For the past 15 seasons, Eric Kubota has overseen the Oakland Athletics draft, and he has been part of the A’s organization for 33 seasons. The Cal alum spoke with me on Monday about the A’s latest draft class.
OaklandClubhouse: Thank you for taking the time to do this. We spoke at the end of day one of the draft about the first three picks, but thinking on the first six picks of the draft in general, is that how you expected the picks to go?
Eric Kubota: It’s hard to say. It’s really hard to handicap these days because teams are doing so many different things with their pools. Teams are trying to save money, in some cases, so they might be looking for guys that they might be able to sign for a little bit less to save money for a little later than the draft. It probably doesn’t go straight down how guys are ranked much of the time, because there are so many balls in play in terms of how every club wants to best use their pool.
OC: Obviously you guys had been scouting [top pick] Austin Beck for awhile and many of you had gone out to see him in person, but was there a moment where he really rose to the top of your list, or did that not really solidify until after his pre-draft workout at the Coliseum?
EK: He is impressive the first time you see him. We had scouts that had seen him early in the spring and were very high on the talent. I saw him for the first time probably in late March. He’s an impressive guy. It’s hard not to like him when you see him. With high school guys especially, you want to see them as many times as possible because you don’t have as much history. We scouted him a lot through the spring and just continued to like him. The workout was probably the cherry on top in the process.
OC: Third pick Greg Deichmann is still involved in the College World Series, so he can’t sign quite yet, but do you expect [second pick] Kevin Merrell to be a quick sign and report?
EK: Yeah, he has. There is probably going to be a big list of announcements [on Tuesday].
OC: You started off day two of the draft with a bang, taking high school shortstop Nick Allen, who had had some day one buzz going in. People I’ve spoken to rave about his defense. How would you rate his defense at shortstop with other high school players you have scouted?
EK: [laughs] That’s a good question. He’s certainly one of the best defensive shortstops that I’ve seen in a long time and I think anyone would say that. This kid is really gifted defensively. He’s super athletic, good instincts in the field and has plus arm strength. He has pretty much everything you’d want to see in a defensive player.
OC: In terms of hitting, obviously the body isn’t big, but it seems like he gets some gap power. Do you think he will be able to stretch defenses when he is in the professional ranks?
EK: Yeah. I definitely think he’s strong enough to keep defenses honest. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ran into a few homeruns. He’s certainly not big in terms of stature, but he’s strong. I actually saw him hit a homerun this year. He definitely has the strength to drive balls into the gaps and keep defenses honest.
OC: He’s expected to sign officially pretty soon, right?
EK: I think we feel pretty confident that he’ll sign, yeah.
OC: How does [fourth-round pick] Will Toffey compare to other third baseman that you have drafted lately?
EK: Will is just a really good baseball player. He can really swing the bat. He is playing third base this year and he’s definitely a third baseman in terms of that is where we drafted him at, but I can see him having enough versatility to play at other positions around the field at some point. He’s a really athletic kid and he can swing the bat. Offensively, he had one of the best performances of nearly any player in college baseball this year. He had a really good year and he’s a really good baseball player. Very instinctive. We like the bat. We like his chances to be a plus defender not only at third but maybe different places around the field, as well.
OC: When you are looking at that, are you thinking more first base and outfield, or middle infield?
EK: Yeah, I think he could play second base and in the outfield. But he’ll be a third baseman, certainly, for the near future.
OC: I didn’t find a lot of information on [fifth round pick] Santis Sanchez other than some basic profiles. He seems like a big kid with arm strength and some power. How does he fit into the system?
EK: There is a long history of very good catchers coming out of Puerto Rico. We see him fitting along that same vein. He is a big kid. He’s got a very, very strong arm. Well above-average in our evaluations. We think he has a feel for the bat with strength for power eventually.
OC: Is he a guy who would start off in the Dominican complex like some of the other Puerto Rican players that the team has selected in the past?
EK: No, he’ll be in Arizona.
OC: [Sixth-round pick] Logan Salow and [13th-round pick] Wyatt Marks both had huge seasons as relievers in college programs this year. Do you see them as potential fast-moving relievers in the pros?
EK: That’s possible. We do think actually that both of them could start in professional baseball. Salow, in particular, we had a number of scouts see him and really love his fastball-slider combination. He is left-handed and you could easily see him in that lefty specialist role. But we do think that he has have a chance to start, as well.
OC: [Seventh-round pick and Wake Forest RHP] Parker Dunshee, you see him as a starter, right?
EK: Yes, definitely.
OC: What kind of improvements did he make this season that grabbed your team’s attention?
EK: I think, more than anything, it was consistency. We liked Parker last year, as well, and then he went out and had a great year. He’s the kind of guy who you like the more you see him. We have a couple of scouts who are Wake Forest alums. Getting to see him as much as we did, we continued to grow an appreciation of his game.
OC: [Eighth-round pick] Brian Howard could be a small forward at 6’9’’. He doesn’t seem like a particularly hard thrower, but do you think his height allows him to get enough extension to make his fastball play up?
EK: I think there is some deception there. I don’t know that he doesn’t throw hard. He throws 90 miles per hour, so he throws hard enough. He has four pitches and he definitely has the height to create deception. We think he has a chance to be a very good starting pitcher.
OC: [Ninth-round pick] Jared Poche’ has had a fantastic career for LSU. Where do you see him fitting into the system?
EK: We think he can be a starter for as long as it goes. Anytime you have a left-hander who knows how to pitch, you tend to think about bullpen in the end, but we think he has a chance to start. He’s always been a starting pitcher. He’s been one of the Tigers’ best starting pitchers on the weekends. There’s a lot to say for just being successful at one of the best college programs in the country.
OC: There were a number of pitchers that you took in this draft that performed well for big-time college programs in conferences like the ACC and the SEC. Do you think that lets them get off to a good start as professionals because of the experience they have had against competition like that?
EK: Definitely nothing is going to phase them about professional baseball. They have already performed in front of big crowds in high-pressure situations. That’s certainly a leg up for them.
OC: Garrett Mitchell tweeted that he was going to go to UCLA, and he had indicated that that was his preference prior to the draft. What was the strategy in selecting him in the 14th round? Was it to have a conversation with him, or did you think there was a chance to get him to sign at that spot?
EK: We really, really like Garrett and his ability. It was just a situation where we figured we would take him there. We knew what he was thinking in terms of what it would take for him to sign, and we knew we probably wouldn’t have that, but you never know what is going to happen with your higher round picks in the draft. If something unforeseen would have happened, at least you have a back-up.
OC: [18th-round pick] Mickey McDonald was originally from the Bay Area, although he played his college ball at UIC. It seemed like he was a rising draft prospect before he missed that year dealing with thoracic outlet syndrome. Do you feel like he might be a sleeper at the spot that you took him?
EK: We hope so. Our area scout and our supervisor out there both liked his athleticism and his tools and thought there might be some upside there. We are looking forward to seeing what happens.
OC: [20th-round pick] Osvaldo Berrios was another high school selection from Puerto Rico. Do you expect him to sign?
EK: We do. In fact, he will be on that official list [on Tuesday].
OC: Is he a candidate to come to Arizona?
EK: Yes. He’ll report to Arizona.
OC: Do you think high school catcher Nate Webb [26th round] will sign?
EK: I think there is an outside chance. I think we think he wants to sign. It’s just a matter of whether the money will match up. Beyond that, I think we think most of those kids that we took with the exception of maybe Mitchell or Webb are going to sign all the way down until maybe the 37th or so round.
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