Every year in the draft, every one of the 30 teams is drafting a future Hall of Famer and several future All-Stars. If you don’t believe it, just ask them right after the draft. When it’s over, you can always find 30 quotes from 30 scouting directors about how happy they are with the guys they picked and how much potential they see in those players being able to help the MLB team in the near future.
It’s not always that easy, as Orioles fans following the fortune of the team’s farm system are well aware. Injuries, bad luck, bad development, and bad drafting can all come together to keep a player from reaching the potential that a team believed he had, and which of these in what combination is not always readily evident to outsiders.
In recent years, the Orioles top draft picks have failed in most of those ways. Their first rounder from two years ago, D.J. Stewart, has just a .763 OPS for Double-A Bowie and isn’t considered among the top 20 Orioles prospects. Two years before that, they took Hunter Harvey, whose development was delayed by various injuries that culminated in his needing Tommy John surgery last year.
Even a first round pick that seemed like a success for a while, Kevin Gausman, has deteriorated in a big way. A team can find a solid player at #4 overall who has success at the MLB level, yet ongoing success is never guaranteed.
Still, you can’t proclaim the winners and losers of a draft until years down the road, once teams have had a chance to see who’s working out and who’s not, who’s been able to be used as a trade chip and who hasn’t. But we can still get a good idea of who has gone conventional and who is out in left field, if everything works out something close to expected.
How does the Orioles draft stack up to their division rivals, against whom they must play nearly half of their games each year? For each team below, I’ll run down their top pick, the number of top 200 prospects they selected (according to MLB Pipeline,) along with some thoughts from experts on whether their drafts appear to be successful right now.
- Total Bonus Pool: $6,846,700
- Top pick: D.L. Hall - LHP - Valdosta HS (Ga.) - #14 draft prospect
- Top 200 prospects drafted: Hall (#14), Adam Hall (#115), Zac Lowther (#127), Mike Baumann (#108), Jack Conlon (#175)
In addition, outside of the top ten rounds where it’s generally assumed that all players will sign, the Orioles drafted North Carolina high school shortstop Greg Jones (#84) and Florida high school lefty Logan Allen (#184). These players fell out of the top ten rounds because of belief that they would be tough signs. This is interesting because the Orioles have not attempted to take or sign any of these players before.
One thing to look at when considering a team’s just-completed draft is whether they went with conventional wisdom. The Orioles had four picks in the top 100 and seven in the top 200. Yet they only took one top 100 prospect in the top ten rounds, and five top 200 guys.
This could mean that some of the lower-ranked players will be given under-slot deals in order to enable the O’s to sign Jones or Allen. The Orioles also took five senior signs - players who sign for $10,000 or less - in rounds 6-10, to help with that end.
It was a surprise that the pitcher Hall fell to the Orioles. He wasn’t expected to fall to them in any pre-draft mock draft. At least one analyst, ESPN’s Keith Law, placed Hall in his top 10 draft prospects. Here’s MLB Pipeline on Hall:
Hall usually operates at 90-93 mph and can touch 95 with his heater, which has some running action but is more notable for his command than his life. His hard curve is often his best offering and features a high spin rate, though it can get slurvy at times. While his changeup is still in its nascent stages, it's showing improvement as he commits to throwing it more often. Hall has a sound delivery, though his arm slot can wander and detract from his control and command.
Scouts seem to be obsessed with comparing the skillsets of amateurs to guys who are either in MLB now or had decent careers. The universal comparison for Hall seems to be Scott Kazmir.
Another noteworthy thing about this draft for the Orioles is they went heavy on high school players with their early picks, so they clearly weren’t trying to load up on fast-moving college players to try to help the team in the near future. They took pitchers with four of their first five picks, with Canadian high schooler Adam Hall, a shortstop, being the only exception.
- Total Bonus Pool: $12,528,100
- Top pick: Brendan McKay - 1B/LHP - Louisville - #2 draft prospect
- Top 200 prospects drafted: McKay (#2), Drew Rasmussen (#98), Michael Mercado (#70), Taylor Walls (#85), Zach Rutherford (#113)
The Rays selected three more top 200 guys in rounds 10+. Since they have $12.5 million to play with, I imagine they’ll sign some of these guys: Gavin Williams (#119), Chris Williams (#139), and J.J. Schwarz (#171). In draft terms, it’s good if you stink the year before. The Rays had a pick in competitive balance round A that they used on Rasmussen, a starter from Oregon State.
On one hand, the Rays had four picks in the top 100 and came away with four top 100 talents. On the other, they had three picks in the top 50 and got just one top 50 talent. But if you’re going to get one, it might as well be McKay, who every scouting report calls the best two-way prospect since Hall of Famer Dave Winfield was drafted in 1973.
On draft night, some people on Twitter enjoyed the reaction McKay had to being drafted by the Rays:
Brendan McKay looks thrilled about turning down $7 million pic.twitter.com/C4FSM6kxoi— damn good joe lucia (@Joe_TOC) June 12, 2017
The $7 million is in reference to McKay having reportedly turned down an offer from the Twins to be the #1 overall pick.
The Rays only selected one high school player in their top ten rounds - Mercado, a pitcher, who Law called a tough sign and “projectable for days.”
