After selecting a good number of high school players over the past few years, the A’s returned to their old, familiar ways in this year’s draft, taking college players with nine of their top ten picks. The A’s took a pair of college shortstops with their top two selections. Top pick Richie Martin is a multi-talented, speedy, young shortstop out of Florida who’s still just 20 years old, while 21-year-old Mikey White is a solid-hitting shortstop out of Alabama.
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 and Matt Chapman in 2014. And this year, we were eager to get his insights on #1 pick Richie Martin, as well as the rest of the A’s top ten picks of 2015.
When we spoke with Kubota, exactly one week after the start of this year’s draft, the A’s had signed eight of their top ten picks, with Richie Martin and Skye Bolt the only members of the top ten still remaining unsigned. Since then, although the A’s haven’t officially announced it, Jim Callis has reported that the A’s have come to terms with Bolt. Meanwhile, Martin’s signing will have to wait until he’s completed play in the College World Series.
AF: Well, first of all, you guys took an awful lot of college players in this year’s draft – you only took five high school guys out of your forty picks. Was that just a function of the talent that was available or was there any other thinking involved there?
EK: I think it was just more the way the draft pool was set. I think it was pretty well known that it was more of a college-heavy draft. So it certainly was not a conscious decision to necessarily take more college guys than high school guys.
AF: Now your top pick Richie Martin, the shortstop out of Florida, was a college junior, but he’s young for a junior at just 20 years old. What was it about him that impressed you so much that you wanted to make him your 1st-round pick, and did his relatively young age help influence your thinking about him?
EK: Yeah, his age definitely was a factor. He’s really less than two years older than some of the high school prospects we’re talking about and has three years of playing in the SEC, so it was certainly a factor. Richie’s a super athletic kid. He’s got outstanding defensive ability. He’s got the arm for the position, and we think the bat is ever improving. He performed very well with the bat in the Cape Cod League and in the SEC this year. We think he’s a very strong defensive shortstop, he can really run, and we think the bat is going to play in the major leagues.
AF: What would you say his single best tool is?
EK: His single best tool is probably his speed – he can really run – and just a little behind that would be his defensive ability.
AF: So is there anyone you might compare him to?
EK: Yeah, I thought about this because I know you always like to ask about it. For Richie, the guy he idolizes and the guy he does have some similarities to – I don’t want to say he is this person – but his idol is Derek Jeter, and there are a lot of parallels that you can make. I’m not saying he’s going to be Derek Jeter, but he has that kind of profile.
AF: So let’s just say he’s Derek Jeter-ish!
EK: I also thought a little bit about Barry Larkin, but I think Larkin probably has more power.
AF: I remember Barry Larkin was always the comp for Addison Russell.
EK: Yeah, that might end up being a pretty good comp.
AF: With your 2nd-round pick, you went back to another college shortstop with Mikey White out of Alabama. He seems to have a pretty advanced bat at this stage of the game. There’s been some talk that maybe he profiles a little better as a second baseman. So tell me what you think about him with the bat and also what you think about him in the field.
EK: Yeah, he’s a very advanced hitter. He performed well in the SEC. Both he and Richie Martin, we’ve seen them since they were in high school. So he’s a guy we’ve seen a lot of over the years. Mikey’s always been able to hit. He’s got some strength. We think there’s power there that’s in play now and more power to develop. And from a defensive standpoint, we think, with his hands, he’ll be able to play shortstop in the major leagues.
AF: So as far as you’re aware, the plan is to keep him at shortstop for the foreseeable future?
EK: Yep, you’re going to see both those guys at shortstop.
AF: And who would you compare him to?
EK: For Mikey White, I thought he’s kind of like a Rich Aurilia type at shortstop – a very steady defender at shortstop with some power.
AF: Now with your 3rd-round pick, you took your only high school player in the top ten rounds, Dakota Chalmers, the tall right-hander out of Georgia. So tell me what it was that made you want to make him your first high school pick of the draft?
EK: When we evaluated Dakota, it was as a near 1st-round pick – that was our evaluation of him. He’s another guy we’ve seen a lot of over the summer and through the spring. We’ve seen him up to 95-96 mph, and we think he’s got a plus curveball – a strikeout, out-pitch type of curveball – and really an advanced feel for the changeup for a high school kid. So his stuff is top notch, and we think there’s physical projection left for him. Like I said, he was a guy going into the draft that we kind of saw as a near 1st-round type of guy.
EK: It’s hard to say. There are lots of different factors that go into making decisions for thirty different teams. It may have been signability at one point or another.
AF: Well, it sounds like you made him an offer he couldn’t refuse [reportedly a signing bonus of $1.2 million].
AF: He does seem rather advanced for a high schooler though. Do you look at him as a guy who could move fairly quickly for a young kid?
