granderson
CF: Jacoby Ellsbury
RF: Nick Swisher
DH: Hunter Pence
#1 SP: Dan Haren
#2 SP: Rich Harden
#3 SP: Joe Blanton
#4 SP: Cliff Lee
#5 SP: Jason Hirsh/Scott Baker/Gio Gonzalez
CL: Huston Street
In keeping with the two biggest A’s personnel trends, this lineup boasts both solid defense and OPS ability. It also offers nice balance (four righties, four lefties and a switch-hitter) and versatility, with four outfielders, two first basemen and two shortstops among the starting lineup.
The rotation is righty-heavy, especially if Gonzalez fails to hit the bigs with the 90-95 MPH fastball he showed early in his pro career. Still, it features two aces in Haren and Harden, two reliable innings-eaters in Lee and Blanton, and three guys who profile as something between a number two and a number four starter. With Street closing games, this is a team that would contend in any division.
See you again in 2011.
Send Questions about (or challenges to) my choices