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Orioles failure to sign second round pick represents missed opportunity to add talent

A second round pick slipped away from the Orioles at the signing deadline last week. They'll get a pick next year as compensation, but they missed out on a real chance to add talent to the system right now.

Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Friday's deadline to sign 2015 draft picks came and went quietly for the Orioles, with them having signed most of their top draft picks long before the deadline. One slipped through the cracks, with second round pick Jonathan Hughes, a right-handed pitcher, deciding to honor a commitment to attend Georgia Tech rather than sign with the O's. For a franchise that doesn't have much in the way of prospect depth, this is a disappointing outcome, turning the pick into a missed opportunity to add talent.

The Orioles don't go home empty-handed from the Hughes pick, as their failure to sign him at #68 overall this year means they will receive the #69 pick in next year's draft. Maybe that will turn out to be better for the O's in the long run, as this draft was generally considered to be on the weaker side, while next year's is forecast to be deeper in talent. They might use that pick to draft a top 100 player in a better draft class, or use the slot money from it to draft a high-caliber talent with a middling pick.

Even considering that, there's a good chance the Orioles could have drafted a player who would have added some strength to their farm system at #68 this year. Maybe they thought Hughes would be that guy and they misjudged his willingness to sign. Given that Hughes did not seem to be considered a second-round talent by the industry, it looked like a pick where the O's might try to go underslot and sign someone else later. We don't know why the negotiations didn't come to an agreement and for the sake of this article it doesn't matter why they didn't.

Given the outcome, the Orioles should have picked someone who they could sign. It's not good to miss out on adding a second round talent, especially when the Orioles didn't even have a second round pick last year.

The #68 pick in this draft carried a slot value of $907,000. By not signing Hughes, the O's lost that money. With a draft pool of $6,850,400, they could have exceeded their pool by a bit less than $350,000 without losing any future picks. So if they had drafted someone else, they could have signed them to up to a $1.2 million bonus, if they wanted.

Between the time the O's picked Hughes and when they made their next selection, Garrett Cleavinger at #102 overall, a number of top 100 names from the draft (as rated by Baseball America) came off the board within that budget.

Pick Team Player Position School BA Rank Signing Bonus
70 Angels Jahmai Jones OF Wesleyen HS (Ga.) 71 $1,100,000
71 Reds Tanner Rainey RHP West Alabama 93 $432,950
73 Twins Kyle Cody RHP Kentucky 76 unsigned
79 Astros Riley Ferrell RHP TCU 59 $1,000,000
80 Twins Travis Blankenhorn 3B Pottsville Area HS (Pa.) 75 $650,000
81 Red Sox Austin Rei C Washington 68 $742,400
84 Reds Blake Trahan SS Louisiana-Lafeyette 65 $708,900
86 Padres Jacob Nix RHP IMG Academy 37 $900,000
87 Rays Brandon Lowe 2B Maryland 98 $697,500
92 Yankees Drew Finley RHP Rancho Bernardo HS (Calif.) 60 $950,000
95 Giants Jalen Miller SS Riverwood Int'l Charter (Ga.) 35 $1,100,000
97 Athletics Dakota Chalmers RHP North Forsyth HS (Ga.) 34 $1,200,000
100 Cardinals Harrison Bader OF Florida 85 $400,000

Two things about the above. First off, there is no guarantee that the Orioles could have signed one of these players for the exact price they signed for. If a player really settles in on one team then they sometimes will give other teams a higher dollar amount demand to scare them away. Nix getting $900,000 particularly stands out, but who knows, maybe he told other teams he wanted the $1.5 million that the Astros were going to give him last year before the whole Brady Aiken situation blew up their plans.

Second, another pick in this range was the #74 overall pick they traded to the Dodgers in exchange for the Dodgers eating Ryan Webb's $2.75 million salary. They signed UVa. righty Josh Sborz for $722,500, about $100k under slot. So for about $5 million more (Webb's salary, the two slot values, plus 5%) the O's could have had two names from this list.

What's that really worth, though? It's fair to wonder. Even for guys who get a million bucks as a signing bonus, the big leagues aren't a guarantee. That's just not how the draft works. You can go back ten years to the 2005 draft, very well-regarded in retrospect with seven players in the first 12 picks having at least 15 career bWAR; five of them have 30+.

Get into the late second round and third round, though, and your star power is diminished. The best player in the 68-102 range in that draft was Yunel Escobar (24.1 bWAR), followed by Nick Hundley (7.1 bWAR) and Brian Duensing (6.0 bWAR). More players missed the majors than made it, and many of the ones who made it had marginal careers.

A similar thing plays out with this range of picks from the 2006 draft. The best careers to date belong to Jon Jay (11.3 bWAR), Joe Smith (10.5 bWAR), and Justin Masterson (9.6 bWAR). In this range, the Orioles drafted Zach Britton, who became a useful player only last season. Of the players who made the majors, again many who made it have negative WAR for their career, or only a tiny bit positive, like Brennan Boesch.

Still, even if the odds of success for any one pick are low, you definitely don't get any success from a pick you didn't even sign. The odds are that probably half of the players on the table above should at least see the big leagues, with one or two carving out good careers and others squeaking along around replacement level. Maybe one or two will be useful trade pieces for their teams while they are still young and full of potential.

The Orioles missed out on their chance at all of this. Maybe it's not precisely their fault. Maybe it is. What it looks like is that they tried to get cute with their second rounder and it didn't work out. Though they'll get a pick next year as compensation, let's hope that results in a more straightforward draft strategy with a high pick. Draft the best prospect you can, sign him, and see what happens. It doesn't have to be hard.