Oakland's current shortstop, Bobby Crosby, was the 2004 American League Rookie of the Year and recently signed a five-year contract extension. But the A's stuck to their pre-draft pledge to take the top talent available and went with Pennington, who batted .363 with seven homers, 39 RBIs and a .453 on-base percentage in 56 games with the Aggies this year.
"Right now he's a shortstop, and that's what he's going into the system as," said Eric Kubota, Oakland's director of scouting.
Kubota did not, however, rule out a position change for Pennington, whom he called a "prototypical leadoff hitter."
"Things will kind of work their way out at a later date," Kubota said. "We wouldn't have a problem putting him at second base."
Oakland used its "sandwich" pick between the first and second rounds, compensation for losing catcher Damian Miller to free agency, to select outfielder Travis Buck out of Arizona State University at 36th overall. Kubota called Buck "one of the premium college bats in the country."
Pennington, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound switch-hitter, grew up in Corpus Christi, Tex., and is known in scouting circles as hard-nosed player who works tirelessly on his game.
"I try to play the game hard and always try to be dirty," Pennington said in a conference call Tuesday afternoon. "In my mind, if I'm not dirty, I didn't have a very good game."
"He's a perfect Oakland A's player," said MLB.com draft analyst David Rawnsley. "I know Cliff personally, and I don't know if I've ever met anyone who loves baseball as much as this kid."
According to Perfect Game USA, a baseball scouting report service for whom Rawnsley works, there were whispers before the draft that Pennington might go as high as No. 2 overall to the Royals. Instead he fell to the A's at No. 21.
"You know exactly what you're getting with Pennington," reads PG's report on Pennington. "He hit .340, .339 and .363 in [three] years with the Aggies. He walked 22, 33 and 37 times."
Here's what Baseball America, who listed Pennington as the 27th-best prospect in the draft, has to say about him:
"Pennington's best attribute is his makeup. Scouts have loved Pennington's grit and energy since he was in high school, and he won the Cape Cod League's 10th player award for his spirited play last summer. Pennington is more than just a gamer, however, offering tools across the board. He can bat at the top of a lineup, making consistent contact and providing gap power from both sides of the plate. He doesn't have blazing speed, but he runs well and his instincts make him a threat on the bases. Pennington's savvy also enhances his range at shortstop, where he can make both the routine and acrobatic plays. He has an above-average arm, a quick release and the ability to make throws from any angle."
Pennington said he was an A's fan when he was "little," and now he has a whole family of A's fans.
"We just went on a two-hour shopping spree, and I think we bought every A's hat and T-shirt in the city of Corpus Christi," Pennington said. "They're ecstatic. They're into it."
Pennington, who considers himself a contact hitter who belongs at the top of the batting order, added that he expects to sign with the A's sooner rather than later.
"I'm definitely not looking to hold out for a long time," he said. "I'm ready to get out there and start working my way up."
Buck, a left-handed hitter who was personally scouted this spring by A's general manager Billy Beane, was ranked No. 42 on Baseball America's draft board. He's batting .389 with four homers, 38 RBIs and a .451 on-base percentage for the Sun Devils, who are still alive in the NCAA tournament.
"We think this guy is a very, very advanced hitter," Kubota said. He's been on our radar screen for a long time."
Position: SS B/T: S/R
H: 5'11" W: 180
Born: 1984-06-15 Class: 4YR
Switch-hitter uses a short, compact swing from both sides. Patient, line-drive contact hitter. Pest on the base paths. Tries to make things happen. Good infield arm and solid instincts, has a knack for making great play. Very high energy and fun to watch. Great make-up.
According to Baseball America, "Buck had the highest profile of any college outfielder heading into the 2005 season. ... He looked like a sure first-round pick but hasn't had the year scouts envisioned, even though he has been Arizona State's best player and leading hitter at .389. He's handled the expectations of being in the limelight, but he hasn't hit for the same power he's shown in the past and his run production is down, a factor of being pitched around. He's still a hitting machine who sprays line drives to all fields and handles left-handed pitching. His present power is below-average but he has power potential if he gets stronger.
"He shows respectable wood bat power in batting practice and had little difficulty hitting with wood for Team USA. He has all the actions and other tools to play in the big leagues, though his speed is just average. He can play all three outfield positions and gets good jumps, though he will likely end up in left field as his arm strength has decreased slightly each year at ASU. A baseball rat, he'll do whatever it takes to win, which is why he agreed to take a turn at third base this spring when the Sun Devils had a gaping hole at the position."
Kubota downplayed concerns about Buck's power numbers, noting that the coaching staff at ASU wanted Buck to be more of a contact hitter this season.
Said Rawnsley: "Pretty predictable pick. He should be a very good Major League corner outfielder."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.