With the 2013 edition of the Major League Baseball Rule 4 (amateur) Draft set for Thursday night, it's a good chance to step back and take a look at some of the most successful picks in franchise history. If all goes well, what could they get out of the draft? Some high-profile, high-pick failures in recent years have been discouraging. This year, selecting later in the first round, the Orioles will not get their pick of the cream of the crop, but the franchise has gotten some of its greatest players late in the first round and beyond.
The amateur draft first took place in 1965, which means that Hall of Fame greats like Jim Palmer and Brooks Robinson are not eligible to be included: both signed as amateur free agents before there was any such thing as a draft.
In terms of value to the franchise as measured by the Baseball Reference Wins Above Replacement (WAR) statistic, these are the top ten Orioles ever drafted:
10. Rich Dauer
1974 Round: 1 Overall pick: 24
Dauer made his debut in 1976 after being drafted from the University of Southern California and played the entirety of a ten-year MLB career in Baltimore. He was about as valuable with his glove as he was offensively, which is why he is included on the list despite actually being a below-average offensive player for his era. He played mostly second base for the team, the definition of a light-hitting middle infielder. He was a part of the 1983 World Series-winning O's team.
It is striking that in nearly 50 years of drafts, the 10th-best player for the Orioles has been Dauer. There were nine guys better than him, but not ten. It is hard, and always has been hard, to draft a player who is good and who will stay with the organization for a lot of good years.
1978 Round: 6 Overall pick: 152
Boddicker played the first nine years of a 14-year MLB career for the Orioles. He was drafted out of the University of Iowa. Of his 190 games, 180 were starts, and he amassed all those innings as a slightly-above league average pitcher in his time with the O's.
His career as an Oriole spanned from 1980 through 1988, when, before the trade deadline of that disastrous season, he was sent to Boston in a trade that netted Brady Anderson and Curt Schilling. If Brady was an Orioles draft pick, he would rank 5th on this list. So Boddicker contributed, in a way, even after being traded.
Boddicker came in third place in Rookie of the Year voting in 1983 and was part of that World Series winning team as well. He came in fourth in Cy Young voting in 1984, when he put up a 20-11 record with a 2.79 ERA in 261.1 IP. He was also selected to the All-Star team that year.
1973 Round: 7 Overall pick: 159
The late Mike Flanagan was known only to me as a failed general manager and a great broadcaster, but the 1979 Cy Young Award winner was, before my time, one of the greatest players in franchise history. He is still third on the franchise leaderboard for innings pitched and fourth in strikeouts with 1297.
His career as an Oriole ran from 1975-1987, when he was traded to Toronto in a trade that included Jose Mesa as a player to be named later. Flanagan came back to the Orioles in 1991 and 1992. He was in the bullpen in 1991 and pitched well, but '92 was one year too many for the then-40-year old.
At his peak, he was the best pitcher in the American League, he was a part of two Orioles teams that made it to the World Series, including two heroic efforts in the 1979 World Series, and his steady performance over such a long stretch of time easily sets him up as one of the greatest draft picks in franchise history.
2003 Round: 1 Overall pick: 7
Markakis is the first of two still-active Orioles to make an appearance on this list of draft picks. I was surprised to see him so high, because he is a player who is frustrating at times. Why did his nearly .300/.400/.500 season in 2008 at age 24 never translate into similar success in his prime? Why does he now, at age 29, seem to lack arm strength and speed? I still don't know the answer to these questions, but even with those being the case, he has, in his 8-year career, been one of the best Orioles picks of all time.
It's sometimes hard to appreciate a good-but-not-great player when you watch them every day. Their flaws are amplified under a microscope.
Much as we dump on the Orioles for missing big with high picks, Markakis is currently the leader in WAR among all players selected in the first round of the 2003 draft. There are six teams who drafted ahead of the Orioles that year who wish they would have taken Markakis. Never the star we hoped for, he is still the best player to be selected in his draft class.
6. Al Bumbry
1968 Round: 11 Overall pick: 238
Bumbry won the 1973 Rookie of the Year Award as a 26-year old. He had lost a year of development as a prospect because he served in the Army in Vietnam, where he led a platoon and was awarded a Bronze Star. I wonder if we will ever see a veteran in MLB again.