EK: I think we’re expecting him to be in Arizona for this year, and then we’ll just let things play out.
AF: Any comparisons for him?
EK: Chalmers I kind of likened to Clay Buchholz. Physically they’re similar, and they have the same kind of stuff.
AF: He’s pretty much a real tall, skinny guy, right?
EK: Right, exactly.
AF: Your 4th-round pick was one of the best names in the draft, Skye Bolt out of North Carolina. He’s a switch-hitter and a center fielder and he seems to profile like a lot of the hitters you targeted – some power and some plate discipline. So, besides his name, tell me what it was that you liked about Skye Bolt?
EK: He’s full of ability, first and foremost. I mean, talent-wise, he’s a 1st-round talent if you just look at the tools. It was to our advantage that he didn’t have the kind of year offensively, at least average-wise, that he’d hoped to have, and I think that kind of pushed him down in the draft. But from a physical talent standpoint, he has 1st-round ability.
AF: And who would you compare him to?
EK: The guy I thought of, it’s not a really great physical comp, but I think the kind of player he could be is kind of a Jim Edmonds type – very good defense in center field with power.
AF: Moving out of the southeast, your 5th-round pick was your first lefty. And everyone loves a lefty, so tell me what it was that you guys loved about Kevin Duchene out of Illinois?
EK: He’s got solid stuff – we’ve seen him up to 92 mph with a good breaking ball and changeup. He’s got an advanced feel for how to use his stuff. If you just look at the success he had at Illinois, he obviously knows how to pitch. We think we know the kid well. We think that he can really pitch, he’s got good stuff, and the kid’s solid.
AF: It seems like a lot of these pitchers you guys took have really impressive walk-to-strikeout ratios and have really good command, and he seems to fit right into that profile as well.
EK: Right, right. As an organization, we’ve discussed that a little bit. It doesn’t get any easier to throw strikes as the strike zone gets smaller as you move up.
AF: Do you have a comp for him?
EK: Potentially Jimmy Key for Duchene – kind of an average-sized left-hander who can really pitch.
AF: Now your 6th-rounder was your first west coast pick, RHP Bowdien Derby out of San Diego State.
AF: Yeah, I found him on Twitter as “Bubba Derby.” He was one of two guys out of San Diego State you took in the first ten rounds. I think he led the conference in strikeouts, so I guess it’s easy to tell what you like about him, but tell me a little bit more about Bubba Derby.
EK: He’s kind of an average-height guy, and I think that probably pushed him down a little bit. There generally can be a bias against that in scouting. But just based on his ability and his stuff, and what he did with his stuff, we were certainly happy that we could get him in the 6th round when we got him. Obviously, he can throw strikes and he can miss bats, which are two things we value highly. We’ve seen him up to 93 mph. I’ve heard from other people that he was up in the high-90s as a closer, but we saw him up to 93 as a starter.
AF: So is his fastball the main thing that guys are missing?
EK: Yeah, it’s the fastball, but he also has a really good changeup.
AF: Well, that always helps! Now you went with another west coast guy in the 7th round, RHP Kyle Friedrichs out of Long Beach State. He seems to have really exceptional command. I think he had 12 walks and 109 strikeouts. So obviously he must have a clue what he’s doing on the mound, but tell me what you saw in him.
EK: Exactly, it’s kind of a common thing among these guys. We think that their stuff is solid, and these guys are all high performers with things we value. He had very low walk rates and very high strikeout rates, so he fits right in with that. We really think he has exceptional fastball command. And if there’s one characeteristic you need to be able to pitch in the major leagues it’s being able to command the fastball.
AF: So in the 8th round, you took your first catcher, another middle-of-the-diamond player – like all these guys in your top ten picks. So tell me what you like about Nick Collins as a hitter and also how he profiles behind the plate.
EK: Well, first and foremost, we think he can hit. He’s a big, physical kid. He’s a left-handed hitter. He’s got a very strong arm. I think his receiving skills are a little bit behind those two skills right now. But we’re very confident that he has the ability to evolve into a solid catcher.
AF: I guess anytime you can find a left-handed hitting catcher with a strong arm it probably piques your interest.
EK: Yeah, I mean, he can catch the baseball. But catching in professional baseball is just so different than at a high school or college level. There’s so much more asked of catchers, so there’s so much more development that goes into catchers, probably more so than almost any other position because it’s so different. But we like his hands, and we think he’s going to develop into a very good defensive catcher.
EK: Prior to this year, he pitched mostly out of the bullpen for them. I think his role had kind of shifted around in previous years. He’d pitched primarily out of the pen and made some spot starts, but his stuff jumped up this year and he really established himself as a Friday night guy for Liberty. Also, it’s a common theme, but he threw strikes, he missed bats and he performed really well with solid stuff. I sound like a broken record!
