Tonight the Rule 4 draft will begin with the first 60 picks, comprising of the first round and compensation round A. The Orioles will make only one selection today, the fourth overall pick. This is in many ways a testament to both how broken Major League Baseball's draft process has been, and the failure of the Orioles to find ways to game the amateur player acquisition process to their advantage. While the Orioles had by a significant margin the worst record in the AL East last season, two of the other teams in the division will pick twice in the first round and several times today. And while the Orioles have had the highest pick in the AL East for multiple consecutive seasons, and have used those picks to select elite talents, their farm system still ranks last in the AL East.
Baltimore will not be able to remedy this problem in this draft; under baseball's new collective bargaining agreement, the Orioles will be unable to spend large sums of money finding the next Nick Delmonico in the 6th round. What they will be able to do is add another high ceiling prospect to the duo of Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy. And while the 2012 draft class lacks the depth of elite talent found in the 2011 class, at fourth overall, the Orioles will almost certainly be adding an excellent player to their system.Over the years that I've been following the MLB draft, my evolution on how to evaluate players has changed. The proliferation of people giving expert draft analysis and the even greater proliferation of baseball fans who follow the draft has created a strong demand for rankings of draft prospects, top 100 lists, and mocks. These lists, however they are worded, tend to encourage people to see significant differences in talent that aren't really there. In 2010, for example, Bryce Harper was the standout player in the class, followed by two players - Machado and Jameson Taillon. At the time, I thought Taillon was slightly better and hoped that Machado would go second so Taillon could fall to Baltimore. In retrospect, both are elite talents, and that the Orioles landed one of them is all that matters, in my opinion.
In this year's class, because there isn't a standout like Harper, ranking the players in numerical order seems like it would be particularly misleading. There are, by my estimate, seven candidates who the Orioles may still be considering for the fourth overall pick. I have divided them into tiers based on my view of their potential. They are:
Byron Buxton, OF, Georgia HS
Carlos Correa, SS, Puerto Rico HS
Lucas Giolito, RHP, California HS
Mark Appel, RHP, Stanford
Kevin Gausman, RHP, LSU
Kyle Zimmer, RHP, San Francisco
Albert Almora, OF, Florida HS
Buxton and Correa have, in my view, created some separation from the collegiate pitchers and fellow prep Almora based on greater elite potential. Should they develop as hoped, they will produce greater results for their teams. Giolito would share their upside if he was healthy, but today it is impossible to say whether or not Giolito will be selected at all, due to an injury to his elbow that has kept him from pitching for most of the spring.
Unfortunately for the Orioles, this means that instead of there being three players in my top tier for them to hope slip to fourth overall, there are only two, and both are position players. Buxton will almost certainly be selected before the fourth pick, and Correa is likely to be gone as well. The Orioles will most likely be selecting a player from my second tier, and most outside observers believe that will be Gausman.
This is not a particularly bad thing, given the particulars of this year's class. While the players in Tier One have a bit more in terms of overall potential, the players in Tier Two are all more advanced and higher probability prospects. Because of this, Tier One and Tier Two are very close, and it is quite possible that someone from my second tier will go first overall.
After six consecutive seasons selecting in the top five picks of the draft, the Orioles are threatening with the possibility of a strong season, and a movement into the later parts of the first round in 2013. A strong choice tonight may, with luck, be their last opportunity to pick one of the draft's top talents for several years. In my opinion, Baltimore fans should be happy hearing any of these seven names tonight. While none of them figure to supplant Machado or Bundy at the top of our prospect rankings, all should be an excellent addition to a farm system that badly needs premium talent. And at fourth overall, premium talent will be available.