Every baseball team is drafting multiple future All-Stars with every draft. All you have to do is ask them after the draft. Part of the annual ritual is that thirty scouting directors talk to thirty sets of local baseball reporters to proclaim how happy they are with the players they took and how great they think those players are going to be.
Sometimes some of the things that the people say prove to be correct. Other times this is less true. The Orioles proclaimed to be happy with last year's first round pick, D.J. Stewart, but after his first year in professional ball, where he is still batting just .223 in Low-A Delmarva, one imagines that enthusiasm has diminished somewhat.
It’ll be years before any definitive winners and losers can be proclaimed from this draft. The draft is only the first step. Teams then have to actually develop the players and turn them into big leaguers, or trade pieces for useful big leaguers. That has proven to be the tough part for the O’s in recent years.
For a third consecutive draft, the Orioles were the last team in the AL East to get to make their first selection. That may be part of what led them to pursue a different strategy than their various division rivals. Maybe it will work out for them this time.
Whose draft looks the best right now? Below is a survey of the teams in the division. Who was their top pick? How many intriguing prospects did they manage to draft in the first ten rounds? For the sake of simplicity, this assumes teams will sign all of their first ten rounds' worth of picks since those are the ones who must sign or they lose bonus pool money.
Boston Red Sox
- Total Bonus Pool: $6,997,400
- Top Pick: Jason Groome - LHP - Barnegat HS (NJ) - #3 on Baseball America 500
- Top 200 BA players drafted: Groome, C.J. Chatham (#101), Shaun Anderson (#151), Bobby Dalbec (#118), Mike Shawaryn (#77), Steve Nogosek (#164)
The Red Sox were the worst team in the division once again in 2015, meaning their pick came up first in 2016’s draft. They were less bad than in 2014 so the pick was not protected. The Red Sox did not sign or lose any free agents to cause them to gain or lose any draft picks.
Throughout the spring, Groome seemed like a potential top overall selection, or at least a sure thing for the top five. Yet he ended up falling down to the Red Sox at #12. Those guys have all the luck. Then again, they’ll have to pony up to sign him, and it seems like that has affected the rest of their draft strategy as they have taken some possible lower-ceiling underslot guys to make sure they can sign Groome.
On the other hand, you can see why they rolled the dice on Groome after he fell to them. This from MLB.com, who had him as the #1 draft prospect:
Groome has everything to be a top-of-the-rotation left-handed starting pitcher, from his 6-foot-6 frame to the potential to have three above-average to plus offerings. The fastball is already there, up to 96 mph and sitting 92-93 mph over the summer, and in the 90-94 mph range in the early stages of the spring. Groome features a nasty curve as well, with tight rotation and bite.
After drafting Groome, the Red Sox did not take a high school player again until they picked Puerto Rican Alan Marrero (BA #445) in the eighth round.
The Red Sox also picked shortstop Nick Quintana (BA #114) in the eleventh round. A high schooler, he may be a bit of a tough sign, but if they throw some money at him, that’s another possible talent added to their system.
It's a lot of eggs in the Groome basket, but then, Groome is the kind of player who, if he reaches his potential, would make this draft a win for the Red Sox no matter what any other players do. Shawaryn, a pitcher from the University of Maryland, is seen as a reliever in the pro ranks but with a good chance of succeeding there.
Tampa Bay Rays
- Total Bonus Pool: $7,643,100
- Top Pick: Josh Lowe - 3B - Pope HS (GA) - #17 on BA500
- Top 200 BA players drafted: Lowe, Ryan Boldt (#70), Jake Fraley (#67), Easton McGee (#112), Mikey York (#155), J.D. Busfield (#154)
The Rays had the biggest draft pool of the AL East teams, as they combined a fourth place finish in the AL East with an additional competitive balance round B pick that, unlike the Orioles, they did not stupidly give away.
ESPN’s Keith Law proclaimed Lowe, the Rays first rounder, "one of the more prominent boom-or-bust prospects in the draft" - with what Law says is 30 home run upside at a premium position, or too many strikeouts to ever matter. Lowe even has potential as a pitcher if he doesn’t work out as a hitter after all.
Other than Lowe, the Rays also picked three high school right-handed pitchers. Only York, their fifth rounder, ranked in the top 200 of these three players, but the other two were both in the 200-300 range. Third-rounder Austin Franklin could be a reach or he could develop into the next young pitcher where everyone is like, "Dang, how did the Rays get that guy?"
The Rays compensation pick was Fraley, who is described like so by MLB.com:
Fraley is well suited to bat atop a lineup, as he has a patient contact-oriented approach and the plus speed and know-how to steal bases. His flat left-handed swing doesn't yield much power, but his on-base skills rank among the best in college baseball.
Wouldn’t it be nice for the Orioles to draft a player like that? But they decided that they’d rather have the Braves pay Brian Matusz’s salary instead. Well, as it works out, the Rays balance round pick slot was before the Orioles anyway, so no Fraley for them regardless.
New York Yankees
- Total Bonus Pool: $5,831,200
- Top Pick: Blake Rutherford - OF - Chaminade Prep HS (CA) - #9 on BA500
- Top 200 BA players drafted: Rutherford, Nick Solak (#86), Nolan Martinez (#67)
The Yankees have the smallest bonus pool of any of the AL East teams. They finished second in the division last year and did not have any extra picks due to free agent signings, though they didn’t forfeit any picks either.
