What Went Wrong: A 2004 Draft Retrospective

With the 2012 MLB Rule 4 Player Draft quickly approaching I wanted to take a look back at some of the previous draft results for your Baltimore Orioles. I chose to examine 2004 for a couple of reasons. First, and foremost, is the reported drama that unfolded on draft day involving Peter Angelos and then Scouting Director Tony DeMacio. The story surrounding how the O's failed to sign 30th Round selection Jamie Garcia is an additional area of interest. Finally, with the draft now eight years hence it is possible to look at players who were passed over by the O's but who have gone onto have MLB success. Shall we commence?

2004 has become a rather notorious draft for the O's in general, and The Warehouse in particular. More on that in moment. Let us first take a step back; to glimpse the forest for the trees, so to speak. The first overall pick belonged to the Padres, followed by Detroit, the Mets, Tampa Bay, and Milwaukee. The O's had the 8th pick. Per an article on at the time, the draft class as a whole was not particularly well regarded, being a "relatively flat draft pool, with few standouts." Looking over the results some eight years later seems to reaffirm this opinion. The Padres bombed at #1, taking Matt Bush partially for signability reasons. Detroit landed Justin Verlander at #2. Mets took Phil Humber, of Perfect Game fame, followed by TB taking Jeff Neimann, and Milwaukee selecting prep RHP Mark Rogers. The two Ohio teams were next up, with Cleveland selecting Jeremey Sowers a LHP out of Vanderbilt and Cincinnati taking Homer Bailey. Which leads us to the O's...

The story goes that Scouting Director Tony DeMacio was eager to select prep SS Chris Nelson. Enter Peter Angelos, who orders DeMacio to specifically select a college pitcher who will sign for no more than the slot bonus of $2.2 million. This occured DURING THE DRAFT! Not in a strategy session prior. There were no dictates sent down prior. Just Petey waltzing in and basically saying, 'Do my bidding, minion.' Helluva way to run a draft...

So, DeMacio, likely confused and startled, selects a RHP out of defending national champion Rice University (the 3rd pitcher from that staff taken, following Humber and Neimann), Wade Townsend. Contract negotiations ensued, and were ultimately fruitless. The O's reportedly offered a $1.85 million dollar bonus, well below the slot recommendation. Townsend refused the offer and returned to Rice. He would be drafted with the 8th pick again a year later, only this time by the Tampa Bay Rays. But since he no longer had any college eligibility remaining, his negotiating leverage was substantially weaker, and he ultimately signed for a $1.5 million dollar bonus. So, in the end, neither the O's or Townsend came out a winner as a result of this tête-à-tête.

Further aggravating the situation, the O's did not have a 2nd Round pick in 2004 as a result of the Miguel Tejada signing. With the pick, the A's chose RHP Michael Rogers. He washed out by 2007, making it as far as AA. Other players of note who would have been available for either the O's or A's include: Hunter Pence, Dustin Pedroia, Kurt Suzuki, and Jason Vargas. A fair amount of talent there.

In the 3rd Round, the O's selected Jeff Fiorentino, who at the time was a C for Florida Atlantic. He would be selected off waivers after the '07 season, but return via the same process during the '08 season. Other players taken during the 3rd Round include: Adam Lind, Ian Desmond, and JA Happ. A little bit of value there. Certainly more than Jeff Fiorentino ever provided.

The lone bright spot for the O's (if you can call it that) of the '04 Draft came in the 4th Round, with the selection of one Bradley Bergesen, hereafter referred to as 3E1N. He was selected out of his high school in California. This is important, because it tells us that the O's had some presence of scouting in the region. Therefore we can assume that certain other players from the California prep ranks taken later may very well have been known to the O's. More on that later...No other player drafted in '05 (aside from Fiorentino) would make it to the majors. Bang up job, Gents.

Now, every draft is going to have a number of selections that a team is unable to sign. There is a budget that must be adhered to after all. You just hope that the players who you fail to sign don't turn into valuable assets for other teams. This is precisely what happened with the O's 15th round selection, Will Venable. An OF for Princeton by trade, Venable was a terrific all around athlete. He was originally recruited to play basketball. But, alas, he felt a 15th round selection under appreciated his talent, so he returned to Princeton for his Senior year, hoping to improve his draft stock. And this is precisely what happened, as the Padres selected him in the 7th round in '05. You would figure the O's would have maintained interest in Venable, and perhaps they did. But they seem to have taken more interest in players such as: Reid Hamblet, William Owens, and Robert Andrews; their 5th-7th round selections in '05. So it goes....

The final bit of nincompoopery related to the '04 draft performed by the O's involved the club's 30th round pick, one Jaime Garcia. Yes, that Jaime Garcia. The one who is a valuable member of the defending world champion Cardinals rotation. The O's selected Garcia out of the Texas prep ranks. And, prior to offering him a contract, the club had him take a psychological profile. These profiles were given to all players coming into the organization at the behest of Dave Ritterpusch, who was hired by then GM Mike Flanagan to be Director of Baseball Information Systems. Seems fine on the surface. As an organization you want to have some idea of the makeup of the players you are considering bring in. However, it would help if when administering the test to a player of Mexican origin, to whom English is a (distant) second language that you would TRANSLATE THE TEST INTO SPANISH. The O's did no such thing. Garcia bombed the test. The club refused to sign Garcia, and he went back into the draft for the '05 season. The scout who had discovered Garica moved onto the Cardinals organization and convinced them to take him with their 22nd round pick. And there was much rejoicing...

So, if you have made it this far, 1st, I'd like to say that I admire your dedication to either not working or not maintaining a social life of any degree. And 2nd, I'd like to close by taking a look at some players the O's could have taken in later rounds who have turned out to be serviceable at the ML level, including a couple the O's have since acquired.

Ben Zobrist, 6th round, Houston, prep SS out of the Texas area

Troy Patton, 9th round, Houston, prep LHP out of the Texas area

Justin Maxwell, 10th round, Texas, OF at the UMD. Didn't sign. Went back into the '05 draft, selected in the 4th round by the Nationals. Now playing the OF for the Astros.

Sam Fuld, 10th round, Cubs, OF at Stanford.

Dexter Fowler, 14th round, Rockies, prep OF out of the Georgia area

Mark Reynolds, 16th round, Diamondbacks, SS(!) for UVA. How'd the O's miss out on that. He's right in their backyard!

Mark Trumbo, 18th round, Angels, prep RHP at the time out of the California area. If they found 3E1N, chances are they knew of Trumbo. Would have been a really nice late round grab.

So, there you have it. Quite a banner year for Fail on the O's part. A 1st round pick unsigned, no 2nd round pick, a late round gem unsigned due to organizational bumbling, plenty of late round talent passed over, and only two players selected ever make it to the majors, with only one of them being remotely useful. Just one, of many, reasons why this club had become a laughingstock of major league baseball.

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