Exclusive: Get the Inside Scoop on the A’s Top 10 Draft Picks of 2012 from A’s Scouting Director Eric Kubota

Thanks to the loss of free agents Josh Willingham and David DeJesus, the A’s had a few more picks than usual in the upper ranks of the amateur draft this year – 5 of the first 75 picks to be exact. And surprisingly, the team used a number of those picks to target high school players, something that’s been uncommon for the organization in the past.

The man responsible for overseeing the A’s efforts in the amateur draft is scouting director Eric Kubota. Kubota grew up in northern California, graduating from Aptos High School before moving on to the University of California at Berkeley. He started out his career in the baseball world by interning for the A’s in the mid-‘80s before signing on as the assistant director of baseball relations in 1987. Kubota eventually served as the assistant director of scouting and the supervisor of international scouting before being selected to succeed Grady Fuson as scouting director following his departure after the 2001 season.

In his time at the helm of the A’s scouting department, the team has drafted players like Nick Swisher, Joe Blanton, Huston Street, Kurt Suzuki, Cliff Pennington, Jemile Weeks, Michael Choice and Sonny Gray. So who better to give us the inside scoop on this year’s top draft picks for the A’s? We talked a week after the draft had ended, before #1 pick Addison Russell’s signing had been officially announced (word has it that it’s all but a done deal and that an official announcement could be coming at any time). We took the opportunity to get Kubota’s take on the A’s main man, Russell, along with all the team’s other top 10 draft picks of 2012.

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AF: The main thing that’s been notable with this year’s draft as far as the A’s go is the large number of high school players taken with high draft picks this time around. Is there any specific reason for that change?

EK: Obviously, it was a change that we took so many high school guys. But there wasn’t any conscious change in how we scouted and how we set up our boards and things like that. And I’ve told people every year that we like high school guys. It’s just the way the board falls. And this year what presented itself was an opportunity to draft the high school guys we thought were clearly the best guys. So that’s how that all came to be.

AF: A lot of people felt there just wasn’t that much mind-blowing college talent available this year either. Did that also factor into things?

EK: I think that’s fair to say. We thought that the high school crop was deeper. There’s also a little bit of cost certainty built into the new system, so that helped as well a little bit – to just kind of have an idea of what you were getting into financially. But I say it every year, and I know it hasn’t necessarily been brought out by our drafts, but we like plenty of high school players, but a lot of times it’s just the way the board falls.

AF: So what did you see in your first pick, high school shortstop Addison Russell, that you really liked, is there anything that needs work with him, and are there any players you would compare him to?

EK: Well, the first thing that you notice about Addison is his athleticism. He’s just an extremely gifted athlete in many ways. It bears out in his running speed and his agility. We really like the athleticism – we like the upside. He’s a guy who we think has plus tools across the board – a potential 5-tool player – and a lot of upside. He can be an offensive shortstop with power, with speed, with arm strength – really with the whole package. Like any high school player, there’s a lot of development that has to happen for him to get where he’s going. But we like his ability to play and we like his skills. As far as major league players that he reminds us of, Barry Larkin is one name that comes to mind.

AF: Do you see him starting out for you as a shortstop in the minor leagues?

EK: We see him as a shortstop in the major leagues, yes.

AF: How certain were you that he was going to end up being your first-round pick heading into the draft?

EK: We had a pretty good sense that he was in a mix of guys who could be our first-round pick. What generally happens is you end up with two or three or four guys, based on what you’re hearing and how you like them, that you think are going to be the group from which you’re going to pick. And in some ways, the decision gets made for you based on who gets picked in the draft. But he was certainly amongst the group of guys that we thought we had a chance to get.

AF: Your second pick was another high school shortstop, Daniel Robertson out of southern California. What did you see in him that made you want to grab him so early?

EK: Daniel Robertson really impressed us with his bat. We feel he’s got a very, very advanced approach to hitting for a high school guy. He’s got strength. His defensive skills are very solid – we think they’re good enough for him to play shortstop. Ultimately, down the road, he probably ends up at third base. We’re very confident that he has the offensive potential to be a profile player there. He’s very polished as far as what he does now. And some guys have compared him to David Wright.

AF: Your third pick was another high school player, Matt Olson, a big left-handed hitting high school first baseman out of Georgia. What did you like about him?

