After unexpectedly taking high school players with their top pick in each of the past two years, the A’s returned to their old, familiar ways this year, selecting college players with eight of the team’s top ten picks. The A’s made 21-year-old Cal State Fullerton third baseman Matt Chapman their top pick this year. Chapman is best known for his solid defense and strong throwing arm at third, but the A’s also like his plate discipline and think that he has the potential to develop into a legitimate power hitter.
The man responsible for overseeing the A’s efforts in the amateur draft is scouting director Eric Kubota. Kubota started out his career in the baseball world by interning for the A’s in the mid-‘80s and eventually served as the assistant director of scouting and the supervisor of international scouting before succeeding Grady Fuson as scouting director following his departure after the 2001 season.
We talked to Kubota about a week and a half after the draft, just a day after top pick Matt Chapman’s signing was officially announced. At the time we spoke, the A’s had signed seven of their top ten picks, but Kubota expressed confidence that the remaining three would all be in the fold before long. And we were happy to get his take on the A’s main man, Matt Chapman, along with all the team’s other top ten picks from the first ten rounds of the 2014 draft…
AF: I really want to get a quick take from you on all the A’s top ten draft picks this year. But before we start getting into this year’s draft class, is there anyone from last year’s draft class who really gives you a particular sense of pride when you look at them this year?
EK: Well, we’re certainly happy with Billy McKinney’s progress. His batting average might not show it, but he’s a high school guy and he’s playing in advanced Single-A, so it was really a stretch for him. I think he’s actually swung the bat better than the numbers have necessarily shown. So we’re certainly happy with him.
EK: With him, it’s really the upside. I think he’s just starting to scratch the surface of what he can be. We know that there’s a ton of impact power in his swing. And we think, with just a few adjustments, his power will be up there. So we really think, down the road, we’ll have a chance to get a third baseman who can affect the game both on defense and at the plate.
AF: Prior to the draft, a lot of people were projecting him as more of a 2nd-round guy. Was there anything in particular that you guys saw in him that you placed a higher value on than some other people did?
EK: I would say that probably everybody who was picking towards where we were picking in the draft had him in their conversation. Everybody’s going to have different positions and there’s going to be people who evaluate the draft outside the industry…but just about every team that picked at the back half at least had some conversation about him.
AF: Your #2 pick was RHP Daniel Gossett out of Clemson, who seems to fall into the mold of a slightly smaller-body-type guy like Sonny Gray. Tell me what you really liked about him, and are smaller pitchers the new market inefficiency?
EK: I don’t know that that’s necessarily the case. We don’t really think of him as small…Daniel’s taller than 6 feet. So we didn’t really take his height into account. We think he’s plenty physical enough to do what he needs to do. He’s got very good stuff. He throws 92-94 mph. He throws strikes with his fastball and locates it down. He has an excellent breaking ball and a very good changeup.
AF: Are there any major league pitchers you’d compare him to?
EK: I hesitate to compare anybody to Sonny Gray, just because what he’s done is so incredible. But he’s on the less-physical side – probably you could say David Cone, physically anyway, those are the kind of people you could compare him to.
AF: Your #3 pick was RHP Brett Graves out of Missouri, who a number of people really liked, but his strikeout numbers aren’t really quite as eye-popping as a lot of the guys you’ve taken. So tell me what made you want to go with him.
EK: He’s a little bit different. He’s more of a pitch-to-contact guy. He throws hard up there at 94-95 mph, but he’s more of a sinkerball type pitcher than a strikeout guy now…but we like the fact that he keeps the ball out of the air and throws strikes and he throws hard.
AF: And he’s officially still unsigned, correct?
EK: Correct, yes.
EK: He’s a former position player. We really liked the athleticism. He saw him up to 97 mph with a strikeout breaking ball. We think he’s kind of an upside guy. He’s kind of untapped…we could get a really high ceiling with him once he starts getting some professional instruction.
AF: Your #5 pick was RHP Heath Fillmyer, who’s from a smaller school, Mercer County Community College out of New Jersey. So what did he do to get himself on your radar?
EK: He’s very similar to Schwartz in that he’s also a converted position player. We saw a very good fastball, 94-95 mph, and an above-average curveball. He’s another guy who’s a real upside kid. With player development, we can give him to [minor league pitching coordinator] Scott Emerson and some of our pitching people in player development, and the sky’s the limit.
AF: And he’s still officially unsigned, right?
AF: Your #6 pick was high school shortstop Trace Loehr out of Oregon. It was announced that he signed earlier this week. What did you like so much about him to make him your first high school pick on the board, especially since he’d already committed to Oregon?
EK: There’s a lot to like about Trace. He’s got tools. He’s a plus runner. We really like the way he swings the bat. We really, really love his makeup. We think there’s just a lot here. He’s got a lot of the traits that we think make players successful in the long run, and we’re excited about that.
