It wasn't much fun to be an Orioles fan in 2011. Though it was the first full season with Buck Showalter at the helm, the team was still plagued by some of then-GM Andy MacPhail's worst ideas, which included things like, "Vladimir Guerrero and Derrek Lee are middle-of-the-order bats worth paying over $7 million each" and "Zach Britton and Brian Matusz are capable of being MLB starting pitchers."
When that year's draft rolled around starting on June 6, the Orioles had a 26-31 record and were in last place in the division, seven games behind the leading Yankees. That's not so bad, although a 1-14 stretch of games lurked later on in the summer. On the whole, looking back on the year, last game notwithstanding, it wasn't much fun, and so 2011 was another one of those summers where the most exciting thing to happen for the Orioles future was the draft.
Owing to their 66-96 record the year before, the Orioles had the fourth pick overall in the draft. Out of 30 MLB teams, the Orioles were worse than 26 of them. They would have needed to lose ten more games than they did in 2010 to get the first overall pick in 2011 - which might well have happened if they stuck it out with Dave Trembley, but I think things worked out in the long run. The 2010 Pirates were really, really bad.
This draft was noteworthy for the Orioles for two reasons. It would prove to be the last draft with Joe Jordan as the scouting director, and, with the baseball CBA soon to change, it would also be the last draft that allowed for unlimited spending on picks. The current bonus pool system took effect for the next year's draft.
It's almost four years later. How did the O's do in this draft? It's been long enough that many of the draft's best players have already appeared in the big leagues and among those that haven't, you can have a pretty good idea of who's on the path to the big leagues and who's a longshot or a no-shot.
1st Round, 4th Overall - Dylan Bundy - Owasso HS (OK) - RHP
On its face, the fact that we're nearly four years on from this draft and we still find Bundy pitching for Double-A Bowie is something of a disappointment. His 2013 Tommy John surgery to recover from a torn UCL, perhaps influenced by overuse in high school before he was ever in the O's system, has really put his career on a different track than it would have been otherwise. He was blowing away the minors before getting a cup of coffee in the bigs in September 2012.
Picking in the top five, the team can plausibly take aim at all of the draft's best prospects, and sure enough, they were reported to like all three of the players eventually drafted ahead of Bundy. When their pick came up, they were believed to have been considering between Bundy, another Oklahoma righty, Archie Bradley, and Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon, who was seen as the best college bat in the draft.
Baseball Prospectus still believes in Bundy, rating him the #8 prospect in the game before this season. MLB.com was a bit lower on him at #20, with Baseball America lower still at #48. The O's have had Bundy making short starts for Bowie; he's started seven games so far and has a 4.50 ERA. There must be a plan, but I don't know what it is yet. I hope that it works out; Bundy can't be optioned again after this season.
Other possible picks: Rendon (#6 overall), Jose Fernandez (#14), Sonny Gray (#17)
2nd Round, 64th Overall - Jason Esposito - Vanderbilt - 3B
The Orioles snagged Esposito for a $600,000 signing bonus in the second round in hopes that he might set himself up to be one of the club's corner infielders of the future. At the time, a knock on him was that he had problems with higher-velocity pitchers in college.
The bat has never really played in the professional ranks. Esposito debuted at Delmarva in 2012 and ended the season with a .537 OPS. They moved him up to Frederick the next year and the result was similar, with a .562 OPS at year's end. He repeated Frederick last year at age 23, which was enough for him to improve to a .718 OPS.
Still not great, but it was enough to get him promoted to Bowie this year, perhaps because someone has to play third base for Bowie. Through 30 games, Esposito is batting .218/.262/.311. Not exactly breaking down the door to replace Chris Davis next year.
Other possible picks: Daniel Norris (#74 overall; 2015 BP #34 prospect), Austin Hedges (#82; BP #23)
3rd Round, 94th Overall - Mike Wright - East Carolina - RHP
Wright's major league debut on Sunday means that the Orioles already have more big leaguers from the 2011 draft than they did from the 2010 draft. It is great for Wright that he had such a promising debut, and if he ends up demonstrating that he deserves to keep a place in the Orioles rotation in the future, that will be great for the Orioles.
Prior to this season, Baseball Prospectus rated Wright as the #7 prospect in the Orioles system, with the tall righty viewed as having "promise as a workhorse starter," meaning a back end of the rotation type who will eat innings and never be great but generally won't bomb either. A team that can have a player like that in the #4 or #5 slot in the rotation for at or near the major league minimum is doing OK.
