Athletics 2nd-Round Pick Criswell Exits Michigan With a Flourish

Jeff Criswell, who moved from the bullpen to the rotation for the Michigan Wolverines, was the second played taken in the Major League draft by the A's. He spent some of his recent downtime organization a surprise graduation ceremony for some of his senior buddies, who wouldn't otherwise get one thanks to the pandemic.

The Oakland Athletics used their first pick of the second day of the Major League Baseball draft on college starting pitcher Jeff Criswell, then came back in the third round with Georgia Tech outfielder Michael Guldberg. 

With their fourth-round pick, the A's went with another college arm, right-hander Dane Acker. Although he threw a no-hitter for the Sooners against LSU this year before the season shut down over the pandemic, he began his career at Rice, then went to Houston's San Jacinto Community College before heading to Oklahoma. 

And 6-foot-5 Stevie Emanuels, another right-hander with the potential to start, was the No. 5 pick out of the University of Washington.

Criswell, who moved from reliever as a freshman to a starter as a sophomore at Michigan, has a pitcher’s build at 6-foot-4, 225-pounds and the A’s are expected to having him working in the role of a starting pitcher.

A's director of scouting Eric Kubota said as much after the draft wrapped up.

"He's a big, physical college right-hander," Kubota said. "We've seen him up to 97 (mph). He's got a very good breaking ball, but his got some delivery issues that we think can be worked out."

Assuming Criswell, a junior, does in fact signed with Oakland, his exit from the Wolverines’ orbit will have been one to remember.

He organized a non-traditional graduation ceremony for two of his senior buddies who'd been denied the traditional ceremony with the COVID-19 pandemic shutting school down.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Criswell lured teammates Joe Pace and Matt Schmidt to his place in Ann Arbor with the lure of dinner.

“It was like, `I’m gonna make a bunch of food,’” Criswell told the Free Press. “Everybody says yes to free food.”

When they arrive, there was, in fact, free food. Criswell made some pasta. But there was much more. There were friends. There was a congratulatory banner. Criswell had rummaged up some caps and gowns for Pace and Schmidt to wear.

After dinner, things picked up.

“We quickly cleaned everything up,” he said. “Moved our big table out onto the porch. We set up all the chairs in our dining room.”

Then came the playing of “Pomp and Circumstance.” Criswell, acting as master of ceremonies, called their names and handed out fake diplomas. Jimmy Kerr, who payed at Michigan and who was drafted by the Tigers, gave the commencement address.

How could the A’s not want a guy who would organizing that to join their organization?

Oh, he can throw a baseball, too.

The overall 53rd-ranked player on the Baseball America draft board, Criswell was described by Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin as having a “bull” mentality.

Criswell, who’d started all year, came out of the Michigan bullpen in the NCAA tournament to eliminate Vanderbilt with five innings of scoreless relief. That got the Wolverines into the title game of the 2019 tournament.

An over-the-top thrower, Criswell has some velocity in his game throwing a 94-97 mph fastball in addition to a slider and a changeup.

He had a 2.23 ERA as a freshman when he was pitching in relief. After moving to the rotation in his second year, Criswell wound up with a 7-1 record and a 2.72 ERA.

Not all the scouting services were as high on Criswell as was Baseball America and the A’s. He was the 58th-ranked player available according to MLB Pipeline, No. 93 by ESPN and No. 142 by Fangraphs.

The A’s first pick in the draft came Wednesday evening when they used the 26th pick in the draft to select high school catcher Tyler Soderstrom.

With the third pick, the A’s went back to the college ranks for the right-handed hitting Guldberg, who hit over .350 in all three seasons he played at Georgia Tech. He doesn’t have much power, but he walks a lot.

Guldberg was a center fielder for much of his freshman year, but last year as a sophomore he was relegated to designated hitter duty after suffering a shoulder injury. Scouts like him more as a corner outfielder, but the A’s still see him at his old spot.

"We think he is a center fielder," Kubota said. "He's a plus runner and we think he'll definitely be a good center fielder."

Acker’s no-hitter against LSU’s AJ Labas on March 1 was ranked the best pitching performance of the shortened collegiate baseball season. The game, part of the Shriners Hospital for Children College Classic in Houston saw both teams go without a hit for seven innings before the Sooners pulled out a 1-0 win.

Kubota was in the crowd and was impressed.

Acker’s no-no saw him strike out 11 and walk one while throwing 117 pitches. It was the first no-hitter in the Shriners’ Classic history, the first no-hitter for any Oklahoma pitcher since 1989 and the first time LSU had been no-hit since 1978. 

Emanuels' 2020 move into the rotation was a smashing success. He went 3-1 with a 0.79 ERA, striking out 38 in 22.2 innings. 

Kubota said the A's have hopes they will be able to help Emanuels develop a changeup

There are no plans for any of the draftees to be put on a 20-man taxi squad, which is one of the proposals floating around as Major League Baseball considers putting together a short season.

The A's will now turn their attention to the undrafted, all of whom are eligible to sign as free agents for a maximum $20,000 signing bonus. 

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

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