Rating the Athletics First-Round Draftees Since the 2000 Season
You can think of the June Major League Baseball draft as the place where baseball starts.
Teams spend all year scouting and analyzing high school and college players, until this year, at least, when the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic changed everything. The organizations would then make 40 picks, hoping to sign most of them, and those players would be incorporated into the minor league system, the best of them making it to the big leagues.
Things won’t happen like that this year, and perhaps never again. MLB organizations have been trying to eliminate 20 percent or more of minor league franchises, and this year they’ve cut the draft to just five rounds, making all undrafted free agents, eligible to sign with anyone.
Those signings may be limited; players may opt instead for more school. The next month should sketch out how that plays out.
Since we don’t know what the future will bring, for today, we’re taking a look back at the best of Oakland A’s first-round draft picks of this century.
1. Matt Chapman, 3B, Cal State Fullerton, 2014, 25 pick overall.
Chapman has spent 2½ seasons with the A’s and already is in the conversation with Sal Bando, Carney Lansford and Eric Chavez as the best third basemen in Oakland history. He’s won two Gold Gloves at third, two Platinum Gloves as the overall best defender in the American League and has made one All-Star team. Manager Bob Melvin says “he hasn’t hit his peak yet offensively,” but his slash line isn’t bad – .257/.341/.500, 1-time All-Star, 2-time Gold Glove, 2-time Platinum Glove and his power has gone from 14 homers to 24 to last year’s 36.
2. Sonny Gray, RHP, Vanderbilt, 2011, 18 pick overall.
It took Gray less than two seasons in the minors to make the jump to the big leagues, and by his third season, 2015, he was an All-Star and finished third in the Cy Young Award voting. Two years after that, with Gray closing in on free agency, the A’s dealt him to the Yankees. New York sent him to the Reds last year. For his seven years, he’s 70-60, with a 3.53 ERA and is a two-time All-Star. None of the players the A’s got for trading Gray – RHP James Kaprielian, INF Jorge Mateo and OF Dustin Fowler – have had a big-league impact, although all three are threats to play in Oakland this season.
3. Nick Swisher, OF/1B, Ohio State, 2002, 16th pick overall.
Two years after he was drafted, Swisher made his debut in Oakland. By 2005 he was a regular in the Oakland outfield and a regular in the middle of the lineup, hitting 80 homers in 3-plus seasons with the A’s. He went on to have a 12-year career, finishing with a slash line of .249/.351/.447, earning one All-Star berth and one World Series ring (with the Yankees in 2009).
4. Matt Olson, 1B, Parkview (GA) High, 2012, 47 pick overall.
As is typical with players drafted out of high school, it took a while for Olson to make a move onto the big-league roster. Even so, by his fourth full season Olson made his big-league bow, and as a 23-year-old he made first base his own. A two-time winner of the Gold Glove and the owner of a .254/.343/.512 slash line, he’s also become a power broker, tied with Chapman last year for a team-best 36 homers. As the lefty with the most power on a team that is heavily right-handed, his success is as important to the A’s as that of any one player.
5. Addison Russell, SS, Pace (FL) High, 2012, 11 pick overall.
The A’s had high hopes for Russell, but they had higher hopes for a deep run in the postseason in 2014, so they dealt him to the Chicago Cubs for two starting pitchers, Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija. That move didn’t work out at the time – the pitchers were a combined 7-12 and the A’s were one-and-done in the playoffs, but that winter Samardzija would be traded to the White Sox in a deal that would bring shortstop Marcus Semien and right-handed starter Chris Bassitt to the A’s where both have been key parts of back-to-back 97-win seasons. Russell, a 2016 All-Star and the owner of a 2016 World Series run with the Cubs, has had some off-the-field issues in the last two years, serving a 40-game suspension from MLB over domestic abuse allegations. The owner of a .242/.312/.392 slash line is currently a free agent.
The A’s have had a few other good first-round picks since 200, including shortstop Cliff Pennington in 2005, who went on the an 11-year big league career and shortstop Bobby Crosby from the 2001 draft. He won Rookie of the Year honors in 2004, but he never put those offensive numbers, including 22 homers, together again in what would be an eight-year career.
And the A’s have high hopes for 2016 No. 1 pick A.J. Puk, who will be in the A’s rotation if and when the 2020 season starts.
Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3
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