EK: What we really like about him is his bat. He’s really a sweet swinger. He kind of reminds us of John Olerud. He’s a big-framed kid, so there’s a chance to add a lot of strength to his frame, and that’s where the power’s going to come with him. We really like the bat, and we like his chances to have power down the road as his body gets bigger and stronger. And he’s very, very good around first base.

AF: So what do you think the prospects are of getting all your top three picks signed?

EK: We’re working out the final details. But we’re pretty optimistic about where things are headed.

AF: So you’re pretty optimistic about getting all three of them locked up at this point?

EK: Correct.

AF: Now your fourth pick was a college catcher, Bruce Maxwell, out of Alabama who’s already signed. Do you project him remaining as a catcher at the major league level?

EK: Yeah, first and foremost, we do think he’s a catcher. We think he has all the necessary ingredients to catch. Once again, what we really like about Bruce is his bat. First off, if you look at his numbers, I know it was Division III, but you’d be hard-pressed to find statistics like that anywhere. But what our scouts saw with their eyes matched every bit of those stats.

AF: If I’m correct, I think he hit around. 470.

EK: Yeah, and four or five times more walks than strikeouts with 16 homers or something like that.

AF: And he’s a left-handed hitting catcher too, right?

EK: Correct.

AF: With your fifth pick, you took your first pitcher in the draft, right-hander Nolan Sanburn out of the University of Arkansas, who’s still unsigned. Tell me what made you want to take him as your top pitcher in the draft.

EK: Nolan’s kind of an old school power pitcher. He’s got a fastball that’s up to 97-98 mph. We’ve seen an above-average curveball and an above-average changeup at times. He’s a strong, physical kid. He’s pitched both as a starter and out of the bullpen. We think he’s got the necessary ingredients to start in professional baseball. And he has the kind of stuff that could work his way to the upper ranges of the rotation or, if he does have to go back to the bullpen, to the late innings out of the bullpen. Sanburn, physically, reminds me of Tim Belcher.

AF: Your sixth pick was Kyle Twomey, a young left-handed high school pitcher from southern California who appears to be a real long, lanky kind of guy. I know there was some question about him maybe wanting to go to college. What did you like about him?

EK: What we like about Kyle is his projection and his ability to pitch right now. He flashes three average-to-better pitches. He touches 91-92 mph with his fastball right now. We think with normal physical development, he’s going to throw a bit harder. He’s got an above-average changeup right now. His breaking ball has good shape. He has all the ingredients – he just needs a little more velocity in our opinion. But he’s got a very, very good feel for what he’s doing out there. He already knows how to pitch. We just think the sky’s kind of the limit with this kid because he’s got so much physical development left to him. And he kind of reminds us a little bit of Andrew Heaney who went #9 in the draft this year.

AF: Your seventh pick was high school outfielder B.J. Boyd out of Palo Alto, who seemed really eager to sign up and play. So I guess that made it easy for you, right?

EK: Yeah. It’s just nice when some kid’s are very, very excited about signing and getting going with their pro career, and B.J. certainly wants to do that. He’s a tremendous athlete. He was a tremendous high school football player. He could have probably played Division I football. He’s a strong, compact, electric athlete. There’s a lot of upside to a lot of things he does. He’s probably a little rough around the edges, and there’s some development that needs to happen for it all to come together for him. But he can really run, he’s got strength in his bat, and he’s got a chance to really play center field. Some of the guys who saw him compared him a little bit to a young Carl Crawford.

AF: Your eighth pick was another left-handed hitting first baseman, Max Muncy out of Texas. How would you compare him to Matt Olson, your other top first base pick?

EK: First off, he’s three years older, so that puts him three years farther down the development track. Once again, what we really like about Max is his bat. All of us who went in there to see him, for lack of a technical term, he just looked “hitter-ish.” And we really like his chances to hit. He’s a surprising athlete. He doesn’t scream “athlete” on first look, but he runs well, and he’s very good around first base. And we just like the whole package with Max but, first and foremost, the bat.

AF: With your ninth pick, you went back to pitching with college right-hander Seth Streich out of Ohio. What did you like about him?

