When you’ve been winning and you want to try to keep winning, you have to pay a price. It might be money paid in arbitration raises or to free agents, it might be draft picks sacrificed to sign those free agents, or it might be trades made to bolster the present team at the expense of the future. The Orioles were good in 2014 and they tried to win. They made it to the ALCS. That was good. They paid for it later.
It is fortunate that the 2018 edition of the draft, now about a week away, will not see the Orioles with options as limited as they were four years ago. Due to the signings of Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz and the trade for Bud Norris, the Orioles did not select in that draft until the third round, at #90 overall.
The farm system paid the price for those moves in the years afterwards. There was nothing worth trading for anyone good as the team tried to squeeze out a decent season in 2016. Now, where other teams have their picks from this draft contributing at the MLB level or very close to it, the Orioles have very little in either the high minors or in Baltimore to show for it.
The 2014 season was a fun one to be an Orioles fan. No one can take that division title away. But it’s not as satisfying as a World Series championship, it must be said. Flags fly forever. Division crowns just kind of sit in a closet.
The draft is more a story about what the Orioles gave up than what they got.
First pick - #17 overall - Forfeited by signing Jimenez
Jimenez is finally gone and we no longer have to regularly read stories about what a nice guy he is and how hard he worked to try to improve, so let’s be honest here: This signing sucked. Jimenez was never good. Whoever thought he was going to be good should have probably been fired. I doubt that they were. I think that person also thought Yovani Gallardo and Alex Cobb would be good. The Orioles stink at evaluating free agent pitchers.
A slew of players who are either in the big leagues or on top prospect lists and close to the big leagues could have been drafted here. Noticed how the Orioles third base situation is a mess? They might have taken Cal State Fullerton third baseman and future Gold Glover Matt Chapman (25th to Athletics). What about the outfield with one real outfielder? The Indians took University of San Francisco outfielder Bradley Zimmer 21st.
Oh yeah, and how about that shambles of a starting rotation? At 27th, the Cardinals took FSU righty Luke Weaver, and at 34th, they took Jack Flaherty, a righty from the California high school ranks. Both are in their 2018 rotations. Tennessee high school lefty Justus Sheffield and Texas righty Michael Kopech, drafted 31st and 33rd by the Indians and Red Sox, respectively, are high on top 100 prospect lists for new teams after both were used in trades. Kopech helped the Sox fetch Chris Sale. Sheffield got the Indians Andrew Miller.
Future big leaguers were everywhere around this draft slot. The Orioles were saddled with the 5.22 ERA compiled by Jimenez over four years, along with a stubborn refusal to get rid of him early no matter how bad he pitched.
Second pick - #37 overall - Traded to Houston for Norris
It’s worth noting that even if not for the Norris trade, this pick would have later been forfeited when they signed Cruz. So, even though the Orioles traded for 2.5 years of Norris and they really only got a good year and two months, it’s not worth getting so worked up about it. Better if Norris had been good in 2015 too, but at least they had 2014.
The Astros used this pick to select Derek Fisher, a University of Virginia outfielder. Fisher laid waste to minor league pitching. Through a modest 220 big league at-bats, he sports a .657 OPS. As it has worked out, there are not so many lamentable late first round/early second round picks missed.
Third pick - #55 overall - Forfeited with Cruz signing
Everybody loves Nelson Cruz. The most negative thing to say about him with the Orioles is that they chose not to re-sign him and then he went on to hit 126 home runs for Seattle over the next three seasons. The fourth year that concerned the O’s is a bit of a drag for the Mariners - .220/.304/.420 batting line so far. Would have been worth that to get the first three years, though.
Anyway, about the missed pick, since Cruz was good, it’s not worth regretting all that much. Still, the O’s missed out on some talent here, too. At #64, the Pirates took righty Mitch Keller, brother of O’s 2013 draftee Jon, who is now a top 20 prospect. Arizona outfielder Alex Verdugo, taken 62nd by the Dodgers, is in the top 50. People moot him as a potential trade return for Manny Machado, even. And the Orioles could have drafted him themselves!
Another top 20 pitching prospect, Brent Honeywell, went at #72 to the Rays. Honeywell’s hyped 2018 debut was derailed by his needing Tommy John surgery during spring training of this year.
The first pick the Orioles actually made was Florida lefty Brian Gonzalez (third round) who just got a promotion to Bowie after modest early season success at Frederick.
Pat Connaughton (fourth round) is playing pro ball at the highest level - the problem for the Orioles is that he’s playing basketball. This pick was probably worth a shot, as Connaughton could have been an interesting prospect had he stuck with baseball. At this point, though, he will probably never mean anything to the O’s.
David Hess (fifth round) has worked his way up through the minors to fill the O’s vacant #5 spot - for now.
Tanner Scott (sixth round) may eventually learn how to throw strikes. The hard-throwing lefty has 18 strikeouts against six walks over 14.1 innings this year. It’s added up to a 4.40 ERA. Time will tell if he’s the future late-inning reliever that the Orioles want him to be.
That’s really it for this draft. The Orioles did not find any possible late round steals as we saw yesterday in the 2013 draft. They got one good season of Cruz, one good season of Norris, Scott, and Hess out of the 2014 draft. The price of 2014 being so fun is that 2018 isn’t as fun and 2019 isn’t looking so great either.
Next up: 2015 draft and the search for a position for Ryan Mountcastle