There are many reasons that last year’s Orioles were bad and there are many more that this year’s Orioles are even worse. One reason in common for both of these, going back to even a successful 2016 Orioles season, has been a disaster of a starting rotation. They keep signing free agents who have proven incapable of meeting even low expectations.
Why do the Orioles sign these guys? The question is a fair one. In most cases, they could have signed better pitchers had they spent a little more money or even correctly identified the most talented pitchers in their price range. Yet asking this question sidesteps the real problem: Why do they need to sign these guys? The answer to that is because they have not been able to draft and develop enough to plug holes in their rotation.
Last year’s Orioles draft class was never going to save this year’s Orioles. It’s not going to save next year’s Orioles either. But if the Orioles are lucky, in a couple more years they will find they have rebuilt a pipeline from the draft up to the big leagues that will spare them the need to waste money and picks on the Yovani Gallardos and Andrew Cashners of the world.
It is early to make any grand pronouncements about the success or failure of the 2017 draft, but with that in mind, here’s how things look so far.
First pick - #21 overall - LHP DL Hall - Valdosta (GA) HS
When you don’t pick until #21, you don’t get one of the consensus top talents of the draft. That’s just the way it is. However, the Orioles got good value out of this pick: Hall was rated as the 8th best prospect in the draft by ESPN’s Keith Law, and 14th best by MLB Pipeline. Law’s pre-draft report on Hall:
Hall is an athletic lefty with a super-fast arm who will sit 93-94 mph with a plus curveball and average changeup, and he even has some tailing life on the heater.
Whether the Orioles player development group can get the most out of Hall is, of course, another story. In his first full pro season, the O’s have had him pitching for Delmarva. Hall got tagged for five runs in Sunday’s action and now sits at a 4.28 ERA for the season.
Last year in the Gulf Coast League, Hall walked 10 batters in 10.1 innings. For the Shorebirds this year, he’s walked 18 in 33.2 innings. This will have to improve before imagining Hall marching up the ranks. It would be nice if he was doing better, but he’s just 19 and in full season ball for the first time - three years younger than the league’s average player - so, don’t panic yet.
Second pick - #60 overall - SS Adam Hall - AB Lucas Secondary (Ontario)
Perhaps the Orioles could not resist the symmetry of taking players named Hall back-to-back. The Canadian Hall - or the shortstop Hall, if you prefer - didn’t appear on Law’s top 100 draft prospects and rated 115th on MLB Pipeline’s Top 200. Sounds like a reach, but who knows? I’ll just point out that when the Orioles drafted Ryan Mountcastle in 2015, that looked like a reach, and he’s now one of the most interesting things about the system.
The scouting capsule from MLB Pipeline lays out some of the promise:
Hall might be a bit unpolished, but he has considerable tools and upside. He has a decent approach at the plate for his age and experience level, with a natural feel to hit and good bat speed. There should be some gap power in the future as well, and he should compile plenty of doubles and triples thanks to his plus speed and sharp baserunning. Hall is capable of making the spectacular play defensively ... most feel he can stick at short. If not, his tools also would fit nicely at the keystone.
Worth noting that Law is not in that most, seeing a possible future at either second base or in center field for Hall. If Hall develops into something four years down the road, the 2022 Orioles will surely be able to find a place for him.
Hall has yet to play in an organized game in 2018. That’s because he only turned 19 last month and as this report notes, is a bit unpolished. So, he’s likely destined for short-season Aberdeen when their year begins, and then we might start to get a sense of what he’s capable of doing. Finding quick-impact talent is part of drafting well, but so is finding the right long-term development project.
Third pick - #74 overall - LHP Zac Lowther - Xavier
This was a competitive balance pick that the Orioles thankfully did not decide to trade. Instead, they picked Lowther, a 6’2” lefty who certainly seems like he fits the “crafty lefty” mode, getting by with things other than velocity. Again, this appeared to be a bit of a reach: Law didn’t have Lowther ranked, and the MLB Pipeline folks put him 127th. The Orioles saw something they liked.
Lowther’s performance with Aberdeen after being drafted last year offered a glimpse of that. He struck out 75 batters against just 11 walks in 54.1 innings with the IronBirds. In baseball terms, Aberdeen’s a long way from Baltimore, but that’s good stuff to start out. Lowther continued racking up the strikeouts with an assignment to Delmarva to start this season and earned a promotion to Frederick.
If the gaudy strikeouts and low walk rate present themselves at the High-A level as well, the Orioles might have gotten their hands on an interesting second round pick.
Michael Baumann (third round) comes from Jacksonville University, coincidentally the same school as O’s 2016 third rounder Austin Hays. Baumann, not to be confused with the baseball writer of the same name, is a righty pitcher who started this season with Delmarva and earned a Frederick promotion. He had struck out 47 batters in 38 innings for the Shorebirds.
Baumann is not unlike Lowther in that, if he is able to keep striking batters out like that now that he’s with Frederick, they might have someting here. Don’t get your hopes up yet, though!
Jack Conlon (fourth round) did not sign after the dreaded Orioles physical reared its ugly head. This was weird and spawned the predictable response of stories from people who love to complain about Peter Angelos. Conlon was declared a free agent and reached an agreement with the Giants, who also rejected the signing due to something on the physical.
Cameron Bishop (26th round) was another weird Orioles draft story. A week after the deadline to sign players had passed, MLB declared the Orioles to have signed Bishop. Baseball America reported at the time that the Orioles had submitted the paperwork to sign Bishop five minutes late, caused apparently by ownership attempting to back out of the signing. Bishop had missed his entire junior year at UC-Irvine due to an oblique injury.
Well, the Orioles got Bishop anyway. He’s a 6’4” lefty pitcher, by the way, and the O’s have had him pitching for Delmarva so far this year. It may not be long before he joins Lowther and Baumann in Frederick. Bishop has struck out 44 batters in 54 innings, which isn’t overwhelming, but he’s only issued eight walks. Like those other two guys, if that continues up the ladder, maybe the O’s found something.
Next: The Orioles will draft some more guys, starting tonight. I hope they’re good.