For the second year in a row, the A’s surprised the baseball world by selecting a high school hitter with their first pick in the amateur draft. Last year’s top pick, Addison Russell, has generated an awful lot of enthusiasm from both inside and outside the organization, and now this year’s top pick, outfielder Billy McKinney, will be getting his chance to make his mark.
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 a week after the draft, and just hours after top pick Billy McKinney’s signing was officially announced. At the time we spoke, the A’s had signed 7 of their top 12 picks, but Kubota expressed confidence that the remaining 5 would all be in the fold before long. Since it’s a busy time for Kubota, we were happy that he took the time to give A’s Farm his take on the A’s main man, McKinney, along with all the team’s other top 12 draft picks from the first 10 rounds of the 2013 draft.
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AF: I wanted to start out by asking you about last year’s draft class. Of course, the golden child, Addison Russell, has gotten most of the attention out of that group of guys. But I was wondering if there’s anyone else from last year’s draft who stands out for you and kind of warms your heart?
EK: Well, there are a few candidates for that. I think I would start with Daniel Robertson, who we obviously took high in the draft, but he’s performed very well with the bat and he’s played shortstop at a very high level, which has been a surprise for us. So that’s certainly something that was kind of unexpected for us – that he would be able to play that position as well as he has. Beyond that, obviously we’re happy with where Matt Olson is in his development. And John Wooten, who was a very late pick, has performed very well in Beloit and he’s kind of validated our signing him. He was a guy we saw in the Cape Cod League a couple of summers ago, and he played really well up there. He had a rough spring last spring, but he’s gone out and played very well. On the pitchers’ side, there were a few senior pitchers we took later in the draft – Ryan Dull and Tucker Healy – both of whom have performed very well in the Beloit bullpen. So, all in all, we’re really excited about last year’s draft class.
AF: Well, it seems like it’s been panning out pretty well so far. So was there anything unique about this year’s draft for you? How would you characterize it in general?
EK: Well, I think it shook out where we took a lot of pitching in the first 10 rounds – and you can never have too much of that. And just the way the draft fell presented us with a lot of opportunities as far as pitchers. So, if anything, I would say that probably characterized our draft class as much as anything.
AF: So I wanted to get your take on your top 12 picks from the first 10 rounds. Your top pick, Billy McKinney, signed earlier today, and was actually out at the Coliseum taking batting practice today. So tell me what made you really fall in love with this guy?
EK: Well, the first thing you fall in love with with Billy is his bat. We really, really love the way this kid swings the bat. It’s rare when, across the whole scouting staff, everybody agrees about the quality of the kid’s bat. So that’s the first thing that jumps out at you. You know, I’ve said it before, I think there are some similarities to Mark Kotsay – and if that’s how he ends up, I think we’d all be happy.
AF: Were you there to see his batting practice session earlier today?
EK: Yes, I was, and he did very well. He swung the bat really well and carried himself really well. He hit in the same group as Yoenis Cespedes, so that’s not an easy thing for any young kid to do, but he handled himself well.
AF: So he wasn’t intimidated at all, huh?
EK: No, no, he swung the bat well.
AF: Your second pick was Dillon Overton, the big left-hander out of Oklahoma. He hasn’t signed yet, but what put him so high on your target list?
EK: Well, Dillon Overton can really pitch. He’s got a history of high strikeout numbers and low walks. He’s just a left-hander with good stuff who knows how to pitch, and we were very happy that he was there in that spot. Coming into the year, there were a lot of people who probably rated him higher than Jonathan Gray, who went third in the country, and deservedly so.
AF: What pitches is he working with right now?
EK: A fastball, a slider and a changeup – all of which have a chance to be above average when everything’s right.
AF: And he’s not signed at this point, right?
EK: He’s not, but we feel comfortable that something should be coming down the pike fairly quickly.
AF: Your third overall pick was Chad Pinder, the infielder out of Virginia Tech, who’s signed. What did you like most about him, were you surprised that he was still available to you at that point – because I kow he was pretty highly-ranked – and what do you foresee for him position-wise?
EK: Yeah, we were pleasantly surprised that he was still there when we picked him. And what we liked about him is he really can swing the bat – that’s the first thing with him that we really liked. We think he can hit. He’s played third base predominantly in his career but moved over to shortstop this year and did a good job there. And I think we’re going to let him go out at shortstop and see if he can establish himself at that position. We think he has the physical tools to do it.
AF: With him, Robertson and Russell, you’re certainly going to have some depth at shortstop in the low minors anyway!
AF: Well, that’s never a bad thing! Your fourth pick was Ryon Healy, who hasn’t signed yet. He’s a big college kid out of Oregon who’s played both first base and third base, but I’m assuming what you really liked about him was his bat.
EK: Yeah, we really liked the bat. He’s always performed with the bat. He’s always had the strength for power, and this year it finally translated into home run numbers. We do think he has the physical ability to play third base, and we’ll probably give him an opportunity to try and do that. But first and foremost, he’s a big right-handed power bat who profiles at the corner positions.
AF: Is there anyone you would compare him to?
EK: I would say Billy Butler possibly.
AF: Your fifth overall pick was left-hander Chris Kohler out of southern California, who’s signed. There aren’t normally a lot of high school pitchers too high on your list. So what was it about him that made you want to take a high school pitcher that high up this time around?
