If the Orioles scouting team was challenged in the 2013 draft by having to find the possibly valuable players when they pick late in each round, the 2014 draft represented an even greater challenge. The team did not get to pick at all until the third round.
That was a consequence of signing two qualifying offer-attached free agents, Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz, as well as trading the competitive balance pick (37th overall) in the deal that brought Bud Norris to Baltimore.
Two of those three moves bore fruit for an O's team that went on to surprise everyone, win the division, and sweep the ALDS against three former Cy Young winners. In that way, the moves paid off, but the Orioles having to wait until pick #90 to get any players in that June's draft definitely came at a cost.
In today's draft review, a quick glance at some of the players the O's might have been able to draft with the selections they traded or forfeited, then a survey of some of the dark horses they did draft who, with hard work and luck, could turn into something.
First round, 17th overall: Lost due to Jimenez signing
At this spot, the Royals took Brandon Finnegan, a top 100 prospect heading into 2015 who was sent to the Reds in the Johnny Cueto trade. Cueto wasn't even good until the World Series and they still went on to win it all.
The next pick, righty Erick Fedde, is presently MLB.com's #73 prospect. Also in the top 100 among late first-rounders: Bradley Zimmer (21st overall, #22 prospect), Justus Sheffield (31st overall, #99 prospect), Jack Flaherty (34th overall, #75 prospect), and Forrest Wall (35th overall, #85 prospect).
There's no guarantee the Orioles would have taken any of those players, or, if they had, that those players would develop into well-regarded prospects. But these are the kinds of players you miss out on when you give up your mid-first round pick. The same thing will happen in this year's draft due to the Yovani Gallardo signing.
CBA round, 37th overall: Traded to Houston for Norris
They sent the pick to Houston in the Norris trade, but as it ended up, due to the signing of Cruz, they wouldn't have made the pick anyway. At least there's no doubt that signing worked out.
The Astros picked Virginia outfielder Derek Fisher here. The 22 year old is not a top 100 prospect, but he is presently mashing in the Double-A Texas League to the tune of a .265/.360/.517 batting line.
One early second rounder is a top 100 prospect: A.J. Reed (42nd overall, #35 prospect).
Second round, 55th overall: Lost due to Cruz signing
In this draft spot, the Yankees picked a college reliever, Jacob Lindgren, who struck out 29 batters in 22 innings in Triple-A last year before being summoned to the big leagues. That didn't go very well for him and this year he's down in High-A where he can't throw strikes.
While some late second round picks from this draft may emerge as useful players, the only one who cracks a top 100 prospect list at this time is Brent Honeywell, taken 72nd overall by the Rays and now the #38 prospect in baseball.
The second round isn't that far down the board, but already when you get here, the odds are long of getting someone who sticks in the big leagues.
Now to the players the Orioles actually got to pick. Hooray for draft picks!
Third round, 90th overall: Brian Gonzalez - LHP - Archbishop McCarthy HS (FL)
Every year, Baseball America compiles a top 500 list of draft prospects. In the 2014 draft, Gonzalez was ranked at #386 and listed as a first baseman. So the Orioles were dancing to the beat of their own drummer in drafting him here, as a left-handed starting pitcher.
If he doesn't work out, it's not really something to lament. That's the third round for you.
Gonzalez is still down in Delmarva. This is his second year there, which he needed after posting a 5.71 ERA with 59 walks in 105.2 innings. Through nine starts this year, Gonzalez has a 1.95 ERA and has cut the walk rate significantly, so maybe he can start heading in the right direction now. Just 20 years old, he's still younger than most of the players in his league.
Fourth round, 121st overall: Pat Connaughton - RHP - Notre Dame
As a tall right-hander who played two sports at Notre Dame, Connaughton drew Jeff Samardzija comparisons. The Orioles drafted him knowing he'd be returning to school for his senior year basketball season - where he played well enough that he was also drafted into the NBA.
In what was already something of a lost draft, the O's maybe took a chance on Connaughton before another team would have due to his attention being split with basketball. It hasn't paid off yet, but he's only been a seldom-used reserve in Portland and hasn't given up on baseball entirely. The O's have kept the door open.
MLB.com only ranks righty David Hess (fifth round) as the #13 prospect, but ESPN's Keith Law has him up at third in the system, saying that he's "a four pitch guy ... with a chance to be a mid-rotation guy if any of the three offspeed pitches improves." He's doing well for Bowie so far this year.
Tanner Scott (sixth round) is a lefty reliever who can throw 100 but has walked 25 batters in 22.1 innings for Frederick this season. Which is probably why he was there for the taking for the O's at this point in the draft.
Jay Gonzalez (tenth round) is a personal favorite of mine if only because it seems like he's stolen two bases every day I do a minor league recap. But he's 24 and in Frederick and has never homered in professional baseball, so that .375 OBP probably isn't getting him too much farther.
John Means (13th round) is left-handed and has a pulse. Actually, he's having a great season for Frederick - a 1.80 ERA with 54 strikeouts and only 10 walks in 50 innings pitched. He's 23, so a bit old for Frederick success to be impressive.
However, Means was promoted to Bowie just yesterday. If he can handle that level - a big if, as the High-A to Double-A jump is regarded as a significant one - the O's may have found a sleeper.
There isn't a whole lot to review of the 2014 O's draft since it's only been two years and they've only got late-round picks to try to develop anyway. It's not the scouting or development staff's fault that the front office robbed them of picks.
The Orioles have been good in recent years and have made some win-now moves. In the aggregate, the moves made that impacted the 2014 draft paid off on the field at the MLB level.
There's still a price to be paid for that stuff later, and the O's farm system is paying it now for not having had any picks in the first two rounds of this draft.
At least you can say that the players passing for the best prospects are all starting pitchers. If things go well for Hess, he could be in the picture for the 2018 rotation, when the O's will have three spots open up. Maybe Means or Brian Gonzalez will end up in the picture another year down the road. Stranger things have happened.