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Orioles 2015 draft review: D.J. Stewart vs. other late first round picks

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Did the Orioles make the right pick last year? It's too early for a final answer, but early returns suggest they might have done better elsewhere.

Not even a year has passed since the 2015 draft. That means it's far too early to make any proclamations about which picks have worked out and which picks have not. Players taken in that draft, like Orioles first rounder D.J. Stewart, picked 25th overall, are only four months into their professional careers.

However, it's hard to ignore the fact that the Stewart draft pick has not really worked out how the Orioles might have hoped so far. Typically, in taking a college hitter with your first round pick, you're probably hoping they're going to move faster than a high school player.

The fact that Stewart is still in Low-A Delmarva and not looking like he deserves an imminent promotion is a bit of a disappointment in and of itself. These problems may be ones that should have been foreseen, as the big question with Stewart was whether his unorthodox batting stance would translate well to pro ball.

Based on his experience at Aberdeen last season, the answer to that question is no. Stewart only batted .218 there, with a .633 OPS in total. That's probably not what the Orioles hoped for when they drafted Stewart.

This season, Stewart is working with a new, less weird-looking batting stance. Results have not improved much. Actually, they haven't really improved at all. In Low-A Delmarva, Stewart has a .215 batting average and is slugging about the same at .349.

The big difference is he's walking a lot more, enough for a .376 on-base percentage. This skill will be tougher to maintain at higher levels if his overall threat level as a hitter is known to be low

None of this means that the Orioles are idiots for taking Stewart with the 25th pick last year. Every player you get that far down in the draft is going to have flaws. Teams have to decide which flaws they can work around or correct.

If the Orioles are going to compete frequently, they will just as frequently face this problem in the next year's draft. Win 96 games and the division and you don't get a high first pick.

After Stewart, there were ten picks made before the Orioles got to choose again. Keeping in mind that there's a lot that can change about Stewart and any one of these players before the final chapter is written on their careers, some of these ten picks have been much more successful ones thus far.

The Orioles scouting staff has hopefully asked themselves what they missed with some of these players that might have put them ahead of Stewart in the O's eyes.

27th overall - Mike Soroka - RHP - Bishop Carroll HS (Alberta)

The Braves drafted Soroka, who was ranked as 90th in the draft class by Baseball America and in the 60s by most other publications. So he looked like a bit of a reach for a top pick. The Braves had already drafted at 14th overall - maybe they felt more free to reach with their second pick, as the Orioles did when they picked Ryan Mountcastle at #36.

Perhaps that lower rank for Soroka was the result of coming from a somewhat obscure place. Calgary isn't really known for being an MLB pipeline. Do you think the Orioles even had a scout patrolling Alberta? Maybe they decided they didn't want a high school pitcher with a high pick.

MLB.com on Soroka:

The 6-foot-4 right-hander brings an exciting mixture of stuff and feel for pitching to the table ... His fastball sits in the low-90s and he commands it well. He can really spin his breaking ball and has a good feel for a changeup. He absolutely pounds the strike zone and could have above-average command when all is said and done.

Soroka was one of the youngest players in the draft class, and for Low-A Rome this season as one of the league's youngest players, he's held batters to a 2.62 ERA with a 1.073 WHIP in 55 innings pitched.

31st overall - Chris Shaw - 1B - Boston College

Shaw ranked from 45th-62nd in the various scouting-industrial complex rankings of draft prospects. Another case where maybe a team felt more free to reach after having already made a pick - the Giants drafted at #18 first before taking Shaw here. With your second pick, why not take a chance on a college first baseman?

What may have scared teams away from Shaw, according to MLB Trade Rumors, was that Shaw suffered a hamate bone injury in April of last year and did not display the same power on returning, before the draft. Shaw went on to sign for $1.4 million, about a half a million below the slow value for that pick.

If his power was a concern, he alleviated that immediately upon hitting the professional ranks. In short-season A-ball after getting drafted, Shaw hit 12 home runs in 46 games. For this year, he's jumped up to High-A, where he has 11 home runs in 46 games and a .976 OPS overall.

32nd overall - Ke'Bryan Hayes - 3B - Concordia Lutheran HS (TX)

Hayes was linked to the Orioles in one of the early mock drafts last year, though they ended up going in a different direction. Exactly why is not clear. If they shied away from Hayes because they thought a college bat would be better or move faster, that may have been poor logic.

Less than a year after being drafted by the Pirates, Hayes has played his way up to #99 on MLB.com's top 100 prospects. About Hayes, their scouting capsule says this:

Right now, he's a hit above power kind of bat at the plate, one with an advanced approach, especially for a teenager. Hayes doesn't try to do too much, looking to hit line drives to the gaps. Most feel the power will come in time as he learns to turn on pitches more.

In terms of results, Hayes, playing in the same league as Stewart, has batted .273/.326/.416 as one of the younger players in the league - and that's with an anticipated power development still to come. No surprise he's seen as a better prospect thus far.

The complex was a bit more divided on Hayes - some, like ESPN's Keith Law, really liked him, rating him as high as 24th in the class before the draft. Others like BA had Hayes in the mid-50s.

Again, early results are not the same as final results here. Hayes in particular makes for a striking comparison early on, though, since he's years younger and hitting better in the same league.

34th overall - Christin Stewart - OF - Tennessee

A common theme here is that these picks were all made by teams who'd already picked once. That's also the case with the other Stewart, taken by the Tigers at #34 after they'd already drafted high school pitcher Beau Burrows at #22.

Perhaps that's a factor in why the picks following Stewart may have seemed to be more risky reaches. Those teams were in more of a position to gamble with their second pick.

This Stewart was, according to the complex, a reach at 34. Some had him in the 60s and he was in the 80s and 90s in other rankings. If the Orioles draft a guy rated in the 60s with their top pick this year, your first reaction would probably be a resigned, "Here we go again." The Tigers could have something interesting in such a player.

The Tigers threw their Stewart into Low-A right away and he batted .286/.375/.492 in that stretch, helping West Michigan win the Midwest League title. He's moved up to High-A this year, where he's batting .232/.363/.537.

Not a great batting average while doing a good job of taking walks. That's much like the Orioles' Stewart, but unlike D.J., Christin is showing plenty of power already, with 15 home runs in 50 games this year. Their Stewart strikes out a fair bit (24.1%), which could hurt him as he goes along towards the bigs. It hasn't yet.

**

Perhaps it's that sometimes the risky pick is a better choice to make than the safe one. On the other hand, should D.J. Stewart even count as a "safe" pick given the potential major issue - thus far proving true - with his batting stance? The O's may have seen Stewart as a risky pick that they deemed they could work with.

If it was a question of sidestepping risk with a top pick in the 20s, the O's will be in a similar situation in this draft. Signing Yovani Gallardo has robbed them of their first rounder, so they won't be picking until #27, the compensation for losing Wei-Yin Chen. Their next pick after that won't be until 54th overall.

It's far too early to make any grand pronouncements about the relative success or failure of any of these picks. A lot can happen between where they are now and the big leagues. They are still just starting out. But, as a wiser man than me once said: Where it ends usually depends on where you start.