HOUSTON — Billy Beane hit the scouting trail harder than he has in years leading up to next week’s amateur draft.
That subjected the A’s top baseball executive to all the unpredictable developments that come with the scouting territory.
He flew to New York City and was looking forward to checking out a high school game in Albany, but before he caught his train the game was canceled due to weather. In early April, he was eager to watch Cal’s talented right-hander, Daulton Jefferies, but Jeffries suffered a calf injury while warming up and was a last-minute scratch.
“It’s one thing to go to Cal and be able to go back home,” Beane said. “It’s another to fly to New York and something happens.”
Those scenarios are all too familiar in the scouting world, and Beane was more hands-on this spring than usual in player evaluation leading up to the draft, which begins Thursday and runs three days.
Last October, when the A’s front office went through a reorganization in job titles, Beane said he hoped to get more deeply involved on the scouting and player development side. He became executive vice president of baseball operations and his top assistant, David Forst, took over general manager duties. And though their daily responsibilities haven’t changed much, Beane also knew he’d have more time to scout.
That was important leading up to this draft, as the A’s hold their highest first-round pick — No. 6 overall — since they took Mark Mulder with the No. 2 pick in 1998. In total, they have four picks in the top 83 — 6, 37, 47 and 83 — giving them a nice opportunity to continue bolstering a farm system that ranked 18th out of 30 teams in Baseball America’s preseason organizational ratings.
“It’s a lot more interesting looking at the top players in the country — the top 10 in the country — as opposed to the top 30,” Beane said. “It’s a better group of players and you’re able to be more specific on who (you’re targeting).”
The upper echelon of this year’s draft class is considered unusually deep in high school talent, particularly on the pitching side. But high school pitchers are also considered to carry the highest risk among draft picks.
The A’s could use more impact starting pitching throughout their system. Outfielders are few and far between when it comes to their best prospects too.
“The early view of (this year’s class) seems to be that it’s relatively deep from the first 35 through 50 guys, deeper than usual,” Beane said. “There’s not necessarily a clear-cut top guy, but that doesn’t mean the top guys aren’t real good. There appears to be some depth, at least as we see it, which is good in our situation.”
In its most recent mock draft, Baseball America predicted the A’s would take 6-foot-6 left-hander Jason Groome out of Barnegat (N.J.) High School, who touches the mid-90’s with his fastball and is considered to have an excellent curve. ESPN’s Keith Law has them taking Nick Senzel, a third baseman out of the University of Tennessee.
Worth keeping in mind about Groome — the A’s haven’t taken a prep pitcher with their top pick since Trevor Cahill in 2006 (he was a second-rounder, as the A’s didn’t have a first-round pick that year). And for those who think the presence of stud prospect Matt Chapman at third would sour the A’s on Senzel, remember that they drafted shortstop Richie Martin in the first round last year despite already having some other high-end prospects at the position.
Beane stressed the importance of taking the best talent available ahead of drafting for need, given how long it generally takes prospects to reach the majors. He also offered this thought regarding high school pitchers, though he was not addressing Groome specifically:
“There’s certainly some risk in certain age players at certain positions. But you also have to be careful not to make a blanket statement as it applies to everybody, otherwise you don’t get Clayton Kershaw.”