Having a good draft when your first choice doesn’t arrive until #90 overall is almost impossible. This was the story of the Orioles draft in 2014. When other teams have 89 chances to take the best available player, the pickings by the time that #90 selection arrives are slim indeed.
This was the conscious choice the Orioles made that year, that their draft would be a disaster and they would push hard to get players who would help them win. The signings of Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz, as well as the July 2013 trade for Bud Norris, were the moves that plowed them deep into the draft before they ever got to name a name.
The Orioles ran away with the AL East that season. Cruz and Norris were important contributors to a team that was only a week of bad BABIP luck against an inferior Royals team away from making the World Series.
The win-now moves paid off in the aggregate, but the Orioles farm system is paying the price for it now. The O’s high minors are bereft of impact talent. Many teams that selected in the ranges where the O’s might have picked found players who are now top prospects in their systems or even in all of MLB.
The review of this draft is as much a survey of who the Orioles gave up the opportunity to take as anything else. Three years is enough time to at least see who’s currently on a big league path (nobody) and who might make it if they can fix some flaws.
1st round, 17th overall - Pick forfeited due to Jimenez signing
Three of Jimenez’s four years with the Orioles have been torture. There’s nothing new to say about that. The Orioles thought they were getting a bargain on a second-tier starting pitcher and what they got was an expensive years-long mess.
In this spot, the Royals ended up drafting lefty Brandon Finnegan, who has already accumulated 3.2 bWAR at the MLB level.
Many teams picking later in the first round than this found players who are now among MLB’s top 100 prospects: righty Michael Kopech, righty Erick Fedde, outfielder Bradley Zimmer, first baseman Casey Gillaspie, righty Grant Holmes, third baseman Matt Chapman, righty Luis Ortiz, lefty Justus Sheffield, righty Luke Weaver, and righty Jack Flaherty.
Basically, you couldn’t shake a stick at this point without hitting a future top 100 prospect, and the Orioles, by signing Jimenez, were nowhere to be found.
Competitive balance round A, 37th overall - Pick traded to Houston for Norris
Even if they hadn’t traded this pick to Houston, it would have been surrendered as the highest-available pick when they signed Cruz. So as things played out, they weren’t going to pick here either.
The impact talent was not so plentiful by this point in time. Just one early second round pick is a top 100 prospect now: right Sean Reid-Foley, drafted by the Blue Jays. The player Houston picked, outfielder Derek Fisher, isn’t a top 100 prospect in the game, but he has mashed his way through their minor leagues, including a .315/.380/.565 through 41 games at Triple-A this year.
It’s unlikely the Orioles would have picked Fisher or Reid-Foley, but we’ll never know because they never had the chance.
2nd round, 55th overall - Pick forfeited due to Cruz signing
Cruz may be the greatest one year Oriole of my lifetime or ever. I miss that guy. He already has 11 homers this year and would lead the Orioles. Dang.
If the Orioles HAD picked here, and if they had their eye on the right players and got lucky, they may have been able to add a top 100 talent to their system, as a few teams did in the mid-to-late second round. Outfielder Alex Verdugo, shortstop Isan Diaz, and pitchers Mitch Keller and Brent Honeywell are all current top 100 prospects who went in this range.
Now for the players who got picked by the Orioles. Hooray for actually making picks!
3rd round, 90th overall - Brian Gonzalez - Archbishop McCarthy HS (FL)
A paragraph I wrote about Gonzalez one year ago that still amazes me now:
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.
The Orioles couldn’t even make a boring third round pick without doing something weird. As for how Gonzalez is doing, he had to repeat Low-A Delmarva last year, but he did well there and made it up to High-A Frederick for this year, where he’s actually their best starting pitcher by ERA... with a 4.58, in part thanks to walking too many guys.
Safe to say Gonzalez will probably have to show something better than that to have a place in the O’s future.
Pat Connaughton (fourth round) slipped to the O’s where he did because teams weren’t sure if he’d stick to baseball. Sure enough, Connaughton was drafted into the NBA, where he’s spent two years towards the end of the bench on the Portland Trail Blazers. If he comes back to baseball, which he apparently might, the Orioles still hold his rights.
Tanner Scott (sixth round) is the #10 Orioles prospect, which says as much about the rest of the system as it does about Scott. He throws 100+ as a lefty reliever, an exciting number until you see that he’s walked 20 batters in 24 innings this year. But he’s also struck out 34. With less bad command, watch out.
Beyond that, you have to squint to come up with something. Lefty John Means (11th round) and righty Matthew Grimes (18th round) are in Bowie’s rotation, but Means has a 4.02 ERA there and Grimes is at 3.89. Don’t give up on them quite yet.
There’s also Stacey’s cousin Lucas Long (24th round, not actually Stacey’s cousin) holding a 2.00 ERA with 29 strikeouts against just five walks in a jack-of-all-trades role for the Baysox, who is a favorite on Camden Chat mostly because of that (not) familial connection.
Was it a lost draft for the Orioles? Maybe not entirely, if Scott turns into the closer of the future or if Connaughton comes back into the fold and turns into a useful piece. But there’s only so much you can do when you don’t pick until the third round, and the Orioles did win the AL East in 2014. It could be worse.