Following the five-round 2020 MLB First-Year Player Draft, MiLB.com takes an organization-by-organization look at each pick with help from team scouting executives.
Offense may be what sells, but as as the oft-quoted saying goes, "There is no such thing as too much pitching."
The A's went heavy on arms in the 2020 Draft, selecting three collegiate hurlers among their five picks. Of course, having a solid batterymate doesn't hurt either, so Oakland made sure to grab one of the best in high-school catcher Tyler Soderstrom with the 26th pick.
The unique challenges facing all teams this spring were no different for A's director of scouting Eric Kubota and his team of scouts.
"We try to be as comfortable as possible with our evaluations the summer before [the Draft]. The second one Draft is over; we're already working on the next one. The thing missing [this spring] was that last look which can help ease any anxiety we might have over a certain player. But [all teams] were in the same boat."
First Round: C Tyler Soderstrom (No. 26 overall)
Every pitcher needs a catcher, so why not grab one of the best available? Surely Oakland's thinking went a bit deeper than that, but it wasn't a tough decision when Soderstrom was still around at No. 26. The son of Giants' 1993 first-round pick Steve Soderstrom was expected to head across the bay to his father's old club, but when San Francisco went with Patrick Bailey, the A's pounced.
"We weren't expecting Tyler to be there at 26, but we're very happy he was," Kubota said. "I scouted his father all those years ago and having watched Tyler, it's apparent he learned a lot from the experiences his dad passed on. You could see the way he handled himself and the lessons he took come from someone who had professional experience. Tyler's very comfortable with himself and the spotlight, which gives you comfort in how he'll react when stepping on the field for the first time as a pro."
Ranked 19th among MLB.com's Top 200 Draft prospects, the 18-year-old played five games for Turlock High School before COVID-19 shut down his senior season. As a junior, Soderstrom batted .450/.565/.775 with four home runs, 17 extra-base hits and 27 RBIs in 28 games. The lefty-swinging backstop's offense is ahead of his defense, but should that become a concern, he has the athleticism and experience to play third base and the outfield.
Second Round: RHP Jeff Criswell (No. 58 overall)
The A's pivoted toward the pitcher's mound with Criswell, a 6-foot-4, 225-pounder who transitioned from reliever to starter last year and turned into one of the best No. 3 starters in college baseball. The University of Michigan product features a sinking 93- to 96-mph fastball and two solid secondary offerings in a low-80s slider and fading changeup. The No. 58 Draft prospect jumped up the boards after going 7-1 with a 2.72 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 106 innings in 2019.
Like Soderstrom, Criswell comes from a baseball background. Father Brian was Oakland's 17th-round Draft pick in 1984.
"Jeff's big, physical and he throws really hard," Kubota said. "He complements his fastball with some nasty breaking stuff that makes him incredibly hard to hit. He made the switch from the bullpen last year and we see him as a starter moving forward. Anyone with great arm strength and the plus secondary offerings is a starter until proven otherwise in our book."
Third Round: OF Michael Guldberg (No. 98 overall)
The Georgia Tech product doesn't have a professional bloodline to fall back on, but he does have the confidence of the A's, who foresee big things from their third-round pick. Although his name did not appear in the Top 200 rankings, Guldberg has intriguing bat-to-ball skills, which produced a career .374/.465/.459 slash line across 104 games in his three-year collegiate career. Although the 21-year-old won't hit for much power -- he had three homers and 19 extra-base hits with the Yellow Jackets -- he has good instincts at the plate and controls the strike zone well, evidenced by a 44-to-41 walk-to-strikeout ratio.
"Michael's a pure hitter and that's what we anticipate him doing from the start," Kubota said. "[Area scout] Jemel Spearman loved his style of play and was a real strong advocate of Michael's. He's athletic and a plus runner who played the corners for the most part in college, but we anticipate him moving over to center field when he begins his pro career. It's nice to know that he can play all three, though."
Fourth Round: RHP Dane Acker (No. 127 overall)
While Acker doesn't do any one thing that makes him stand out, the 21-year-old might be one of those picks who outperforms his talent because of his stature on the mound. Using a fastball that sits 91-92 but reaches 94, Acker won't overpower hitters, but he will outsmart them. The 21-year-old has above-average command and a solid curveball, although his cutter and changeup are still works in progress.
Acker began his collegiate career at Rice, but transferred to the University of Oklahoma this past year. The 6-foot-2, 189-pound hurler posted a 3.51 ERA with 28 strikeouts in 25 innings over four starts for the Sooners before the season was stopped. That included an 11-punchout no-hitter against LSU on March 1.
"Dane's an advanced pitcher who knows what he's doing out there," Kubota said. "He's got a projectable body and stuff we think will keep improving with time. He certainly impressed us [at the Shriners College Classic] in the spring with that no-no. A number of [Oakland scouts] were there and let's just it was duly noted."
Fifth Round: RHP Stevie Emanuels (No. 157 overall)
Oakland closed out their 2020 Draft by aiming high with a power arm. A slender 210 pounds despite his 6-foot-5 frame belies the heat Emanuels produces with a live, loose arm. The 21-year-old can run his fastball up to 95 mph while consistently sitting in the low-90s. The ball jumps out of Emanuels' hands, leading to late swings which produced 135 strikeouts in 121 2/3 innings at the University of Washington.
Emanuels was used exclusively as a reliever in 2019, when he posted a 2.35 ERA and 65 whiffs in 53 2/3 frames across 31 appearances. The Bellevue, Washington, native was virtually unhittable in his abbreviated 2020 campaign, sporting a microscopic 0.79 ERA in four starts while averaging 15.1 strikeouts per nine innings.
"We see a lot of similarities between Stevie and Dane," Kubota said. "Both are college guys who have that experience which helps in the transition to pro ball, plus the upside. We think Stevie is scratching the tip of the iceberg. His velocity has increased, and he threw exceptionally well last year [with Brewster in the Cape Cod League]. Obviously a small sample, but getting his first taste of starting at Washington and performing at a high level was impressive."
The emphasis on scouting, drafting and hitting on picks has always been a priority, but in the age of big-market vs. small-market teams, the stakes get higher. So it goes for Oakland.
With A's top prospect Jesus Luzardo and third-ranked A.J. Puk having little left to prove in the Minors and seemingly ready for full-time roles in the bigs, replenishing a system heavier on position-player prospects became imperative. Although Soderstrom is the one name who truly jumps out, the A's brought in some intriguing arms who have the potential to move quickly coming from the college ranks.
"We do all of our work early for a reason and we really had to rely on that this year," Kubota said. "Even with the changes in the Draft, we approached it like any other year. The strategy might be altered, but the process, preparation ... that doesn't change."
Michael Avallone is a writer for MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @MavalloneMiLB.