OAKLAND -- Thanks to another "Type A" free agent lost, the A's are once again primed to stock their Minor League system through today's draft.
Three years ago, when Jason Giambi jumped to the Yankees, Johnny Damon ran to the Red Sox and Jason Isringhausen cashed in with the Cardinals, the A's were left, through compensatory picks granted to teams that lose marquee free agents, with seven of the first 39 selections.
Two years ago, after Miguel Tejada bolted for Baltimore and Keith Foulke bailed for Boston, Oakland had five of the first 49 picks and six picks before the third round.
In 2005, with two extra early picks as a result of Damian Miller signing with the Brewers, the A's have the 21st, 36th and 55th picks overall and six picks before the cross-bay rival Giants make their first at 134.
"Because of the way we do business," general manager Billy Beane says in an obvious reference to the A's restrictive big league payroll, "this is probably a more crucial time for us than a lot of other clubs."
The early rounds are particularly key to the A's because that's where teams typically find their future studs. There are exceptions, of course. A's ace Tim Hudson, for instance, was a sixth-round pick in 1997, and New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza was drafted by the Dodgers in the 62nd round (1988) only as a family favor.
But by and large, if a team's going to make hay in the draft, it's going to make hay right away.
"We have to make sure we hit on our high picks," Beane said, "because that's where Major Leaguers come from."
ATHLETICS DRAFT HISTORY
Eric Chavez went 10th overall in the 1996 draft. Mark Mulder was the second overall pick in 1998. Barry Zito went ninth overall in 1999, and Bobby Crosby went 25th in 2001. Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton, rookies with Oakland this season, were high picks in 2002. And rookie reliever Huston Street was selected early in last June's draft.
"We do have a pretty good track record in that regard," Beane said.
The record also reveals that the A's don't always end up developing the talent they take in June. Jeremy Bonderman, now a part of the Tigers rotation, was picked by Oakland right behind Crosby in 2001 but was traded a year later in a deal that brought Ted Lilly and two prospects to the A's.
One of those prospects was later used to land Erubiel Durazo.
Mark Teahan, also part of Oakland's 2002 draft class, was dealt away last year in a three-team deal that brought Octavio Dotel to the A's.
"We've traded a lot of good young players in the past," Beane concedes. "But you have to give up something significant to get something of significance, and we've done pretty well in using the draft not only to get players we want for ourselves, but also to compile trading chips for down the road."
So with that philosophy in mind, don't expect the A's to shy away from any particular type of player this year.
Yes, they have Chavez locked up at third base for six more years, and Crosby recently signed a four-year extension, but if a hot-shot third baseman or shortstop is there when the A's are on the board early, they won't hesitate to take him.
"Very rare is the occasion that we draft for need," Beane explains. "And quality position players are very hard to find later in the draft."
That said, A's fans know very well that their team is built on pitching, and Beane makes a point to mention that power-hitting outfielders have been scarce in recent drafts.
Beane won't comment on any specific players, but it's no secret that he prefers college talent over prep prospects.
"We'll go after a high school position player with the right demographics. Do they go to school in a heavily populated area? Is the competition they face good? These are the questions we ask," said Beane, who was Oakland's assistant GM when the A's apparently got the answers they needed before plucking Chavez out of Mt. Carmel High in San Diego.
"But do we lean toward college kids?" Beane continues. "Sure. We like to get a return on our investment as quickly as possible."
LAST THREE TOP PICKS
Landon Powell, C, 2004, 24th: Powell, who batted .250 with three homers and 18 RBIs in 36 games last year at Single-A (short saeason) Vancouver, tore a ligament in his left knee while working out in the offseason. The injury required surgery, and Powell drafted out of the University of South Carolina, is out for the year.
Brad Sullivan, RHP, 2003, 25th: Sullivan, drafted out of the University of Houston, went 8-11 with a 4.65 ERA in 27 starts at Single-A Modesto in 2004 and was a non-roster invitee to Spring Training this year. He is currently rehabbing an arm injury at extended Spring Training.
Nick Swisher, OF/1B, 2002, 16th: Swisher, drafted out of Ohio State, tore up Triple-A ball last year and had a spot on the big league club virtually handed to him this spring. He recently came off the 15-day disabled list (separated shoulder) and has struggled this year when healthy, but the club projects him as its right fielder for the next several years.
Mychael Urban is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.