Wright may also be destined to be a fireballer out of the bullpen, which, if that's all you get out of a third round pick, you've still done pretty well. The Orioles inked him for a bonus of $363,000.
Other possible pick: Tony Cingrani (#114 overall)
4th Round, 125th Overall - Kyle Simon - University of Arizona - RHP
The Orioles continued their 2011 draft with another college pitcher, getting Simon into the fold for a $231,100 signing bonus. Within a year of his being drafted, the Orioles had him starting for High-A Frederick, where he apparently was intriguing enough to be a trade target. When the Orioles traded for Jim Thome in 2012, Simon was one of the players they sent to the Phillies - Jordan's new team.
Simon was converted to a reliever in the Phillies organization and rose as high as Triple-A in 2014, though he had a 9.42 ERA in 10 games for Lehigh Valley. The Rockies grabbed Simon from Philadelphia in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft this past winter; however, after Simon was suspended for 50 games for a second positive test for a drug of abuse - which usually but not always means somebody smoked some weed - the Rockies released him in January and he's yet to be picked up by a team to serve the suspension.
Other possible picks: Nobody, really, although funnily enough the Orioles just yesterday traded for Chris Lee (#130 overall); also, Bryce Bandilla (#147) has a cool alliterative name
5th Round, 155th Overall - Matt Taylor - Middle Georgia College - LHP
In Taylor's first full season in the organization, the Orioles put him in the Delmarva rotation. He ended that season with a 4.33 ERA, which is a good recipe for repeating the level. He did enough to get a promotion to Frederick to start 2014, but he's since been afflicted by unfortunate injuries that have kept him from having a chance of developing further.
Taylor lost time last year with a herniated disc and in his third start this season he was struck in the head by a line drive and hasn't pitched since. He suffered a concussion in the process and is still working his way back from that. Speedy recovery, Matt!
Other possible pick: Mookie Betts (#172 overall)
Simon (4th round - to Philadelphia for Thome in 2012)
Nick Delmonico (6th round - to Milwaukee for Francisco Rodriguez in 2013)
Mark Blackmar (16th round - to Chicago White Sox for Alejandro De Aza in 2014)
Delmonico was also suspended 50 games, in his case last July as a result of testing positive for amphetamines. That was enough for the Brewers to give up on him. The White Sox signed him in the offseason, which generated this brilliant steak pun-fest from our compatriots over at South Side Sox. Seriously, read it, but don't be drinking when you do or it'll end up on your monitor.
Others of note
Tyler Wilson, RHP - 10th round, 305th overall (University of Virginia)
They just called him up yesterday. What timing! Wilson figures as long relief insurance for as long as he hangs around on this current stint on the roster. Assuming he pitches, that'll make a third big leaguer from this class. That would mean 10th round pick Wilson gets his first MLB action before his rotation-mate with the Cavaliers, #2 overall pick in this draft, Danny Hultzen, who suffered a major shoulder injury in 2013. You never really know with baseball.
Zach Davies, RHP - 26th round, 785th overall (Mesquite HS, AZ)
Davies, like Wilson and Wright, figures to be a near-future competitor for the Orioles starting rotation. Davies is one of those pitchers who, because he is both on the short side for a pitcher (6'0") and relatively thin, is always kind of counted out as a possible big league pitcher. He's at least managed to hold his own at every level, though, debuting at Delmarva in 2012 and climbing a level every year. Davies is the #6 prospect in the system, according to Baseball Prospectus.
This draft lacks the smashing success of a Manny Machado, but, four years later, there are still four pitchers who look like they could have a place with the big league club in the future. Three of them are on the 40-man roster and two are on the 25-man roster right now. A lot of how this draft is viewed will depend on how Bundy develops. You don't want to whiff on the #4 overall pick, especially when there was a lot of other talent taken not very far after him in the draft.
Also, the fact that the Orioles turned three of these fringe/nothing prospects into big leaguers makes this draft a bit more of a success as well. None of them were major trades, and in fact having F. Rodriguez on the Orioles may well have been a net negative, but still. When you can turn nothing into something, go for it.
Check back tomorrow for a look at the 2012 draft, where there's another #4 overall pick whose development is starting to make me nervous.