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MLB Draft 2017: The Orioles are aiming for college pitchers, unless they aren’t

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Most evaluators have been expecting the Orioles to take a college pitcher with their top pick, but three days until the draft, a surprise emerges.

Chicago White Sox v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

On television, on the radio, and in print, Orioles GM Dan Duquette has sounded over the last week like a guy who wants to get a college pitcher with his top pick in the MLB Draft, which begins on Monday. Anyone who has watched either the Orioles rotation or bullpen this season can hardly fault him for wanting to improve the team’s pitching depth.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what the Orioles are going to do. With three days going until the draft, part of teams draft strategies are to avoid tipping their hand as much as possible.

I don’t really know why that is, because it’s not like a team can trade ahead of the Orioles in the first round if they telegraph who they want, but that’s how it is. So people who do mock drafts, as in this edition, are never entirely too sure which of the broad paths a team might take, let alone how they might choose among, say, the college pitchers or hitters they like the best.

The Orioles don’t get their first pick of the draft until #21 this year. That’s because they were good last year. They won’t get to take one of the top talents of the draft, the two-way players like California sensation Hunter Greene. They aren’t going to get anyone who’s a guaranteed star, because if a player’s sure to be a star, then any of the 20 teams picking before the Orioles will get them first.

Common wisdom, from what the Orioles need and what Duquette says, suggests the Orioles are definitely going to take a college starting pitcher, but that doesn’t stop a surprise from popping up in the mock drafts with three days remaining.

Alex Lange - RHP - LSU

Lange is the Orioles pick according to a couple of different mock drafts - Jim Callis at MLB.com and Eric Longenhagen at Fangraphs. Lange seems to have supplanted the previously-believed Orioles preference, Missouri right-hander Tanner Houck. The simple fact is that Lange pitched well in the SEC this season and Houck didn’t. Taking a guy whose stock is rising rather than one whose stock is falling does sound ideal.

The good stuff about Lange, from his MLB.com draft scouting profile:

Lange has two plus pitches in a fastball that usually ranged from 92-96 mph and a power curveball that stood out as the best on the U.S. college national team last summer. He has a strong build and repeatedly has demonstrated the ability to maintain his stuff into the later innings. Lange is showing better feel for his changeup after emphasizing the development of the pitch during his time with Team USA.

When Duquette really talks about the draft, one thing you’ll hear him say is that you can’t always be fooled by spring results - it’s in the summer when players are in wood bat leagues where you get a sense of who they are against better competition. So Lange, as a player who spent time on national teams last summer, seems like a player who might appeal to the O’s.

Callis notes that the Orioles could still swing towards a college hitter, such as UNC shortstop Logan Warmoth, Kentucky first baseman Alex White, or UC Irvine outfielder Keston Hiura, who everyone thinks is going to hit but probably also needs Tommy John surgery. He also tabs North Carolina high school shortstop Greg Jones as a player the O’s like but will not last until their second pick at #60.

Previously: Callis had the O’s picking Houck, now going at #27 to the Cubs; Fangraphs did not do a prior mock

Heliot Ramos - OF - Leadership Christian Academy (PR)

Whoa, a surprise! Baseball America, in its Mock Draft 4.0, has the Orioles going in an unexpected direction with this toolsy Puerto Rican outfielder, who, at just 17 years old on draft day, is one of the younger players in the draft class. He’s also the pick in a community mock draft done by our friends over at Minor League Ball.

John Sickels, who runs Minor League Ball, notes that while Ramos has some strengths and upside, a team who drafts Ramos should be prepared for a five or six year development window.

Given where the Orioles are in their competition window, that would make a pick like this a surprise - although then again, even a college player drafted this year isn’t going to be contributing prior to the expected/feared 2018 free agent exodus.

Not hard to see what’s enticing about Ramos if it all goes well:

Name a physical tool and Ramos has it: 60-65 speed, 50 or 60 arm depending on the source, 60 raw power. Reports on his long-term defensive home are mixed, his advocates projecting him as an above-average center fielder in all respects, while doubters who don’t think his arm is better than average project that he’ll fit best in left. His range and outfield instincts will play anywhere.

Even if it takes five years to get to that point, an above-average center fielder is always something that a team could use. Can the Orioles actually develop such a player to reach his potential? Their recent track record for this is not so great, although it’s worth noting that they’ve not taken a first round-caliber toolsy type player, either.

BA’s John Manuel agrees that the O’s are generally on college players but as he puts them on the Ramos pick, notes that the O’s have also taken a liking to high school outfielders, a number of which are expected to be taken in the late first round or in the compensation pick range.

Previously: The Orioles were mocked by BA to take Griffin Canning from UCLA - now going #16 to the Yankees

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Whether the Orioles draft any of these named players or whether they even get the opportunity to draft many of these above players is something that will be determined starting on Monday night. The college seasons are mostly over; players are what they are. Hopefully the Orioles can find a productive player from the talent assembled before them.