If the Red Sox drafting Groome was putting all their eggs in one basket, the Yankees drafting Rutherford was really putting all their eggs in that basket. He could be a very good player to get to draft at #18 overall, so it may be a big win for them. It certainly has the narrative: Rutherford is said to be a longtime Yankees fan whose favorite player was Derek Jeter growing up.
Why would a player like Rutherford slip? Possibly he was demanding a bigger signing bonus than many teams wanted to pay him. The Yankees have clearly adjusted their draft strategy to make that payment themselves. They drafted five college seniors - typically cheap signs - in the first ten rounds, which is not typical.
MLB.com on Rutherford:
The left-handed-hitting outfielder from the Southern California high school ranks can do just about everything on a baseball field. Rutherford has the chance to be an above-average hitter with above-average raw power. He'll record average to plus run times, and his speed helps him on the basepaths and in the outfield. Rutherford is a solid defender in the outfield, though most feel he'll move to right field in the future.
On the other hand, a potential red flag about Rutherford is that he is a full year older than most graduating high schoolers. Much like the Red Sox with Groome, if the Yankees bet on Rutherford pays off, this will look like a fine draft for them.
Toronto Blue Jays
- Total Bonus Pool: $6,665,900
- Top Pick: T.J. Zeuch - RHP - Pittsburgh - #20 on BA500
- Top 200 BA players drafted: Zeuch, J.B. Woodman (#119), Bo Bichette (#46), Zach Jackson (#98)
The Blue Jays were the division winners last year, which kicked them down to pick #21 for their first pick. They had an extra second round pick due to not signing last year’s second rounder. I'd make fun of them for that but of course the Orioles had the same problem.
The Jays picked two sons of former big leaguers in their top ten picks, nabbing Bichette, son of Dante, as well as Cavan Biggio, son of Craig. Whether those are good guys to get with high picks is another question - while BA likes Bichette, other publications did so much less. MLB.com rated him 90th.
Zeuch is 6’7", which makes you interesting as a prospect when you can do this, from MLB’s scouting capsule:
Zeuch has a four-pitch mix, all thrown with steep angle from his 6-foot-7 frame that could add more strength. He uses a relatively easy delivery to fire fastballs that have touched 96-97 mph since his return. He'll sit in the 92-94 mph range and his fastball has good run and sink to it. Zeuch will use both a slider and a curve effectively, with his breaking stuff occasionally flashing plus, though it's been inconsistent.
Over their first ten rounds, the Jays drafted only two high school players. One of them, David Daniels, was not anywhere on the BA500. That's going obscure. They did not choose any college seniors in their first ten rounds, so that could be a sign most of the guys are going to sign for more or less slot money.
ESPN’s Law pronounced that the Jays draft was his "least favorite of all 30, considering the picks and pool available, as well as the players taken."
- Total Bonus Pool: $6,611,400
- Top Pick: Cody Sedlock - RHP - Illinois - #42 on BA500
- Top 200 BA players drafted: Sedlock, Keegan Akin (#80), Matthias Dietz (#102), Austin Hays (#47), Brenan Hanifee (#181)
This is a big difference compared to last year, where the Orioles only ended up with one top 100 BA prospect even though they had four of the first 102 picks. This year they had four of the first 91 picks and came away with four of the top 102 BA prospects.
Does that mean it will be a successful draft? Well, that’s up to the Orioles development staff and the players themselves now. Baseball America is, of course, not the final arbiter of a player’s quality. The Orioles may find some sleepers, or they may have gone looking for some sleepers who never actually wake up.
The Orioles went heavy on pitchers, taking eight with their first eleven picks. That includes a couple of senior signs in the ninth or tenth rounds, money that will probably shift around to make sure Hanifee doesn't go to East Carolina and that fifth and sixth rounders Alexis Torres and Tobias Myers end up in the pro ranks as well.
MLB.com on Sedlock:
He throws four pitches, fills the strike zone, generates a lot of groundouts and has a strong 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame. Sedlock's best pitch is his heavy sinker, which sits at 91-93 mph when he starts and can reach 96 in shorter stints. He also can miss bats with his low-80s slider. Sedlock's curveball and changeup aren't as effective, but they have their moments as well.
Every time the Orioles draft a pitcher whose best pitch is his sinker, an angel gets its wings. Law, who rated Sedlock 17th on his big board, really liked this pick for the O’s - getting that player at #27 in the draft is potentially good value.
You can never have too many pitchers. Hopefully if some of these guys start working out, the Orioles don't just immediately trade them - or if they do trade them, hopefully they trade them for better players than Travis Snider and Gerardo Parra.
So who won the draft out of the AL East teams? Ask me again in five years. But one thing we can do right now is guess what a winning draft for each of the teams would probably look like.
For the Yankees and the Red Sox, having a successful draft will mean the player in which they invested heavily has succeeded. For the Rays, they could stand to see their boom-or-bust player go boom - though even if he doesn't they have some other choices available.
The Jays will need to have some of their farther-afield picks pay off with useful prospects. It might happen. The Orioles will look like winners if any two of their players are in the big leagues, especially if Sedlock works his way up to the big league rotation.
First they have to get all of these guys signed. In four drafts since the current slotting system came into place, the O's have only failed to sign two players picked in the top ten rounds. After that, it’s up to fate.