EK: He’s a classic projection high-school left-hander who flashes above-average stuff now. And in our opinion, it’s just a matter of physical maturation and development where it’s going to be consistently plus stuff. He’s been up to 93 mph. He can really spin a breaking ball. We really think there’s a high ceiling with Chris.
AF: Your sixth pick was right-hander Dylan Covey out of San Diego, who’s signed. He was a 1st-round draft pick coming out of high school a few years ago, but he found out he had diabetes and decided to go to college rather than sign with the Brewers, and now you were able to pick him up a little lower in the draft. So given his whole history, how do you view him at this point?
EK: We scouted him a lot when he was in high school, when he was a 1st-round pick. We liked him a lot back then. In the time since then, he’s had to learn how to deal with his diabetes, which was really a new situation for him. He didn’t have any clue about that before that physical. But we’ve seen him, and his stuff is starting to get back to what we saw in high school. I think it’s a combination of him learning how to manage his diabetes and just gaining some additional confidence. But we think it’s a situation where we got potentially a 1st-round talent in the 4th round, and we’re really happy about that.
AF: Your seventh pick was right-hander Bobby Wahl out of Ole Miss. He’s not signed at this point, but tell me what you liked about him.
EK: He’s just a big physical kid with a good arm – up to 95-96 mph. He’s been a starter in arguably the best college league in the country – the SEC – and he’s been a Friday night starter in that league. He’s got a big arm with a good breaking ball. We’ll send him out as a starter and see what happens. But if he ends up in the back of the bullpen, that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world either.
AF: What’s the likelihood of him signing?
EK: We feel confident that all these guys will be signed hopefully within the next few weeks.
AF: Your eighth pick was another college right-hander, Kyle Finnegan, out of Texas, who hasn’t signed yet either.
EK: Same situation – we’re really close on getting that done. He’s an athletic right-hander. He’s been a starter and a reliever in college. We’ve seen him up to 97 mph with a good slider. And he’s just a big arm in the system. I was just thinking today that he kind of reminds me a little bit of Grant Balfour.
AF: Really, is he crazy?
EK: No comment (laughs).
AF: Your ninth pick was another right-hander, Dustin Driver, a high school pitcher who hasn’t actually signed yet but has expressed a strong desire to forego UCLA and sign.
EK: Same situation – we feel comfortable about him and hope to have that done relatively shortly. He’s a physical high school right-hander – we’ve seen him up to 95 mph with a good slider. There was kind of a common theme amongst a lot of these pitchers. We took physical kids with big arms. And we’re going to turn them all over to (minor league pitching coordinator) Scott Emerson and the rest of our pitching coaches and our player development system and see what happens.
AF: Your tenth pick was a hitter, surprisingly enough, Tyler Marincov out of Florida, who’s signed. So what made you want to break that string of pitchers and go with an outfielder?
EK: Well, we need some guys to play the outfield behind those pitchers. But he’s an athletic kid. He performed both from a power standpoint and a speed standpoint at North Florida. He’s just a good athlete with upside and performance.
AF: Is there anyone you’d compare him to?
EK: I’m blanking now – the guy from Arkansas back in the late ’80s and early ‘90s…
AF: Kevin McReynolds?
EK: Exactly, Kevin McReynolds!
AF: Okay, your last couple of picks on Day 2 of the draft were both college left-handers. Matt Stalcup was your eleventh overall pick. He’s signed, but he didn’t come out of a big school in Kansas, so what got him on the radar for you?
EK: He’s just a left-hander with a fastball in the ‘90s and a good breaking ball with a very good history of missing bats and striking guys out. He’s from a smaller school, but a couple of our scouts got to see him and were very impressed with his stuff, and we were happy to get him.
AF: Your twelfth and final pick on Day 2 was Jerad Grundy, a left-hander out of Kentucky, who’s signed. What made you want to get him before Day 2 was through?
EK: He’s just a polished performer who knows how to use his stuff and has a history of getting guys out.
AF: Is there anyone you’d compare him to?
EK: Yeah, on Grundy, I’m going to go with Curt Young.
AF: Well, that’s a good one! Okay, just a couple of quick questions on this top 12 group of picks. So do you feel confident that, at the end of the day, you’re going to end up with all these guys in the fold?
EK: We do.
AF: And are all these pitchers we’ve talked about likely to start out as starters?
EK: I would think all those guys will begin their careers as starting pitchers.
AF: And all the hitters we’ve discussed, except McKinney, are college guys. So would you assume all those college hitters will most likely be starting out in Vermont?
EK: Probably, yeah. I would say that it’s most likely that’s where they will start.
AF: And what about the pitchers?
EK: I would say the two high school kids (Chris Kohler and Dustin Driver) will probably be in Arizona, and the college guys will likely be in Vermont.
AF: So we’re expecting all these college guys are headed to Vermont and all these high school guys are going to end up in Arizona.
EK: Yeah, I would say that’s safe to assume.
AF: Well, hopefully Billy McKinney does well in Arizona and pulls an Addison Russell for you this year!
EK: Yeah, that’d be nice!
AF: Well, good luck and thanks a lot!
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