The 2018 MLB draft is now less than two weeks away. The Orioles find themselves with a farm system in need of a boost, and if O’s fans are lucky, they will be able to find some future contributors and maybe even a future star in the coming draft.
This will mark the seventh O’s draft with scouting director Gary Rajsich at the helm under GM Dan Duquette. Over the next several days, I’ll be looking back on some of the past drafts of this crew to see what decisions have worked out and which ones haven’t. The Orioles have hopefully also been keeping a catalog of their successes and failures. First up for today is the 2013 draft, now five years in the rear view mirror.
For the O’s, the 2013 draft was interesting because it was the first time in nearly 15 years that they got to draft like a good team. The unexpected 2012 success meant that the O’s first pick in the draft didn’t come up until #22 overall. The draft looks a lot different when you’re not picking in the top 5, which the Orioles had done for the previous six drafts before this.
Noteworthy about this draft for the Orioles is that they did not take a four-year college player until the seventh round. Before that, it was all high schoolers and one junior college player. Three of the high school players were catchers. Was it a deliberate choice to avoid the late first round and second round college talent? It seems unlikely to have been random chance.
First pick - #22 overall - RHP Hunter Harvey - Bandys (NC) HS
Within about nine months of being drafted, Harvey appeared on the Baseball Prospectus top 100 prospects list. Another year after that, he was a consensus top 100 prospect in baseball, ranking as high as 20 with BP and also on lists from Keith Law, Baseball America, and MLB.com. If you draft a player at 22 and 18 months later everybody thinks he’s a top 100 prospect, that’s a good draft pick.
Ah, but it’s not so easy to develop a pitching prospect as that. As we know, the saga of injuries for Harvey is extensive. It may be that he was a ticking Tommy John bomb as early as the summer of 2014, when he was shut down early with forearm soreness, but other problems, like a fluke injury from a line drive in spring training of 2015, kept the Orioles from reaching this point until July of 2016.
Did the Orioles screw something up with Harvey? You don’t have to look far to find prospect writers who think so. The Orioles front office dysfunction that’s now being written about weekly plays out in player development as well. Perhaps people with bad ideas have had more influence than they should. Perhaps the competing factions leave no coherent philosophy and players get hurt or do not thrive as they work to address conflicting messages.
The people who thought the Orioles should pick Harvey were right. The people who were responsible for his development were maybe not right. Both groups seem to still be employed with the Orioles. As for Harvey himself, well, it seems almost inevitable at this point that he will pitch for the O’s later this year, and then we will find out if they have managed to get him back on the right track post-surgery.
Ten picks after Harvey, the Yankees selected Cal State Fresno outfielder Aaron Judge. Two more picks after that, the Royals drafted lefty Sean Manaea, who threw a no-hitter for the Athletics earlier this year. The draft is a crapshoot.
Second pick - #37 overall - OF Josh Hart - Parkview (GA) HS
This was the competitive balance pick that the O’s received and it’s a curiosity in hindsight because for the next three drafts after this, they flushed those picks away.
Hart never worked out how the O’s hoped. The athletic outfielder just never found the ability to hit and so his career stalled out in Frederick, three promotions away from MLB. Baseball is hard.
Of the 36 players drafted ahead of Hart, 15 have yet to appear in the big leagues. That includes the year’s #1 overall pick, Mark Appel. At this point, most of those who have not made it to MLB never will. The draft is a crapshoot because projecting the future of 18- and 21-year-olds is hard.
Third pick - #61 overall - C Chance Sisco - Santiago (CA) HS
In a conference call the first night of the 2013 draft, Rajsich described Sisco as “a hitter who catches,” noting that he had just started catching that year. He showed impressive on-base skills on his way up the minor leagues while never quite convincing scouts that he was sure to stick as a catcher. The bat was enough to get him on some prospect lists - he was on most of the top 100s prior to the 2017 season.
Here we are in 2018 and Sisco is in Baltimore, catching. Hooray! At least in his first taste of big league action, he’s even fixed one big flaw through the minors. Sisco threw out just 23% of runners at Norfolk last year. So far with the O’s, he’s nabbing 36%. That doesn’t mean this is all fixed for good, but it is noteworthy even if it’s a small sample size.
The hitting isn’t quite there at the MLB level quite yet, with Sisco batting just .222/.308/.370. On a rate basis, his K% of 38.5 is higher than even the 36.2% of strikeout king Chris Davis. Sisco’s power in the minors was modest at best. Better pitchers will challenge him in ways that Double-A pitchers did not.
I am hopeful he will be OK, but it’s still worth keeping an eye on going forward. The two teams that took catchers in the first round of this draft probably wish they had Sisco instead.
Trey Mancini (eighth round) worked his way from perpetually-unheralded minor leaguer to decent MLB player. If the Orioles could find a player like him in the later rounds of the draft each year, they’d be better off. If they hadn’t constructed their roster to where Mancini is a left fielder, they would also probably be better off.
Jimmy Yacabonis (13th round), Stefan Crichton (23rd round), and Donnie Hart (27th round), have all appeared in the bullpen picture. Yacabonis is even starting in Norfolk now, which is weird and possibly pointless. Austin Wynns (ninth round) is another catcher on the 40-man roster.
The Orioles traded Stephen Tarpley (third round) and Steven Brault (11th round) for Travis Snider. That was a dumb trade, though Brault has a 1.586 ERA through 104.2 innings in the NL so far - no guarantee he’d be even serviceable in the AL East. The Orioles, as the past two years rotations have showed us, could have stood to find out for themselves, though.
Jonah Heim (fourth round) was traded for the already-injured Steve Pearce in 2016. This was also an irritating trade, though Heim, now in the Athletics system, hasn’t made the O’s regret it yet as he is now in his third year at the High-A level at age 23.
So, was this a good draft? I think the Orioles clearly made some decent picks given the draft position available to them, including Harvey, and the challenge comes in assessing whether the player development group has gotten the most out of those players.
If Harvey is in next year’s Orioles rotation and beyond, Sisco’s bat grows into the MLB level, and Mancini remains at least a league-average hitter, the 2013 draft is going to look good as we look back on it further. None of these are sure things, of course, but it’s better than the 2014 draft, as we will see tomorrow.