The Orioles say that they plan to heavily invest in areas that were once an afterthought for the organization; scouting, international free agents, player development. However, the speed with which the O’s can transition from the worst roster in the league to playoff contenders will still largely depend upon, as it always has, who they select in each summer’s amateur draft.
There were 40 players that heard their name called by the Orioles this past June. The team managed to sign 32 of them to professional contracts, and the earliest pick that they missed out on was a 20th rounder (RHP Caleb Kilian). That’s a nice success rate. Compare it to 2017, when they failed to sign fourth-round pick Jack Conlon, or 2015, when they couldn’t seal the deal on second-rounder Jonathan Hughes.
Grayson Rodriguez was their top selection, 11th overall out of Central Heights High School in Nacogdoches, Texas. The right-handed pitcher has a huge frame (6-foot-5, 220 pounds) and a fastball that has touched 98 mph, although he works more consistently in the low to mid-90s. He signed fairly quickly for $4.3 million, which was $75,100 under slot.
The organization has taken a conservative approach with their top talent. He spent the rest of 2018 with the Gulf Coast team, throwing just 19.1 innings over nine appearances. But he had an impressive showing, striking out 20, walking seven and compiling a 1.40 ERA without allowing any home runs. The 18-year-old dominated his competition, which is to be expected, but it’s still nice to see.
DL Hall has provided a pretty clear blueprint for the O’s to follow with Rodriguez. Next season should see him begin the summer with the Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds. Again, the club isn’t going to rush him. Hall appeared in 22 games this season, but threw just 94.1 innings. Expect a similar workload for a fellow first-round draft pick out of high school.
Grenier’s tough start
Cadyn Grenier was selected by the O’s with the 37th overall pick in the competitive balance round. The shortstop signed for $1.8 million (under slot by $123,500) fresh off of an NCAA championship with Oregon State University. On the opposite end of the spectrum from Rodriguez, the Orioles were ultra aggressive with the 21-year-old, skipping him over both the Gulf Coast and Aberdeen straight to Delmarva.
The defense-first middle infielder struggled with the stick in the South Atlantic League. Over 43 games with the Shorebirds he hit .216/.297/.333 with 12 doubles, two triples, one home run, 17 walks and 53 strikeouts while swiping three bags on five attempts. However, he started to pick up the pace towards the end of season, registering a hit in 10 of his final 13 games, raising his batting average by 53 points and launching his first professional dong.
With Adam Hall hot on his heels at the shortstop position in the O’s system, it feels like Grenier has to make the move up to High-A Frederick next season. While his season as a whole doesn’t turn heads, he did enough down the stretch to make the organization confident about a promotion. Not to mention, he undoubtedly entered the professional ranks with more innings on his legs than just about anyone else in the draft. The college season begins in February and, for Grenier, it didn’t stop until late June. He played an MLB-length schedule and will benefit more than most from an off-season of recovery.
The best of the rest
Third-round pick Blaine Knight earned an over-slot $1.1 million to ditch his final year at the University of Arkansas and turn pro. The 6-foot-3, 165-pound right-hander was viewed as one of the better value selections in the draft. He debuted late, only tossing 10.1 innings over four games for the short-season IronBirds before the season ended. It was mixed bag of performance. His 2.61 ERA looks fine, but he only struck out eight batters and opposing lineups hit .302 against the 22-year-old. As a fairly early-round college pitcher, the O’s would normally want to move him fast through the system, but there is some concern about his slight frame. Arkansas was very careful with their use of him, limiting him in practice and not allowing him to play summer ball. He may be a candidate to stay down in Florida for much of the summer before joining back up with Aberdeen or Delmarva for the remainder of their campaign.
An under-the-radar selection that could pay off in a big way is the pick of left-handed pitcher Drew Rom in the fourth round. The O’s had to offer him $650,000 ($166,700 over-slot) to rebuff what was thought to be a very strong commitment to the University of Michigan. Rom joined Rodriguez in the Gulf Coast, and may have been the better performer. Over 30.2 innings of work, the southpaw struck out 28 batters, walked six, posted a .183 batting average against, 0.85 WHIP and 1.76 ERA. He should form an intriguing 1-2 punch with his draft mate in Delmarva’s rotation in 2019.
The final player we will touch on here is Robert Neustrom, a left-handed hitting corner outfielder that the O’s picked up in the fifth round from the University of Iowa. He signed slightly under slot at $300,000. This season, he got into 61 games for Aberdeen, hitting .272/.313/.404 with four home runs, 16 doubles, 13 walks and 45 strikeouts. Scouts are excited about his potential to hit the long ball. His bat will have to carry him through the system as his speed, athleticism and work in the field all grade out right around average. There’s no reason he shouldn’t make the natural move to the Shorebirds next year.
If you care about such things, all five of the players mentioned here are ranked in the Orioles top 30 prospects by MLB Pipeline. Rodriguez is fifth, Grenier ninth, Knight 10th, Neustrom 28th and Rom 30th. That may all change now that the decision-makers at Pipeline have some professional scouting reports to digest. Rodriguez is expected to be a fringe top-100 type of prospect soon, but will need to prove he can perform in full-season ball.
As with any recent draft, there are question marks aplenty. But this group of players adds a good amount of intriguing talented to an Orioles farm system that continues to improve. It may be a few years before any of the names mentioned here make their way to Baltimore, but it sure will be fun to watch them develop in the meantime.