AF: Was there one thing in particular that really jumped out for you about him, or was it more of a well-rounded package that he presented?
EK: No, we think he can really swing the bat. He’s got a chance to be a very good defender too, but I think the thing that we were most drawn to was the bat.
AF: So kind of like with Billy McKinney where you really liked the swing?
EK: Yeah, kind of. It’s a little different in that he plays the middle infield, so it’s a little different, but yeah.
AF: Are there any major leaguers you might compare him to?
EK: Yeah, I thought a little bit about Kyle Seager when I saw him.
AF: Your #7 pick was another middle infielder, Branden Cogswell out of Virginia. His offensive numbers weren’t really that eye-popping, but he was taking a lot of walks and getting on base. So what did you like about him?
EK: Well, that was one of the things obviously. We liked his ability to get on base – we valued that. But we also really liked his defense. He played second base this year, but we think he can play shortstop. We really like his defense and think the offense will be more than enough to allow him to be a major league player.
AF: And he’s the only other one of the top ten who still hasn’t signed yet. He’s still playing, right?
EK: Correct, he’s still playing.
AF: Your #8 pick was the only high school pitcher you took in the top ten, RHP Branden Kelliher out of Washington. What so impressed you about him to make him the one high school pitcher you went with in the top ten?
EK: We valued him higher than that spot, and we were happy that he fell to us. We’ve seen him up to 96 mph. We’ve seen a good breaking ball. He’s probably more on the slight side physicality-wise. There’s some similarity to a guy we took out of the northwest 12 or 13 years ago – Jeremy Bonderman. Same kind of physicality, same kind of stuff.
EK: He’s a guy who’s always had a lot physical ability. We’ve seen a lot of him – we’ve scouted him quite a bit. And this year, he really turned the corner as far as his performance. He’s a left-hander who throws up to 92-93 mph and he’s got a good breaking ball. He’ll go out as a starting pitcher. But I could imagine him potentially being a left-handed specialist down the road. It might be a little bit of a lazy comparison, but he kind of reminds me of Craig Breslow, another Ivy League left-hander.
EK: He’s a physical kid with a good body who’s got solid stuff with a history of pitching well and winning.
AF: Are you expecting to sign all your top ten picks?
EK: We hope to get them all done, and we feel confident that we can get them all done.
AF: Is it safe to assume that most of the college pitchers we’ve discussed are likely to end up at Vermont this year?
EK: Well, they’re all going to Arizona to begin with. And yeah, it’s likely that most of them will be in Vermont before the end of the summer.
AF: And finally, how excited are you to see Matt Chapman signed, and how excited are you to see him out there playing in the coming weeks?
EK: Very excited. You know, the whole scouting staff will be living and dying by those box scores this summer!
AF: Okay, great! Thanks a lot.
A’s 2014 Draft Class
#1 3B Matt Chapman (CSU Fullerton), #2 RHP Daniel Gossett (Clemson), #3 RHP Brett Graves (Missouri), #4 RHP Jordan Schwartz (Niagara), #5 RHP Heath Fillmyer (Mercer College), #6 SS Trace Loehr (Rex Putnam HS), #7 SS Branden Cogswell (Virginia), #8 RHP Branden Kelliher (Lake Stevens HS), #9 #LHP Mike Fagan (Princeton), #10 RHP Corey Miller (Pepperdine)
#11 RHP Joel Seddon (South Carolina), #12 RHP Tyler Willman (Western Illinois), #13 2B Max Kuhn (Kentucky), #14 C Casey Schroeder (Polk State), #15 2B Trent Gilbert (Arizona), #16 3B Jose Brizuela (Florida State), #17 C Eric Cheray (Missouri State), #18 LHP Michael Nolan (Oklahoma City U.), #19 C Tom Gavitt (Bryant), #20 RHP Koby Guana (CSU Fullerton)
#21 SS Tim Proudfoot (Texas Tech), #22 RHP Brendan McCurry (Oklahoma State), #23 1B Collin Ferguson (St. Mary’s), #24 RHP Dawson Brown (U. West Florida), #25 CF Joseph Estrada (Colegio Hector Urdaneta HS), #26 RHP Rob Huber (Duke), #27 CF J.P. Sportman (Cent. Conn. State), #28 RHP Corey Walter (West Virginia), #29 LHP Cody Stull (Belmont Abbey), #30 LHP Derek Beasley (South Carolina-Aiken)
#31 RHP Tyler Schimpf (Capital Christian HS), #32 CF Denz’l Chapman (Junipero Serra HS), #33 C Michael Rivera (Venice HS), #34 1B John Nogowski (Florida State), #35 CF Austen Swift (Bishop Allen Academy HS), #36 OF Tyler Spoon (Arkansas), #37 OF Brock Lundquist (Fountain Valley HS), #38 CF Colt Atwood (Sam Houston State), #39 2B Payton Squier (Greenway HS), #40 SS Bryson Brigman (Valley Christian HS)