The A’s took a familiar path in this year’s draft, selecting college players with fifteen of their top sixteen picks. And the team took a trio of talented college pitchers with their top three selections. Top pick A.J. Puk is a flame-throwing lefty out of Florida with top-of-the-rotation potential, while second pick Daulton Jefferies is a 20-year-old righty from Cal with pinpoint control, and Logan Shore is a solid strike-throwing righty also out of Florida who possesses an advanced understanding of pitching.
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.
In past years, we’ve talked with Kubota about top picks like Addison Russell in 2012, Billy McKinney in 2013, Matt Chapman in 2014 and Richie Martin in 2015. And this year, we were eager to get his insights on #1 pick A.J. Puk as well as the rest of the A’s top eleven picks from the first ten rounds of the 2016 draft.
When we spoke with Kubota, three days after the conclusion of this year’s draft, the A’s had signed eight of their top eleven picks. And word has it that 4th-round pick Skylar Szynski’s signing should be official soon. But Puk and Shore will have to wait until Florida’s College World Series run is complete.
AF: So now that the draft is in your rear-view mirror, how are you feeling about this year’s draft class overall and was there anything unique about the character of this year’s draft from your point of view?
EK: Well, we’re certainly excited about this year’s draft class. To get the three pitchers we got at the top of the draft, we were extremely happy about it. We felt like there was depth throughout the draft which we were able to take advantage of. I’m not really sure it was unique, except I’m sure a lot of people will probably say it was kind of old school for us because there were a lot of college players from major programs that ended up falling into the spots where we picked them.
AF: Well, I guess it must have been nice for you to have the #6 pick overall and to not have to wait until the 20s to have your first pick anyway.
EK: Yeah, it’s nice on draft day. It’s not nice having to experience what has to happen to get you that spot though!
AF: Exactly! Well, I know you didn’t expect to have your first pick, left-hander A.J. Puk out of Florida, fall to you with the sixth pick. How did you feel about having the chance to take him with your first pick and how would you assess his talent?
EK: Yeah, obviously, we were really surprised that he fell to us. As I mentioned before, we started hearing rumblings that he may be sliding, for whatever reason, but we still really did not believe it until he did get to us, so we were certainly happy about that. As far as him as a baseball talent, arguably – probably not even arguably – he was the college pitcher with the highest ceiling in this year’s draft. He’s 6’7”, we’ve seen him up to 97 mph, he’s got a wipeout slider at times, and we like the changeup. It’s just an intimidating look with intimidating stuff and a top-of-the-rotation ceiling.
AF: Do you have any sense of why it was that he did end up falling to you? I don’t think many people were expecting him to fall to you at number six.
EK: Right. It’s hard to say. It’s hard to know what was going on in those other draft rooms. I do know, in general, that teams are trying to maximize their draft pool. So maybe they felt there were better ways for them to do that. But I’m really not privy to why he slid – I think we were just happy that he did.
AF: And obviously, with him and Logan Shore, we’re going to have to wait till Florida’s done playing for there to be any deals done with them.
AF: And with your next pick, the 37th overall in the competitive balance round, you took right-hander Daulton Jefferies out of Cal. I talked with him last week, and he seemed to have a pretty good understanding of pitching and what he needs to do to be successful. So what did you like about Daulton Jefferies that made you want to take him there?
EK: Well, first of all, I’m a Cal guy, so I’m biased – he’s obviously a smart guy! But he’s got a great idea of what he needs to do on the mound. He’s super athletic. We’ve seen him with three plus pitches, and he can really pitch. He’s competitive. There’s just so much to like about him moving forward. And he’s the kind of guy who can move quickly through the system.
AF: He missed 8 weeks with the shoulder strain this season. But I know your medical staff had the chance to look at him both before and after the draft. So do you feel pretty confident about the shoulder issue going forward?
EK: Yeah, we feel confident that in the long term it’ll be fine. And really, in a lot of ways, it was an opportunity for us that he did get hurt because I don’t think we thought that he would get to #37 had he been healthy all spring.
AF: In the 2nd round, you took another right-hander and another guy out of Florida, Logan Shore. And he’s a guy, like Jefferies, who seems to be a smart pitcher who really knows how to pitch. He might not have that blazing fastball but he certainly seems to know what he’s doing on the mound and what he needs to do to succeed.
EK: Well, he’s a physical right-hander. He’s been the Friday night guy at Florida for three years, which is pretty impressive when you consider the amount of pitching that they always have at Flroida. He doesn’t always go out and throw with the big velocity, but we’ve seen him up to 93-94 mph. We think it’s in there – he just doesn’t use it unless he needs it on occasion. He really knows how to pitch, he can locate, and he knows how to use his stuff – it’s not sexy, sexy stuff, but the way that he uses it is very sexy to us in a baseball way. He can really pitch and he’s competitive. He’s got a great changeup, and we do think that there’s probably more fastball in there than he shows on a weekly basis because he just hasn’t needed to use it.
AF: So looking at this group of pitchers, is there anyone you might compare Puk to?
