06/07/2004 11:13 PM ET
A's go to college for first-rounders
Catcher Powell, outfielder Robnett go 24th, 26th overall
By Mychael Urban / MLB.com
|Landon Powell led the Gamecocks to the College World Series in 2002 and 2003. (courtesy U. of South Carolina)
OAKLAND -- Two years after surprising the baseball world by using a top draft pick to select a college catcher known for little more than what even their own scouts called a "bad body," the A's on Tuesday went a similar route with their first pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft.
Picking 24th overall with what was the first-round pick of the Red Sox before Boston signed former A's closer Keith Foulke as a free agent in the offseason, Oakland selected Landon Powell, a switch-hitting catcher out of the University of South Carolina.
With their own first-round selection, the 26th pick overall, the A's took Richie Robnett, a center fielder from Fresno State University.
Brown's unlikely ascension to first-round status was documented in the best-seller "Moneyball," and while Powell draws comparisons to Brown, whom the A's grabbed out of the University of Alabama with the 35th overall pick in 2002, there are significant differences.
One is that Powell was on some other teams' radar as a potential top pick, while Brown wasn't even a blip to most teams. Another is that Powell ditched his "bad body" label well before the draft.
Powell, who said he's 6-foot-4 and "will always be a big guy," was tipping the scales at about 260 after his junior season at South Carolina, but he spent the offseason working out with the Gamecocks' strength trainer and improved his eating habits in preparation for his senior year.
"Most of it had to do with changing my diet," Powell said, adding that he's down to 234 pounds. "I made a conscious effort to eat the right things and at the right times."
The work clearly paid off. Powell is leading the Gamecocks in batting (. 339), home runs (19) and RBIs (64), with a .641 slugging percentage and a .425 on-base percentage through Tuesday as they prepare for the NCAA Division I Super Regionals this weekend.
"If you look at him now," said Eric Kubota, Oakland's scouting director, "you'd never have any questions about his body."
One of three finalists for the Johnny Bench Award, which honors the nation's top collegiate catcher, Powell was named an All-America selection this season by USA Today Sports Weekly, as well as landing first team All-Southeastern Conference honors for the second straight season.
U of South Carolina
Position: C B/T: S/R
H: 6-3 W: 235
Born: 1982-03-19 Class: SR
LARGE FRAME. BULKY LOWER 1/2, ESPECIALLY REAR & UPPER THIGHS. STRONG, PHYSICALLY MATURE. RESEMBLES GREG MYERS. TAD OPEN RHH, MORE CROUCH LHH. SIMILAR HAND SET-UP & TRIGGER. WELL UP IN BATTERS BOX. SWITCH-HITTER, PLUS RAW PWR BOTH SIDES. MORE CONFIDENT LHH, SHORTER & QUICKER TO BALL. SOLID AVG ARM. SOUND TRANSFER, MOST THROWS ACCURATE. ADEQUATE RECEIVER. FEET & AGILITY TO HANDLE DEFENSE. PREMIER POSITION. RAW PWR, ARM STRENGTH.
A native of Apex, N.C., Powell took and passed the GED test as an 18-year-old high school junior to very quietly make himself eligible for the 2000 draft, but the plan -- Powell said his father and the family's "advisor" at the time, notorious hardball agent Scott Boras, hatched it -- was to avoid being drafted and sign as a free agent with the highest bidder.
Powell said he worked out for several teams, but the plan didn't work. Nobody made an offer deemed suitable by Boras, who is no longer representing Powell.
"The industry held a little bit of a grudge against [Powell after the draft episode]," Kubota said.
After enrolling late at South Carolina, he didn't play much as a freshman but blossomed as a sophomore and started for the Gamecocks while they reached the College World Series in 2002 and 2003.
"I can't say I regret it," said Powell, whom Kubota likened to Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "If that whole thing hadn't happened, I wouldn't have had these four years of college, and that's something I'll always cherish."
A better hitter from the left side of the plate, Powell draws raves for his defensive work. According to Baseball America, his "arm strength and accuracy are pluses, and he quickens his throws at times by throwing from his knees. He blocks balls well and has shown durability and leadership." Powell has committed just two errors behind the plate this season and has thrown out 14 of 22 (61.1%) attempted base stealers.
BA added that "stats-savvy organizations" were "particularly high" on Powell, and the A's are nothing if not stats-savvy.
"He's a very skilled catcher," Kubota said. "He can do a lot of things well. He's got power and patience, and those are high on the list of things we like."
Robnett has some pretty impressive stats himself. He was named the 2004 Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year after leading the conference in overall batting (.384), slugging percentage (.699), doubles (27), total bases (160) and stolen bases (21), while ranking second in hits (88) and third in home runs (13). A Louisville Slugger second team All-American, Robnett put together a WAC-best 26-game hitting streak from March 20 to May 14.
BA calls him an "above-average defensive player who gets excellent jumps on fly balls" and notes that he's been timed in the 60-yard dash at 6.6 seconds.
"He's an extremely interesting guy," said Kubota. "He's a plus defender, a plus runner ... He's a very good athlete and has a lot of strength. He has the potential to hit a lot of home runs in the Major Leagues someday. He's a high-ceiling college guy."
Mychael Urban is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.