He was an Oriole from 1972-1984, during which time he stole 254 bases, including two seasons where he stole 40+. He is the latest-round pick to make the top ten in franchise history. Never a great fielder by the bWAR metric, he was capable enough to stay out there and play for a long time. Like many of these other great draft picks, he played in multiple World Series' for the team, winning it all in 1983.
1999 Round: 1 (supplemental) Overall pick: 50
For better or worse, Roberts, a product of the University of North Carolina, is the best of the 00s for the Orioles. Though he's played only 118 games in the past four seasons combined, what he did before that is still enough to place him this high on the list. In his best years, he provided above-average offensive production among all hitters in the league, while holding down the premium position of second base.
What might we say about him if he was never derailed by concussions and other injuries? He is already an all-time great Oriole, and one of the great unfortunate things about the surprising 2012 is that neither he nor Markakis, both long-toiling on bad teams, did not get to play in any of the playoff games.
A two-time All-Star, he garnered some down-ballot MVP support in his career year in 2005, when he OPSed over .900.
4. Bobby Grich
1967 Round: 1 Overall pick: 19
The Orioles took Grich out of Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California. He was so good in his seven years as an Oriole that he is fourth on this list despite playing the fewest years for the team out of anyone on the top ten. Though he played seven years in total, he only spent the whole year on the team in five of those years. He won four Gold Gloves and was selected to three All-Star teams. Like several of the other great Orioles picks on this list, he was a second baseman who could hit.
Grich is the first real notable departure from the Orioles in free agency among the players on this list. He played for the O's from 1970-1976, after which he went to play in California, his home state, for the remainder of a 17-year career. His career numbers compare favorably to second basemen in the Baseball Hall of Fame, though he never made it past one year on the ballot.
3. Mike Mussina
1990 Round: 1 Overall pick: 20
I am old enough that I saw Mussina pitch as an Oriole many times. I was old enough when he left for New York to be angry about it. I was not old enough to appreciate, at the time, just how good he was for my favorite baseball team.
As an Oriole, he was selected to five All-Star teams, finished in the top five of Cy Young voting five times, and won four Gold Gloves. He had 45 complete games and fifteen shutouts. His 1535 strikeouts rank second in franchise history behind only Palmer, and he is the third-most winning pitcher in franchise history behind Palmer and Dave McNally. He was one of the best pitchers of the 1990s, and in the 90s, we had him all to ourselves.
In the 1997 playoffs, Mussina started four games, threw 29 innings, struck out 41 batters and only allowed 18 baserunners. The only reason they did not win every game he started - and make it to the World Series - is Armando Benitez. If there is justice in the baseball universe, he will be elected to the Hall of Fame, and he'll be enshrined as an Oriole.
2. Eddie Murray
1973 Round: 3 Overall pick: 63
From 1977, when he won the Rookie of the Year Award at the age of 21, on until 1986, Eddie was selected to seven All-Star teams and finished in the top five of the MVP voting in five straight years. For someone like me, who has mostly only seen terrible Orioles teams, I almost can't even process what it must have been like to have a superstar player like Murray do what he did for so long.
He's the fifth on this list to be a part of the 1983 World Series championship team. Murray hit two home runs in the series.
To this day, I hear grumbling from my dad about writers running Murray out of town. I didn't experience all that first hand, but if that's really what happened, shame on those men. Murray is one of the best to ever play baseball, and Orioles fans are lucky to get to claim him as ours.
1. Cal Ripken Jr.
1978 Round: 2 Overall pick: 48
Just look at this. Damn.
The Orioles will almost certainly not find a player as great as Ripken or Murray or Mussina with the 22nd pick, the 37th pick, or the 61st pick on Thursday night. The likes of those players are seldom drafted across all of Major League Baseball, let alone by one team.
But, with good scouting, good player development, a healthy amount of luck, and the purse-strings loosened at just the right time, they just might find a player as good as Dauer, or Bumbry, or Roberts. The next great Oriole could well begin his journey tonight.