The Orioles had a bounty of picks on the first day of the MLB draft on Monday night, at least compared to last year. This time around, they were able to pick three times in the first 68 picks, compared to last year when they didn't even get to pick until #90. With those three picks, they selected Florida State outfielder D.J. Stewart; Florida high school shortstop Ryan Mountcastle; and Jonathan Hughes, a right-handed pitcher out of a Georgia high school.
Conventional wisdom, such as it is, had the impression that the Orioles would be fans of college hitters in the draft, and for their first pick at least, that's what they ended up doing. Stewart is a college outfielder, which you might have noticed is a position where the Orioles don't have much going on, organizationally, at this moment.
With their other two picks, which came in at #36 (compensation for losing Nelson Cruz) and #68 (the regular second round pick), the Orioles went outside of the box, at least as far as the scouting-industrial complex is concerned.
Mountcastle, picked 36th, was ranked as the 108th prospect in the draft by Fangraphs, 122nd by Baseball America, and was not included in a top 125 draft prospects by Baseball Prospectus. On the surface, that kind of reach might suggest that the Orioles would be planning to sign Mountcastle for less than the $1.7 million slot value for the pick, using that money to sign a different player over-slot later in the draft.
Perhaps that is still the plan, but the selection of Hughes at #68 overall does not seem like that's the player who's getting the extra money spent on him. Hughes, at least as far as these evaluator types are concerned, is another kind of head-scratcher pick. The Baseball America ranking placed him 255th, though Fangraphs had him as high as 137th. Still, that's a surprising reach for #68, again at least on the surface.
Of course, it's also possible that the Orioles are just higher on these players than the rest of the industry is. One way to win the draft is to turn the obvious players into stars - which is not a trait the Orioles have generally displayed in the last decade. Another way to win the draft is to turn players into solid players or even stars who not everyone expected would be a star. They haven't been very good at this over the last decade either, but it only takes one lucky draft to turn that around.
I'll fully admit that I had no idea who Stewart was until I read his name linked to the Orioles in mock drafts a few days ago, and I have never heard of Mountcastle or Hughes before today. I have never watched any of them play, or any of the other players the Orioles might have drafted instead.
That said, here's a little more about each of these picks.
D.J. Stewart - 1st round, 25th overall
The above video was shot by Baseball America.
Even to a know-nothing schmo like myself, that is a batting stance that stands out as something that you don't see every day. In their scouting report on Stewart, Baseball America noted that Stewart "has managed to make his unorthodox stance work in college, but scouts aren't sold it will work at the next level. ... It's tough to unleash his raw power."
Orioles scouting director Gary Rajsich spoke to MASN's Steve Melewski about Stewart. He said that "Orioles scouts have no concern about the pronounced crouch" and that there are no plans to make Stewart change his stance as he goes into the professional ranks.
ESPN's Keith Law listed Stewart in the section of picks he questioned. Law had this to say about the Orioles' first round pick:
Stewart is a lot like Naylor, another big-bodied kid who can hit and has some power, but has major positional and weight questions. Stewart is listed at 6 feet, 230 pounds, is probably heavier, and has a thick lower half that makes it hard to picture him staying in the outfield even though he has plenty of arm for it. He also struggled with the wood bat last summer, the worst performer on the collegiate national team.
Well, that's significantly less exciting. Let's hope the Orioles people are more right about Stewart than anybody else. Billy Beane would remind Law that we're not selling jeans here.
Ryan Mountcastle - 1st round (comp.), 36th overall
The above video was shot at the 2014 Under Armour All-America Game. What I find impressive in the fielding portion is the way he's able to ignore the swarm of World War II-era bombers to keep taking grounders. Fielding in the middle of carpet bombing is the new market inefficiency.
About the Orioles' compensation round pick, Baseball America wrote this in its scouting report:
Mountcastle stands out most for his hitting ability. His tremendous bat speed leads to elite exit velocity when he squares balls up, giving him above-average power. He has a loose swing and does a good job of making adjustments to make consistent contact.
Almost no one is actually as good as they sound on their scouting report, but if they can't even make you sound good on a scouting report, then you're probably really in trouble. And that, at least, sounds good. One problem for Mountcastle, which MLB Network noted in analyzing the pick after it was made, is that scouts don't believe he's long for shortstop, with third base or more likely left field as future landing spots.
If the bat plays for Mountcastle, the Orioles will find a way to get him up through the ranks and onto the field at Camden Yards. This is the team that's given us Steve Pearce the second baseman. Rajsich indicated that the Orioles will keep Mountcastle playing shortstop initially.
One gets the impression from his new Twitter picture that Mountcastle had some idea he was going to be drafted by the Orioles before draft day began:
Ryan, you had me at the Maryland flag.
Jonathan Hughes - 2nd round, 68th overall
The above video is from MLB.com.
In his post-draft conference call with Orioles reporters, Rajsich said of Hughes, "We love his arm. (Hughes) has advanced mechanics with a plus arm and is athletic. I've said it many times, we look for athletic throwers with plus arms and he fits that. He's got a good four-pitch mix, throws strikes, and has good command."
Baseball America summed up Hughes like so:
Hughes is listed at 6-foot-2, 185, and can run his fastball up to 95 mph. He more typically pitches with a bit less velocity, but gets good life on the pitch when he keeps it down in the zone. He throws two breaking balls, with his slider slightly ahead of his curveball, and occasionally mixes in a changeup. Hughes earns praise for his athleticism and competitiveness.
Does that sound like the same guy? I don't know if that translates to "a good four-pitch mix" or not. MLB.com's scouting capsule offers the down-side for Hughes, with the note that scouts think that the high three-quarter arm slot and "long arm action" mean that "hitters have a good look at his pitches."
That sounds like a task for your professional development staff to work out. Any second round pick is going to have their flaws, or they wouldn't be a second round pick. Any second round pick could end up being a good or even great player. It's just going to take some work.
Hughes' sister Kaitlyn snapped a picture on Instagram that gives you the idea he, too, probably started the day with some idea he would soon be an Oriole:
The best part of the draft is all of these people and their families being thrilled to be in the Orioles organization. Best of luck to all three of these players and everyone else the Orioles draft this year. Here's hoping that they can be the best players that they can be and work their way up to the big leagues.