EK: For Puk, as a starting pitcher, I would say James Paxton, although physically he may be more Andrew Miller-ish. But his stuff I think is similar to Paxton.
AF: And what about Jefferies and Shore?
EK: Yeah, Jefferies I always kind of likened to Mike Leake. And then Shore, I don’t have a great one, but he reminds me of Jake Peavy a little bit.
AF: Well, all he has to do is be a little bit like Jake Peavy and he’ll be all right! I guess the development staff is probably looking forward to getting those three arms into the system.
EK: I would think so. I’d think they’d be pretty happy to get those guys.
AF: In the 3rd round, you took your first position player, catcher Sean Murphy from Wright State. He has a reputation as a strong-armed catcher. Tell me how you view his abilities behind the plate and what you expect to see out of him offensively.
EK: We think that the catching has really come along. We think he has a chance to be a really good receiver. He’s obviously got plenty of arm strength. And with the bat, there’s strength. We think that there’s more development left with the bat. We think he’s going to hit with some power and he’s going to hit for enough of an average that, when you combine it with his defensive skills, you’ve got a front-line major league catcher.
AF: He seems to be one of those guys that everyone agrees ought to stick at catcher.
EK: Right, he’s definitely a catcher. We think the bat may be behind the defense at this point. But we do see development there and we think he’s going to be able to play the game on both sides.
AF: Any comparisons for him?
EK: Murphy, I kind of thought of him as like a Mike Matheny type possibly.
AF: Now in the 4th round, you took your only high school pick in the top 15 rounds, right-hander Skylar Szynski from Indiana. So tell me what you liked so much about him that made you want to make him your first high school pick in the 4th round.
EK: He’s a guy we liked. We had people who liked him as high as the 2nd round or the competitive balance round. He’s an athletic kid. He’s got a good body to build on. We’ve seen him up to 95 mph. He’s got a good breaking ball and the changeup is advanced for a high school guy. There’s a lot to like. Those are the traits that the industry likes in high school pitchers. You get them into your system and hope to develop them, but there’s a lot of physical skill to like.
AF: Were you a little surprised that he was still available to you at that point?
EK: Yeah, we were and we were definitely happy that he was.
AF: Did you have a comp for Szynski?
EK: I honestly didn’t have a great one, but one of my scouts said Collin McHugh.
AF: In the 5th round, you went with former major leaguer John Shelby’s son, JaVon Shelby, a third baseman out of Kentucky. He’s considered a very toolsy guy, but I know he under-performed a bit with the bat last year.
EK: Yeah, he certainly didn’t have the year offensively that he wanted. But we saw him a lot this spring and we liked the approach and we liked his aggressiveness at the plate. We think there’s strength in there for power. Like you said, he’s very toolsy. He’s a plus runner with a plus arm. And he did a good job at third base. He’s played second base in the past. We think his skills line up in center field as well. That versatility is something that we value, and we think he’s got a chance to play a lot of positions well. And we think he’s got a chance to hit and hit with some power.
AF: So you think there are some real positional options for him going forward.
EK: Definitely, definitely.
AF: Did you have a comp for Shelby?
EK: Maybe kind of a Josh Harrison. He’s bigger than Josh Harrison, but maybe a Josh Harrison type of player.
AF: Well, Harrison definitely moves around the field like you mentioned. In the 6th round, you went back to pitching with right-hander Brandon Bailey from Gonzaga. He looks a bit like a Bowdien Derby clone from last year’s draft to me. How do you see him?
EK: Yeah, we made those comparsions with Derby as well. He’s obviously a shorter right-handed pitcher. But we’ve seen him up to 93-94 mph. We think he can really pitch. He’s got a good changeup. He just has a really good feel for what he’s doing and he’s obviously performed at a high level.
AF: He had some really nice strikeout numbers.
EK: Yep, he’s got a changeup that he gets swings and misses with and he’s got a slider that he gets swings and misses with. I think he had 17 strikeouts in the West Coast Conference tournament a couple of weeks ago.
AF: And is there anyone you’d compare him to, besides Bowdien Derby?
EK: I thought maybe Kris Medlen potentially.
AF: In the 7th round, you went back to a position player, center fielder Tyler Ramirez out of North Carolina. I know some scouts seemed to be a little divided on him, but he certainly seemed to put the numbers on the board. So what did you really like about him?
EK: Yeah, we think he can hit. That’s the thing that he can do. He can really hit. He’s an above-average runner, and we think he’s got a chance to stay in center field. But the thing that he brings is the bat, for sure.
AF: So you think he’s got the skills to possibly stick in center field though?
EK: We do. Yeah, we do.
AF: And who would you compare him to?
EK: Ramirez reminds me of David DeJesus.
AF: Well, you closed out the last few rounds with more pitching. In the 8th round, you took left-handed reliever Will Gilbert who was the closer at North Carolina State. What did you like about him?
EK: He’s a left-hander with three average-to-better pitches and a feel to use them. He’s performed at a high level. He’s the kind of guy, coming in out of the bullpen, who could move quickly in an organization.
