Oakland Athletics

Is Grant Green a bust?

Rick Tittle Grant Green Oakland Athletics

The June amateur draft is, and always will be, a crapshoot. It’s nothing like the NFL or even the NBA draft: there are vast numbers of players selected, many of whom are 17-year-old high school seniors. To say a guy is a “bust” is usually only reserved for first round picks, yet the list of first-rounders who never made the big leagues is much longer than those who did. I bring this up because a friend of mine argued with me that former A’s prospect (and present Angels infielder) Grant Green is a bust, and I began to wonder if that’s something he could honestly be called. Beyond the semantics of what constitutes a baseball bust, we can take a look back at Green’s fellow 2009 first round picks selected before he was by Oakland at No. 13. Remember, if we could have known how the first round would have shaken out in reality, Mike Trout (taken 25th) would have been No. 1. But you never know, so teams had to roll the dice.

— San Diego State pitcher Stephen Strasburg was the number one overall pick, and despite some injury issues, Washington has little regret in taking him first. He owns a 3.02 ERA in 109 big league starts.

— Dustin Ackley was a tremendous hitter for the Tar Heels at Chapel Hill and was a smart/safe pick for Seattle in the second spot. He came on like gangbusters as a rookie but had the notorious sophomore slump and lost his job at second base. But he’s now an everyday left fielder despite a career .245 average with only 36 home runs in four years.

— Donovan Tate was the third overall selection of the 2009 draft by San Diego. He signed out of high school, turning down a full-ride to North Carolina. The son of former NFL running back Lars Tate received a $6.7 million signing bonus. Yet he hit .238 with only three home runs in four minor league seasons, never getting past A-ball.

— The Pirates selected Boston College’s Tony Sanchez, considered to be the best all-around catcher in the draft, in the fourth spot. He’s done well in limited duty for the big club the past two seasons, and after having a torrid Grapefruit League (hitting .452 in 14 games), he looks to be a part of Pittsburgh’s plans this year.

— High School pitcher Matt Hobgood went 5th to the Orioles after winning Gatorade National Player of the Year. A strapping 6’4”, 250, he played offensive line and opened holes for teammate Toby Gerhart to run through at Norco High. But after struggling at A-ball for two seasons, he missed all of 2012 by having rotator cuff surgery. Last year for the High-A Frederick Keys, he posted an ERA of 4.50.

— The Giants made high school pitcher Zach Wheeler the 6th pick and traded him to the Mets in 2011 for a playoff-push rental of Carlos Beltran. Beltran never was fully healthy in his 44 games for San Francisco but still held his own with a more-than-healthy .323 average and seven home runs. When the Giants missed the playoffs, many fans felt robbed, but I admired Brian Sabean’s guts to make that deal. Wheeler has a respectable record of 18-16 with an ERA of 3.50 in one-plus big league seasons. He was set to return to the Mets rotation again this year until having the dreaded Tommy John surgery last week.

— The seventh selection belonged to Atlanta and they took Vandy pitcher Mike Minor. With a big league record of 38-36 and an ERA of 4.10, one thing you can say about Minor is that he’s an innings-eater, amassing 652.2 so far for the Braves.

— The Reds took pitcher Mike Leake at eight from Arizona State. The A’s drafted him as a high school shortstop but Leake decided to honor his commitment and headed to Tempe. After going 16-1 with a 1.71 for the Sun Devils his junior year, you may wonder why he didn’t get drafted earlier. He then went directly to Cincinnati, becoming the first Reds player to skip the minor leagues entirely since 1965. In five years he has a record of 53-42 with an ERA of 3.92.

— Jacob Turner became another high school pitcher to be a top-10 pick when Detroit selected him at 9. After pitching in just six games in two years with the Tigers, he was part of the package sent to Miami for Detroit to receive Anibal Sanchez. Then last summer he was flogged to the Cubs for two minor leaguers. In 61 big league games overall he owns a 4.97 ERA.

— Rounding out the first 10 picks was Stanford closer Drew Storen. The Nationals received this second first round pick when their previous first-rounder, pitcher Aaron Crow, did not sign in 2008. Two years later, Storen set the National League on fire with 43 saves for Washington. But due to repeated injury issues and what he described as “mental pain” after a blown save in the 2012 playoffs, he’s recorded only 18 saves in the last 3 years.

— Number 11 was high school pitcher Tyler Matzek, taken by Colorado. Matzek took a while getting to Coors Field but finally made his major league debut last June 11. He stayed in the Rockies rotation the rest of the season and went 6-11 with an ERA of 4.05 in 19 starts.

— Just one more selection before Grant Green went off the board and that is the aforementioned hurler Crow by Kansas City. The former Mizzou star pitched for the independent Forth Worth Cats after shunning Washington’s overtures. He was a very effective reliever for the Royals, posting an ERA of 3.43 in 254 appearances the last four seasons, including one All-Star Game. He was dealt to the Marlins last November for two minor leaguers.

This brings us to Grant Green at 13. The former star shortstop from USC looked to be too rich for Oakland’s blood because he had Scott Boras as his agent. He ended up signing with the A’s literally minutes before the signing deadline was to pass on August 17, 2009. Little did we know he would then watch dozens of “lesser” players get promoted ahead of him to the big club for the next four years.

In the summer of 2013, I spoke with him in the clubhouse at AAA-Sacramento (pictured) about his mentality of toiling in the minors, and he told me he was just working hard and not worrying about things he couldn’t control. When he finally got the call some weeks later, he did not grab the opportunity with both hands. He looked shy and intimidated at the plate, and when he allowed a pop-up to land behind him while playing second base, I believe Billy Beane had seen enough. Green played in only five games for A’s. He was 0-for-15.

Beane made a trade deadline deal on July 30, sending Green to his hometown Angels for veteran infielder Alberto Callaspo. I will always remember Callaspo for his go-ahead RBI-hit late in last year’s Wild Card Game, despite an otherwise forgettable A’s tenure. Meanwhile, Green has his eye on the second base job in Anaheim, now that Howie Kendrick is a Dodger. So while Green never became the A’s starting shortstop, he can hardly be called a failure. He went to two Futures Games and three Arizona Fall Leagues (playing a different position all three years.) Now he has a chance to be an everyday big league player, which is not how I would describe a bust. The jury is still out.

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