- Total Bonus Pool: $8,231,000
- Top pick: Logan Warmoth - SS - North Carolina - #27 draft prospect
- Top 200 prospects drafted: Warmoth (#27), Nate Pearson (#35), Hagen Danner (#41), Riley Adams (#73), Kevin Smith (#91)
MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis rated the Jays draft class as the fifth best of the bunch. No surprise to see why - Warmoth was a prospect who many people liked more than that #27 ranking, and the Jays came away with three top 50 talents.
I liked everything I read about Warmoth, including this MLB Pipeline capsule, and hoped the Orioles might draft him:
While Warmoth doesn't have a standout tool, he also doesn't have any obvious shortcomings. He's a gifted hitter who controls the strike zone, handles good velocity and uses the entire field. He started to show some power toward the end of his sophomore season, and has enough to hit 12-15 homers per season in the big leagues.
Warmoth has solid speed and the savvy to use it on the basepaths. His instincts and quick hands help him make plays at shortstop, and he'll get the chance to play there as a pro. With average range and arm strength, he's probably better suited for second base.
An Orioles rival gets him instead. That’s the nature of the draft, when you get down to it. Getting excited about any one player before selections are made is a futile endeavor because odds are one of the 29 other teams will draft him instead.
The Jays were helped with an extra pick as compensation for losing Edwin Encarnacion to the Indians. Although they didn’t get their first pick until #22 overall, they were still able to pick that level of talent in the draft. It’s the kind of thing that it would be nice to be able to see the Orioles do one of these years.
Smith was the shortstop at Maryland. Law noted that Smith was a top-50 prospect heading into the spring, but he didn’t hit much this college season.
Like the Rays, the Jays only selected one high school player in their first ten rounds of picks. Compared to their rivals, it sure seems like the Orioles zigged in a different direction by going heavy on the high school players.
- Total Bonus Pool: $6,912,800
- Top pick: Clarke Schmidt - RHP - South Carolina - #49 draft prospect
- Top 200 prospects drafted: Schmidt (#49), Matt Sauer (#28), Trevor Stephan (#87), Glenn Otto (#96)
Some eyebrows popped on draft night when the Yankees picked Schmidt, who needed Tommy John surgery just two months ago, instead of a healthier pitcher. However, it seems like they’re going to use some of that slot money to sign Sauer, a high school pitcher who the O’s were said to have interest in.
Maybe some of that money will go to some of the tough signs taken in rounds 10+. The Yankees actually drafted six top 200 prospects from the 24th round and on. They won’t have a whole lot of latitude to be able to sign many of those guys with a bonus pool of about $7 million, but if they get one, their draft class will look to have more quantity of quality talent than it does now.
MLB Pipeline’s scouting report on Sauer, who wasn’t their top pick but might as well have been:
Sauer brings the potential to have premium velocity from his 6-foot-4 frame. He's reached 97 mph at times this spring and has sat comfortably in the 91-95 mph range in most starts. He combines that with a nasty slider, up to 87 mph, thrown from a three-quarter slot with good power, bite and deception. The changeup is a distant third pitch, but he hasn't needed it much against high school competition.
There was disagreement on whether Sauer would profile more as a starting pitcher or a power reliever in the back end of a bullpen. One imagines the Yankees believe in his potential as a starter.
The first three players the Yankees drafted were right-handed pitchers, and they picked a total of eight righties in the first ten rounds. That probably doesn’t mean anything, but it’s weird.
- Top Bonus Pool: $5,667,100
- Top pick: Tanner Houck - RHP - Missouri - #20 draft prospect
- Top 200 prospects drafted: Houck (#20), Cole Brannen (#68), Brett Nelzer (#198), Jake Thompson (#71), Alex Scherff (#52), Zach Schellenger (#193)
The Red Sox only picked twice in the top 100 picks and they nonetheless ended up with four players who were rated in the top 100. That doesn’t mean that success is guaranteed, but it’s something. It’s impressive considering they had the smallest pool in the division and the fifth smallest in all of MLB due to having the best record last season and not having any compensation picks.
ESPN’s Law on Houck, who had been linked to the Orioles a lot in the pre-draft mocks:
Houck has been a dominant starter for three full years at Mizzou, working with an above-average fastball/slider combination, good sink at 92-93 mph and a four-seamer clocked up to 97, but the delivery is cross-body and has effort to it. The combination gives him deception and he has always thrown strikes, but I have real concerns he’ll wind up a reliever, especially if the changeup doesn’t develop.
I have never seen Houck and I had never heard his name before May when draft talk started ramping up, but the things written about him, especially the possible reliever future, were not very exciting-sounding. For the moment, I’m happy it’s a division competitor who gets to spend their first round pick on him instead of the O’s. We’ll see how that plays out.
Callis tabbed the Red Sox as being one of five teams that did well on the second day of the draft, landing two of the best remaining prospects on the board at the start of the day in Thompson, a righty from Oregon State, and Scherff, a Texas high school righty.
Just two of the Red Sox picks in the first six rounds were high school players. They drafted four right-handed pitchers in those rounds and did not take a lefty hurler until the 18th round.
The Orioles seem to perennially have a different strategy for drafting players than does their competition. It hasn’t resulted in a strong Orioles farm system yet. Maybe this will be the year?
Who do you think had the best draft among the AL East teams?
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