EK: He’s an athletic kid. He’s got a good body. We’ve seen him throw hard, up to like 94-95 mph, with a very good slider. He was one of the better hitters on their team at one time, but he just decided that pitching was his best way to help the team. We actually think he’s kind of an upside guy. He just hasn’t pitched as much as some of these guys. And we just like the whole combination of body, athleticism and stuff.

AF: Your tenth pick was another college pitcher, Cody Kurz out of Oxnard who’s a little younger. I think he’s only 19. Tell me about him.

EK: Yeah, he’s a younger kid who just hasn’t pitched all that much. He was actually a Division I football recruit. He was a linebacker, which will tell you something about his physicality. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s athletic. We’ve seen him up to 94-95 mph. We’ve seen him with a very good breaking ball. We just think we’re kind of just seeing the tip of the iceberg on him. We just think there’s a lot of upside to him.

AF: Once these guys are all drafted, how involved are you in the signing process?

EK: Very involved. Most of the signings go through me. Occasionally there will be guys where either Billy Beane or David Forst have good relationships with their advisors, so they may help out. But most of the negotiations work through me. The scouts do a lot with them in some of the cases, and then in certain cases I do some of them.

AF: So in this period after the draft is over, your work is certainly not done. There’s still plenty of stuff to follow up on for you.

EK: Yeah, we’re trying to get players signed. And basically, the day after the draft ends, we start getting ready for next year’s draft.

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#1 (11th Overall)

Addison Russell

Shortstop

Pace High School / Pace, Florida

Age: 18

6’1” / 210 lbs.

Bats: Right / Throws: Right

2012 High School Stats: .358 AVG / .532 OBP / .815 SLG

 

 

 

#2 (34th Overall)

Daniel Robertson

Shortstop

Upland High School / Upland, California

Age: 18

6’1” / 190 lbs.

Bats: Right / Throws: Right

2012 High School Stats: .560 AVG / .696 OBP / 1.000 SLG

 

 

 

#3 (47th Overall)

Matt Olson

First Baseman

Parkview High School / Lilburn, Georgia

Age: 18

6’4” / 225 lbs.

Bats: Left / Throws: Right

2012 High School Stats: .353 AVG / .421 OBP / .765 SLG

 

 

#4 (62nd Overall)

Bruce Maxwell

Catcher

Birmingham-Southern College / Birmingham, Alabama

Age: 21

6’2” / 230 lbs.

Bats: Left / Throws: Right

2012 College Stats: .471 AVG / .619 OBP / .928 SLG

 

 

#5 (74th Overall)

Nolan Sanburn

Right-Handed Pitcher

University of Arkansas / Fayetteville, Arkansas

Age: 20

6’1” / 205 lbs.

Throws: Right / Bats: Right

2012 College Stats: 39 1/3 IP / 28 H / 11 ER / 22 BB / 47 K / 2.52 ERA

 

 

 

#6 (106th Overall)

Kyle Twomey

Left-Handed Pitcher

El Dorado High School / Placentia, California

Age: 18

6’3” / 180 lbs.

Throws: Left / Bats: Left

2012 High School Stats: 73 2/3 IP / 39 H / 8 ER / 25 BB / 77 K / 0.76 ERA

 

 

#7 (139th Overall)

B.J. Boyd

Outfielder

Palo Alto High School / Palo Alto,California

Age: 18

5’11” / 205 lbs.

Bats: Left / Throws: Right

2012 High School Stats: .507 AVG / .628 OBP / .704 SLG

 

 

#8 (169th Overall)

Max Muncy

First Baseman

Baylor University / Waco, Texas

Age: 21

6’1” / 205 lbs.

Bats: Left / Throws: Right

2012 College Stats: .322 AVG / .418 OBP / .494 SLG

 

#9 (199th Overall)

Seth Streich

Right-Handed Pitcher

Ohio University / Athens, Ohio

Age: 21

6’3” / 200 lbs.

Throws: Right / Bats: Left

2012 College Stats: 75 1/3 IP / 81 H / 37 ER / 36 BB / 62 K / 4.42 ERA

 

 

 

#10 (229th Overall)

Cody Kurz

Right-Handed Pitcher

Oxnard College / Oxnard, California

Age: 19

6’4” / 225 lbs.

Throws: Right / Bats: Right

2012 College Stats: 24 2/3 IP / 15 H / 4 ER / 11 BB / 21 K / 1.46 ERA

 

 

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