A's approach draft from different angle
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Programming note: A's-White Sox coverage begins today at 4:30 p.m. with A's Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California

The A's success last season -- 94 wins and an American League West title -- means they draft later this year. Their first-round pick is slotted at No. 24 overall. And with the First-Year Player Draft beginning today, it is the latest the A's have held their first pick since 2007, when the then-defending division champs went 26th a year after appearing in the A.L. Championship Series.

It's a good problem to have, really.

"It's a by-product of a good thing," said A's general manager Billy Beane. "You have to prepare a little different for a player who may or may not be there. There will be some good players there (at No. 24), but you're dealing with a larger pool of players.

"With all the publications that are out there, you have a pretty decent idea, about 80 percent, of which players are going to be there. So we're not flying without a net."

In fact, the A's have a relatively few three picks in the first two rounds, with selections also at No. 63 and No. 71. A year ago, they had five picks in the first two rounds. Rounds 1 and 2 are Thursday with rounds 3 through 10 on Friday and rounds 11 through 40 on Saturday.

Last year's top pick -- shortstop Addison Russell -- was a shocking change of pace for the A's in that he was the first high school player Oakland selected with its first pick in the first round since Eric Chavez in 1996, or, a year before Beane became the A's G.M. (Trevor Cahill was the A's first-pick in 2006, but he was selected in the second round as Oakland lost it first-rounder to Washington as compensation for signing free agent Esteban Loaiza away from the Nationals).

Under the Moneyball mantra, the A's like college players as they are seemingly more big league ready.

Consider: four of their five most recent draft picks are one step away  from the Show at triple-A Sacramento in infielders Jemile Weeks (2008), who has already had a run in Oakland, and Grant Green (2009), outfielder Michael Choice (2010) and right-hander Sonny Gray (2011) while Russell is at Class A Stockton.

Still, not a single one of the A's position players currently on the big league roster are homegrown, and only three pitchers -- Sean Doolittle, who was drafted as a first baseman (2007, supplemental first round), Dan Straily (2009, 24th round) A.J. Griffin (2010, 13th round) -- were drafted by the A's.

By comparison, seven years ago, when the A's were winning their previously most recent division title, four of their regular position players were draft picks -- first baseman Dan Johnson, third baseman Chavez, shortstop Bobby Crosby and outfielder Nick Swisher -- as were four of their pitchers -- Barry Zito, Rich Harden, Joe Blanton and Huston Street.

The A's draft board is top secret, obviously, so which way do the A's lean that late in the first round -- best talent available, or draft for organizational need?

"I've been doing this for 16 years, this is my 17th year as a G.M., and I think you'll spend 364 days saying 'best player available,'" Beane said with a laugh. "But when that day comes, it's a challenge to stay disciplined with that approach."

Besides, as Beane pointed out, oftentimes, a first-round selection in baseball especially can satisfy both need and best talent available.

In its mock draft, "Baseball America" has the A's going the college route again by taking Samford University center fielder Phillip Ervin (pictured), a 5-feet-10, 205-pounder who batted .337 with 11 home runs, 40 RBI, 21 stolen bases, 58 runs scored and a .459 on-base percentage in 55 games for the Bulldogs this spring.

"Athletic college players who can hit are a rare commodity so getting Cape Cod League MVP Ervin here would be a coup," Baseball America reported of the A's in its draft preview issue. "Oakland may also find it hard to resist high school lefthander Matt Krook, who flashes front-of-the rotation stuff, from nearby San Francisco."

MLB Network also listed its top 50 prospects and Nos. 21 through 30 in ascending order are: Ervin, Bandys High (NC) right-hander Hunter Harvey, Lexington High (SC) catcher Nick Ciuffo, Fresno State outfielder Aaron Judge, East Central Community College shortstop Tim Anderson, Oaks Christian High (CA) right-hander/first baseman Phil Bickford, Stanford outfielder Austin Wilson, Mississippi State outfielder Hunter Renfroe, LSU right-hander Ryan Eades and Mississippi right-hander Bobby Wahl.

And for what it's worth, per MLB.com, "the A's have a total of $6,036,800 to spend in the first 10 rounds, with $1,893,500 to give their first selection. All other picks will earn a signing bonus of less than a million."