A’s behind the curve on draft day 

In many ways, the A’s offseason makeover is eerily similar to the Giants’ 2010 transformation. San Francisco jump-started a sagging offense last year with the additions of veterans Aubrey Huff, Cody Ross and Pat Burrell.

Oakland countered by adding accomplished veterans Hideki Matsui, Josh Willingham and David DeJesus. A year after Andres Torres earned the starting center field job and sparked the Giants’ attack at the top of the order, Coco Crisp, now fully recovered from an injury-plagued 2010, gives the A’s a talented switch-hitting leadoff man of their own.

After Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens celebrated his first year as Giants’ hitting coach by winning a World Series, the A’s brought back Gerald Perry, who was their hitting coach in 2006, the last time Oakland made the playoffs.

Last July, the Giants boosted their bullpen by trading for crafty sidewinder Javier Lopez. In January, the A’s also added a nasty lefty reliever in former All-Star Brian Fuentes.

Of course, both teams also feature three southpaws in strong five-man pitching rotations. But the biggest reason Oakland has been mired in mediocrity while S.F. has boomed beyond expectation is their contrasting fortunes in the draft.

With successive first-round selections, the Giants grabbed Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey, and now 2009 fifth-round pick Brandon Belt is getting strong consideration to join the parade of young S.F. stars. As to Belt’s prospects of making the Opening Day roster, general manager Brian Sabean told me earlier this week, “Conventional wisdom says he’s not ready, but he’s held his own against tough pitching and plays a real good first base. There would be no spot duty about it, aside from especially tough lefties, he would be the regular first baseman and would hit seventh, which would make it easier on him.”

Meanwhile, the A’s top selections the past three years are still nowhere near ready to help: Switch-hitting second baseman Jemile Weeks was injured much of 2010 playing for Double-A Midland, Texas; shortstop Grant Green hit .318 in Stockton, but led the Class-A California League with 37 errors and 2010 top pick Michael Choice, a 21-year-old power-hitting outfielder, is only now starting his first full season of pro ball.

General manager Billy Beane didn’t exactly “wow” the baseball world with his three No. 1 selections in 2007, either: Right-hander James Simmons was out all last season with injuries, while first baseman Sean Doolittle missed most of the last two years with knee problems and outfielder Corey Brown was sent to the Washington Nationals in the Willingham trade.

The A’s recent draft drought may not be as bad as other legendary Oakland first-round busts such as the Raiders’ JaMarcus Russell and Darrius Heyward-Bey or the Warriors’ Brandan Wright and Patrick O’Bryant, but it’s getting perilously close.

Throw in Lew Wolff’s constant bad-mouthing of the Oakland Coliseum and the club’s declining attendance for six straight seasons and you see why the A’s are in such a desperation mode.

Playing in the growing shadow of the Giants who have a waiting list for season tickets, the A’s are giving out vouchers for free hot dogs to the first 10,000 fans who show up for every Thursday home game this season. Chew on that.

 

KGO (810 AM) Sports Director Rich Walcoff can be heard weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on the KGO morning news. He can be reached at RichWalcoff@gmail.com.

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Rich Walcoff

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