There must be something in the water in Illinois, or at least that’s what the Orioles are hoping. Two of their three picks from the first day of the MLB draft came from the college ranks in that state, including their top pick, Illinois righty Cody Sedlock. The third of the picks hails from Western Michigan University.
As you’d expect from the top pick, the most interesting of the bunch is Sedlock. He’s interesting for what he's done, such as earning the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year title, but he’s also interesting for what he says about himself.
In an interview with SB Nation sister site MLB Daily Dish before the draft, Sedlock was asked which big league pitcher he compares his own game to:
Jake Arrieta, absolutely. Same frame, same repertoire. ... I don't throw across my body as much as he does, but we both throw about 50% fastballs and two-seams with pretty good movement. About the same velocity, though he might throw a couple ticks higher than I do. Slider, curveball and we both have a changeup in our back pocket that we can use.
That’s something that will get your attention in a hurry. Not that O's fans should pin too many hopes on someone being the next version of Cubs Arrieta, but it’s fascinating that it’s how he sees himself. He repeated this statement in a conference call with O’s reporters on Thursday night.
The O's drafted Sedlock with the 27th overall pick, which they received when Wei-Yin Chen departed in free agency. The O’s other two picks on Thursday night were lefty Keegan Akin, the Western Michigan product, taken at #54, and 6’6" righty Matthias Dietz, from John A. Logan Community College in Illinois, with the 69th pick.
Orioles scouting director Gary Rajsich was full of praise for Sedlock - as you’d expect, since he did just draft the guy, of course. Thirty scouting directors were telling thirty sets of reporters on Thursday night that they drafted the guys they wanted to draft, and so on.
What Rajsich liked in particular about Sedlock is that he is "durable and athletic" with "a good arm, and he repeats his mechanics well." When comparing oneself to Arrieta, we know how big repeating mechanics can be. Rajsich noted he saw Sedlock twice this year and was "very taken with his size" - 6’4" - and the fact that he throws strikes.
An interesting and perhaps a bit unusual note about Sedlock is that he pitched out of the bullpen for his first two seasons with Illinois because there were so many other starters around, including one last year’s #6 overall pick, Tyler Jay.
MLB.com noted that Sedlock’s best pitch is a heavy sinker. You have to like anybody who can bring the potential for a lot of ground balls to Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
ESPN’s Keith Law was a fan of the Sedlock pick. He rated Sedlock as the 17th best prospect in the draft and listed it as one of the better selections of the round in terms of getting value for the draft slot.
Rajsich thinks that all three of these pitchers will debut at the short-season affiliate in Aberdeen, which seems to be the organization’s standard for college draftees. That’s assuming they all sign, which should be expected, but you never know. The O’s had the Dietz pick in the first place for not signing last year’s second rounder.
At 6’0", Akin is both a little short for a Stormtrooper and a pitcher, but the best of them overcome that. It’s not a guaranteed handicap for the Western Michigan product anyway, just something that people will talk about. His results will matter far more. Akin has being a lefty on his side.
Akin ranked a bit lower on prospect lists compared to what you might think for the 54th pick. That’s probably because his competition was the Mid-American Conference, not known as a baseball powerhouse. He popped in at 80th on the Baseball America 500 and 119th on MLB’s 200 draft prospects.
In that way, this looks like a bit of a similar pick to what the Orioles did with their second pick last year, Ryan Mountcastle, taking a player who is maybe going to be a bit of an underslot signing so they have money to use elsewhere. Mountcastle is at least an interesting prospect so far and hopefully Akin will be too.
Rajsich, predictably, likes what he sees in Akin:
We like Keegan. He’s a fearless competitor. He’s got a lightning-fast arm. He always seems to have a little extra in his arm when he needs it. He can really pitch with his fastball. His secondary stuff is developing and we think it will get better. We think he’s a future middle of the rotation starter and the kid really knows how to compete. He’s a winner.
Akin also spoke to MLBDD before the draft. When asked what he sees as his own strengths, he offered this answer:
The mental side, which is the most important part of the game, I think... I'm pretty good at having a short memory and forgetting about things like a bad start or an error behind me. I've learned to overcome them better and handle those types of situations."
That is an answer that maps to Rajsich seeing "a fearless competitor," and if the Orioles are fortunate, the developing secondary stuff that Rajsich mentions will happen and the future he envisions for Akin will play out.
Sedlock and Akin were teammates in the Cape Cod Summer League last summer, which is when Sedlock first appeared on the Orioles radar. Maybe they can move up through the professional ranks together.
As soon as the Orioles drafted Dietz, last night’s MLB Network broadcast crew proclaimed him to be the best junior college pitching prospect in this year’s draft. It’s not clear how much competition there was for this title, but hey, it’s something, right?
Although he’s just a sophomore, Dietz is basically the same age as the other two early O’s picks. They were all born in 1995. Dietz, who is a righty, is 6’6", which is the kind of thing you notice right away, along with the fact that it mentions a three-quarter arm slot delivery in his scouting report.
Dietz is another guy who is a bit of a reach at this spot based on his prospect rankings, though not too much of one. Law, who liked him the best, ranked him 80th. Others had Dietz in the 97-102 range.
How does a guy who is 6’6" and can hit 98 in relief end up as a second round pick? Probably because of this, from ESPN’s scouting report:
For a huge man, Dietz generates impressive arm acceleration and deception. His secondaries are relatively unimpressive ... he doesn't have a viably deep repertoire to start. ... Pro instruction will need to tighten up at least one of his secondary pitches if Dietz is going to profile as any kind of big leaguer.
That makes him sound like he’s destined for the bullpen, so that’s an easy answer to why he didn't get drafted sooner.
The 6’6" right-handed pitcher with a bit of a strange delivery brings to mind a potential similarity to Brad Brach. The Orioles do have a number of successful bullpen arms with unusual arm slots right now.
If you get a late-inning reliever from your late second round pick that's a fine outcome, though it’ll take hard work and good luck for Dietz to reach even that level in his professional career.
It's not as good of a draft as it would have been if the Orioles had picks #14 and #76, but there’s no sense lamenting that any farther. They’ve gotten who they’ve gotten. All the best to Cody, Keegan, and Matthias as they try to work their way up to Baltimore. Birdland will be rooting for them every step of the way.