AF: Well, I guess we know what you’re looking for anyway! Now in the 10th round, you went with another up-the-middle guy, center fielder Steven Pallares, who was the second player you took out of San Diego State. He seems to be another guy with some pop and some plate discipline, so tell me a little bit more about him.
EK: Yeah, he’s unique for a college senior in that we think that there’s an upside left to him. We think we may be just seeing the tip of the iceberg with this kid. It’s unusual to talk about a senior draft pick that way, but that’s kind of how we see him.
AF: And how do you feel about him defensively in center field?
EK: We think he’s got the ability to stay in center. But he also has the ability to play all three of the outfield positions. He’s played some infield and has some versatility. I think we’re just going to see how things shake out with his development and see where he best fits as time goes on.
AF: So it’s my understanding that all your top ten picks have signed except for Skye Bolt and Richie Martin. Of course, Richie Martin has been in the College World Series, but are you anticipating having all of your top ten picks in the fold before long?
EK: Yes, I think we’re very close to finishing things up with Skye hopefully this week. And then with Richie, we obviously have to wait until after the World Series is over.
AF: And I think you’ve signed 27 of the 40 guys so far. So it seems like you’ve moved pretty quickly and taken care of business pretty fast this year.
EK: We did a lot of leg work before the draft. So it made things easier once the draft ended.
AF: And I imagine we’re probably going to see most of these college pitchers from the first ten rounds going to Vermont this year.
EK: Yeah, they will all go to Arizona to begin with, because we do our medical stuff and we do our orientation. And then we have to evaluate where they are in their throwing programs. Some of these guys haven’t thrown for three weeks, so we’ve got to get them back into shape before sending them out. But ultimately, yeah, most of them will be in Vermont for the bulk of the summer.
AF: That’s what I expected. By the way, does part of the orientation these days include “what not to say on Twitter?”
EK: [Laughter] I think that starts long before they get to us! But we certainly do talk to them about things like that, and we talk to them about it repeatedly!
AF: Obviously, the draft is the centerpiece of your year. But now that we’re about a week removed from the draft, besides talking to people like me, what’s your time primarily taken up with now?
EK: We’re putting 2015 in the books, and we’re getting ready for 2016. Next week, I’m going to an event that’s going to feature players for 2016. But there’s a big event going on this week that we have scouts at. It really doesn’t stop. We start up almost immediately.
AF: So nobody’s taking off and going on vacation the week after the draft?
EK: Not really. We’re taking a little time to catch our breath and then we’re back at it!
AF: Well, thanks for taking some of that time to talk with us!
A’s 2015 Draft Class
#1 Richie Martin SS (Florida), #2 Mikey White SS (Alabama), #3 Dakota Chalmers RHP (HS-GA), #4 Skye Bolt CF (North Carolina), #5 Kevin Duchene LHP (Illinois), #6 Bowdien Derby RHP (San Diego State), #7 Kyle Friedrichs RHP (Long Beach State), #8 Nick Collins C (Georgetown), #9 Jared Lyons LHP (Liberty), #10 Steven Pallares OF (San Diego State)
#11 James Terrell OF (HS-CA), #12 Chris Iriart 1B (Houston), #13 Brett Siddall OF (Canisius), #14 Boomer Biegalski RHP (Florida State), #15 Ryan Howell 2B (Nevada-Reno), #16 Dustin Hurlbutt RHP (Tabor), #17 Brent Wheatley RHP (USC), #18 Brett Sunde C (Western Michigan), #19 Seth Brown 1B (Lewis-Clark St), #20 James Naile RHP (Alabama-Birmingham)
#21 Andrew Tomasovich LHP (Charleston Southern), #22 Brady Bramlett RHP (Mississippi), #23 Eric Senior OF (HS-ON), #24 Heath Bowers RHP (Campbell), #25 Evan Manarino LHP (Irvine), #26 Jordan Devencenzi C (Nevada-Reno), #27 Xavier Altamirano RHP (Oral Roberts), #28 Marc Berube RHP (Pittsburgh), #29 Armando Ruiz RHP (Alabama State), #30 Brendan Butler RHP (Dowling)
#31 John Gorman RHP (Boston College), #32 Michael Murray RHP (Florida Gulf Coast), #33 Mike Martin CF (Harvard), #34 Shane Conlon 1B (Kansas State), #35 Tim Proudfoot SS (Texas Tech), #36 Troy Rallings RHP (Washington), #37 Andy Cox LHP (Tennessee), #38 Chris Cullen C (HS-GA), #39 Gregory Fettes C (Kentucky), #40 Nick Maton SS (HS-IL)
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