In the first round of the 2013 draft, the Orioles selected Hunter Harvey, the right-handed high schooler from North Carolina, with the #22 pick. He is already on top 100 prospect lists, ranking as high as #38 in the top 100 prospects of ESPN's Keith Law.
This recent success with a lower first round pick makes for some reticence when considering the Orioles' signing of free agent starter Ubaldo Jimenez, which will lead to their forfeiting their first round selection in the draft this June. The O's would have picked at #17 overall. What's more, when combined with the O's trading their competitive balance pick (#36 overall) to Houston in the Bud Norris deal, they will not pick until the second round at #55 overall.
For a team that we hope will soon be graduating its top prospects in Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy, and has little depth beneath them, it's tough to swallow the idea that the O's won't get to take a crack at a draft pick until there have been 54 other players already selected. This will complicate efforts to both get a new high-end prospect and build depth in the system.
How likely is it that the Orioles giving up their first round pick means that they will miss out on the next Hunter Harvey-type prospect? A look at #17 overall selections over the past couple of decades shows a couple of stars and some decent players, but more total busts.
It's worth noting that nearly all of these drafts took place under different rules than what now prevails. The idea of hoping for a top talent to slide and then paying an overslot bonus to that player is all but obsolete. This removes one possible upside of a mid- or late-first rounder that used to exist.
The two best #17 picks since 1994 are Roy Halladay (1995 - 64.6 bWAR) and Cole Hamels (2002 - 34.8 bWAR and counting). This is enough to fill you with despair - how could they give up the chance to get the next one of these guys, especially considering the current regime has shown some skill at finding a late first round gem in Harvey?
However, of the six drafts between Halladay and Hamels, only one #17 pick ever contributed positively in the big leagues - Brad Lidge (1998 - 8.2 bWAR). The star potential has been there at this pick over the last two decades, but the odds are not in favor of landing the next Halladay with the #1 overall pick, let alone the #17 pick.
From Hamels to the present, the best player by career bWAR is Indians outfielder David Murphy (2003 - 10.9 WAR). Murphy's value to the Red Sox, who drafted him, was as part of a trade to net closer Eric Gagne at the 2007 trade deadline. Gagne stunk for Boston, but they went on to win the World Series that year anyway. No one said life is fair.
In the ten drafts after Murphy, only three players drafted at #17 have positive WAR. They are A.J. Pollock, Blake Beavan, and Scott Elbert. Beavan was part of the trade that sent Cliff Lee from Seattle to Texas. He was mediocre in the big league rotation and has been bounced out of the picture for now.
Elbert, who was a rumored name when the Orioles traded George Sherrill to the Dodgers, had two elbow surgeries in the span of five months and did not pitch in the majors in 2013. The O's got Steve Johnson instead of Elbert. 2005 #17 pick, C.J. Henry, never made it above High-A. The 2006 pick, Matt Antonelli, has not been in the big leagues since 2008.
Drafted in 2009, Pollock is the most recent 17th-overall pick to appear in MLB. He was pressed into service as Arizona's center fielder following an injury to Adam Eaton last season and acquitted himself well enough that the Diamondbacks just decided to trade Eaton instead, netting Mark Trumbo and a couple of minor leaguers in a three-team trade. He is 26 and entering his second full season. Of the last 20 #17 picks, Pollock's 3.4 career WAR is fifth-highest.
According to the Defensive Runs Saved metric, Pollock was worth +15 runs in the field. He was just about average with his bat, coming in with a 98 wRC+, where 100 is average and higher is better. That's a solid cost-controlled player who, if he keeps contributing at that level, will be a valuable asset for Arizona. The outfield-thin Orioles would certainly like a Pollock-level talent in the middle of the first round, but now they won't have a chance to get one this year.
Still, Pollock is the only player to succeed as anything other than a bullpen arm out of a span of six #17 picks. It's better to develop your own bullpen arms than not, but is it worth missing out on the chance to sign a player like Jimenez because the Orioles bullpen might get one extra player in the picture in the 2017-2020 seasons, if they're lucky?
Players who have been drafted since Pollock should be considered as well. After all, if they look like impact talents, that's another reminder that the Orioles will be missing out. The #17 pick in 2010, Josh Sale, received a 50-game suspension for amphetamines in 2012 and did not play in 2013 following an incident in which he was suspended "after he posted a Facebook update berating a stripper." Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
2011 draftee C.J. Cron ranks from 3rd-7th in the Angels system, depending on who you ask. Law, who ranked Cron 7th, noted in his most recent prospect rankings that Cron has drawn 43 unintentional walks in 1,274 plate appearances in the minors. He might be one of the better prospects in the system, but the Angels are regarded as having a weak system, the result of trading away prospects and giving up first rounders a lot in recent years. This is a cautionary tale for the Orioles - they can't do this every year.
Five years ago, the #7 Orioles prospect according to Baseball America was Billy Rowell, a total bust at a much higher draft slot than #17.
The Blue Jays picked outfielder D.J. Davis in the 2012 draft. His best asset may be that he shares a name with a character from HBO's Treme. Law ranks him only 10th in a weak Blue Jays system. He's only 19, but he repeated Rookie ball in 2013.
In 2013, the White Sox selected shorstop Tim Anderson with the #17 pick. Their system is also weak. Still, he might be the best of the recent lot, placing in Law's top 100 at #98. It's good to draft someone with a mid-first rounder and have him be one of the top 100 prospects in baseball after only a few months. The Orioles did this too.
Anderson's top level in 2013 was Low-A. He might be a potential future success from that spot in the draft, but it's still way too early to tell.
There have been some stars taken at #17, along with a handful of decent-to-good players and a couple more who may yet prove to be that. There's also been a whole lot of nothing. Most of the time, the #17 pick is not going to turn into something irreplaceable. It's good that the team was cautious before giving it up, but it's also good that they didn't make out the #17 pick into something more than it is. The Orioles needed the help now. Giving up the pick is the price they had to pay to get it.
It's no guarantee that the Jimenez signing will work out for the Orioles. He could get hurt, pitch poorly, or both. If that happens, they will have bigger problems than not having the #17 pick in 2014. Maybe it means they'll miss out on the next Harvey-type prospect. They will have to find valuable prospect assets in later rounds or through other means.
Giving up the pick was a chance the Orioles thought they had to take in order to have the best team in 2014. Surveying the landscape of #17 picks against the potential of Jimenez, it's hard to say they're wrong.