AF: So it sounds like he’s going to stay in the bullpen then.
EK: Yeah, I would say so.
AF: In the 9th round, you went with another left-hander, Dalton Sawyer out of Minnesota. I know I’ve heard some people think he might ultimately profile better as a reliever, but what’s your view of him?
EK: Well, he’s another tall lefty. We’ve seen him up to 93-94 mph. He definitely had a good year as a starter this year and he’s going to go out as a starter. He’s a left-handed pitcher who’s physically imposing with velocity and a good changeup, so we’ll see where that takes him. One of my scouts said Sawyer reminded him of Jim Kaat. So if any of your readers remember Jim Kaat…
AF: Well I do anyway!
EK: I do too!
AF: In the 10th round, you took right-hander Mitchell Jordan from Stetson. I can’t honestly say that I know a whole lot about him, so I’ll leave it to you to tell me what I ought to know about Mitchell Jordan.
EK: Yeah, he can really pitch. He’s got kind of average stuff, but he can really pitch. In a lot of ways, he’s kind of a poor man’s Logan Shore. If you look at his Cape Cod League last summer, he had an incredible summer on the Cape. I saw him over a month into the season, maybe five weeks in, and I saw him give up his first earned run, and he’d been starting the whole time I was up there. So he can really pitch.
AF: So he sounds like one of those guys whose Cape Cod League performance really helped put him on the map.
EK: It really helped, yeah.
AF: Well, I guess at this point, you’ve signed 28 of your 41 picks. So you’ve been moving pretty fast, and I think you might even be a little bit ahead of last year’s pace.
EK: Yeah, I think we’re in a good spot, and it’s worked out so far so good in that regard.
AF: I wanted to ask you about your last two 1st-round picks. Last year was shortstop Richie Martin and the year before that was third baseman Matt Chapman. As a scouting director, how are you feeling about where those two guys are at at this stage of the game?
EK: Yeah, we’re really happy with both of them. They both had to endure some injury issues. Matt had some injuries last year, and Richie got hurt in spring training, which has slowed their development a little bit. But I think, where we sit now, they’ve basically done what he expected. In fact, they’ve probably exceeded what we expected in certain cases. Chapman has certainly hit with the power we expected and he’s shown flashes of the defense that we expected, and he’s performing in a high-level league now. And Richie, having just gotten started after being hurt in spring training, is off to a good start. And everything that those guys have brought, as far as character, makeup and work ethic, has only made us happier to have them. They’re just great kids and they’re both going to make the most of their ability.
AF: And now that the draft is finally over and you’re down to maybe just a dozen or so picks left to get in the fold, what’s next up on your agenda?
EK: Our scouts are already out getting ready for next year. There’s events that happen this week, national events, and then next week. So we just get back on the horse and start working for next year.
AF: Back out beating the bushes!
A’s 2016 Draft Class
1st LHP A.J. Puk (Florida), 1st Lottery RHP Daulton Jefferies (UC Berkeley), 2nd RHP Logan Shore (Florida), 3rd C Sean Murphy (Wright State), 4th RHP Skylar Szynski (Penn HS-IN), 5th 3B JaVon Shelby (Kentucky), 6th RHP Brandon Bailey (Gonzaga), 7th OF Tyler Ramirez (North Carolina), 8th LHP Will Gilbert (North Carolina St), 9th LHP Dalton Sawyer (Minnesota), 10th RHP Mitchell Jordan (Stetson)
11th SS Eli White (Clemson), 12th OF Luke Persico (UCLA), 13th 2B Nathan Mondou (Wake Forest), 14th RHP Nolan Blackwood (Memphis), 15th LHP Ty Damron (Texas Tech), 16th OF Anthony Churlin (Island Coast HS-FL), 17th RHP Seth Martinez (Arizona St), 18th C Skyler Weber (Georgia), 19th RHP Sam Gilbert (Kansas), 20th RHP Brigham Hill (Texas A&M)
21st OF Kyle Nowlin (Eastern Kentucky), 22nd C Roger Gonzalez (Winthrop), 23rd RHP Christian Lindsay-Young (Niagara CC), 24th OF Robert Bennie (East Stroudsburg), 25th OF Jeramiah McCray (Martin Luther King HS-CA), 26th 1B Charley Gould (William & Mary), 27th OF Cole Gruber (Nebraska-Omaha), 28th 2B Josh Vidales (Houston), 29th RHP Matt Milburn (Wofford), 30th RHP Nick Highberger (Creighton)
31st RHP Sam Sheehan (Westmont), 32nd C Collin Theroux (Oklahoma State), 33rd C Jarrett Costa (Westmont), 34th SS Casey Thomas (Texas A&M-Corpus Christi), 35th LHP Daniel Rafferty (Bucknell), 36th RHP Brady Schanuel (Parkland), 37th OF Michael Farley (Chico HS-CA), 38th OF Matthew Frazier (Clovis North HS-CA), 39th SS Shane Martinez (John W North HS-CA), 40th SS Brett Bittiger (Pace)
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