After the 2015 Orioles limped to an 81-81 record with little immediate help on the horizon from their farm system, we could at least take a bit of comfort that, with their being in line for the #14 pick in the 2016 draft, they might get a chance to inject some talent into the organization.
As spring training began, the Orioles were lined up to receive five of the first 76 picks in the draft. They also had a hold on a compensation pick for losing Wei-Yin Chen as a free agent to the Marlins, an extra second round pick for failing to sign their 2015 second-rounder Jonathan Hughes, and a competitive balance pick at the end of the second round. The more chances you get to draft one of the top 100 talents in the draft, the better.
This idea melted fairly quickly. The Orioles sacrificed that top draft choice in order to sign Yovani Gallardo, which is the kind of decision that, like signing Ubaldo Jimenez before it, really ought to have led to someone getting fired. They also went cheap and dumped Brian Matusz’s salary on the Braves and gave up the competitive balance pick.
So, not unlike the 2015 draft, five of the first 76 picks became three of the first 69, with the first Orioles pick not coming until #27 overall. The good news is that we don’t have to worry about lost first round picks any more - the new rules mean that when the Orioles signed qualifying offer free agent Alex Cobb, who hopefully does not become the latest lamentable pitching signing, they “only” lost a second round pick.
First pick - #14 overall - Forfeited by signing Gallardo
I don’t want to beat a dead horse here, but it’s disappointing that the Orioles weren’t able to read the same warning signs about Gallardo that the rest of the league did. Don’t give up a draft pick to sign a guy who ohad a 5.9 K/9 and a 1.416 WHIP with declining velocity, no matter how good his ERA was! That’s it. But the Orioles signed him even after the dreaded Orioles physical revealed shoulder problems. Then he had shoulder problems and was bad here!
Last summer, when the Orioles were exploring trading Zach Britton, you might have optimistically hoped they would target, say, Astros pitching prospect Forrest Whitley, who as it turned out was untouchable, probably because Britton had been hurt but maybe also because they knew he was really good. The Astros drafted Whitley 17th overall in the 2016 draft! Worth noting that Whitley just served a 50-game suspension for testing positive for an unknown drug.
The Orioles just had to not sign Gallardo to have a chance at this talent who is now one of the top 10 prospects in MLB. Of course, there is no guarantee that Orioles would have taken him if they had the pick, or that the O’s pitching development system could have turned Whitley into what he is right now. That’s a separate problem.
First real pick - #27 overall - RHP Cody Sedlock - University of Illinois
After a decent enough professional start at Aberdeen after being drafted, the Orioles jumped Sedlock up to Frederick to begin the 2017 season. Things went awry from there, with Sedlock suffering a forearm strain and never getting right. This year, after being bad in three games, he landed on the disabled list with a shoulder strain. Sigh.
ESPN’s Keith Law listed the O’s pick of Sedlock as one he liked in the immediate aftermath of the draft. However, this spring, Sedlock didn’t even crack the top 20 of Law’s top Orioles prospects, instead showing up as “the fallen” due to the injuries - with Law now noting that Sedlock was worked hard at Illinois in his draft season, specifically citing a 10.2 inning outing where he threw 132 pitches.
Perhaps you could say the O’s should have been aware of those risk factors and not drafted him. But perhaps the late 20s are the time to take a talented college pitcher with health concerns. By the way, on the night of the draft, scouting director Gary Rajsich specifically praised Sedlock as durable. Yeah, about that...
With the very next pick after this, the Nationals took shortstop Carter Kieboom, now the 81st-ranked prospect from MLB Pipeline. And at #29, the Nationals took righty Dane Dunning, now the 67th-ranked prospect. Sedlock is busted and the two guys after him are top prospects! How tremendously Orioles.
Second pick - #54 overall - LHP Keegan Akin - Western Michigan University
Like Sedlock, Akin jumped up from Aberdeen in 2016 to Frederick last year. It went better for him. Akin struck out 111 batters in 100 innings, though he also issued 46 walks. This was successful enough for the O’s to promote Akin to Bowie for this season, where he’s struck out 63 and walked 21 over 57.2 innings in ten starts.
It’s nice to see that kind of possible development for a lefty starter with the big league club currently having zero lefty starters. The folks at MLB Pipeline, who rate Akin as the #7 prospect in the system, have this scouting capsule for him:
Akin’s repeatable delivery and clean arm action allow him to paint both sides of the plate with a fastball that sits at 91-94 mph and reaches 96. His go-to secondary offering is a short, above-average slider in the low 80s, and he also demonstrates feel for a changeup that could be at least average. He throws each of his three pitches for strikes, and club officials rave about how he attacks the inner-half against right-handed hitters.
Doesn’t that sound exciting? It doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed to be a successful big leaguer. A lot can go wrong between Bowie and Baltimore. He is trending in the right direction, though, and for a farm system that’s been so bereft of high minors pitching talent that they keep signing and trading for jabronis like Gallardo and Wade Miley, that’s an encouraging thing.
Matthias Dietz (second round) is repeating Delmarva this year but looks to have figured some things out, improving his K/9 from 6.4 last year to 10.1 so far this year. That comes along with an unhealthy number of walks: 19 in 42.2 innings. Also interesting is that so far he has allowed only one home run on the year. Keeping the ball on the ground is generally a plus. Perhaps he will join the parade of pitchers getting promoted to Frederick soon.
Austin Hays (third round) was the very first player from this draft class to appear in MLB. The Orioles just could not ignore the .326/.365/.593 batting line he posted between Frederick and Bowie last year, with 32 home runs. They turned to him in a futile hope that he might spark the offense in September. Across 20 games, he posted a .217/.238/.317 big league batting line. So, no. Still, he rated as the preseason #23 prospect from MLB Pipeline.
Hays has stumbled to begin the season again in Bowie, batting just .224/.259/.374. He apparently received marching orders from manager Buck Showalter at the end of spring training to walk more. That hasn’t taken quite yet. Hopes that he would secure himself as the right fielder of the present and future will have to wait.
Brenan Hanifee (fourth round) is a pick who stands out in my mind because after he was drafted, he talked about how his dad has an Orioles tattoo. Drafted from Turner-Ashby HS in Bridgewater, VA, the O’s have brought Hanifee along slowly. He’s only just turned 20 and in Delmarva, where he’s got a 2.55 ERA and 1.095 WHIP over eight starts.
At 6’5”, Hanifee gets the “projectable” label, meaning there’s thought he’ll add velocity as he fills out. There’s an even longer way from Delmarva to Baltimore, but he’s worth keeping an eye on.
Tobias Myers (sixth round) was traded for Tim Beckham last July. Beckham’s early 2018 performance and injury has made this a less exciting trade than it first seemed, but so far Myers is struggling in Tampa’s Low-A affiliate in 2018, so he hasn’t made the O’s regret this deal yet.
Preston Palmeiro (seventh round) is interesting for being the son of former Oriole Rafael. A batting line of .284/.355/.485 through 50 games with Frederick doesn’t hurt either - though at 23, the younger Palmeiro is old for that level. They have him playing second base. He’s more interesting as a prospect if he sticks there rather than at first. It may be worth seeing if he’s up to the challenge of Bowie.
Zach Muckenhirn (eleventh round) has a distinct name and has been striking a ton of people out since getting put in the bullpen this season. Across two levels, he has 39 strikeouts against just seven walks in 26.1 innings this year. “The Muck” (I have no idea if this is his nickname) is 23 and in Frederick - again, old for the level. If the lefty develops as a bullpen arm, which is a big if, that’s still a win for the club out of this pick.
Next, on Monday: 2017, with another wave of Orioles pitching hopefuls