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Orioles 2016 draft review: Still waiting for Austin Hays

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Three years later, there are three 2016 Orioles draft picks still worth having hopes for.

Baltimore Orioles v Pittsburgh Pirates
Austin Hays debuted in September 2017 and hasn’t been back since.
Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Some day, the Orioles are going to be good again. I take this as an article of faith even after the current series against the Yankees might understandably make people feel like this ongoing disaster will never end. This latest O’s dark era will be over sooner if the Dan Duquette-drafted holdovers can become useful players for the Orioles.

Yesterday, I wrote about the 2015 draft and whether it might still bear fruit for the Mike Elias-era Orioles. Today, it’s time to look at the 2016 draft. Three years out, the final words have not been written about whether some of these players will ever become useful prospects, but it’s been long enough to sort out which several minor leaguers still have some big league potential and which were only ever just filler.

The O’s were slated to pick at #14 after finishing 81-81 in 2015. They had a compensation pick at the end of the first round for not signing Wei-Yin Chen, a pick in the second round for not signing 2015’s second rounder, Jonathan Hughes, plus a competitive balance pick, giving them five of the first 76 picks.

As it turned out, the Orioles forfeited the #14 pick by signing free agent pitcher Yovani Gallardo. They later flushed away the #76 pick in a trade that amounted to the Orioles dumping Brian Matusz’s salary on the Braves rather than just releasing him and paying him the money themselves. Among the reasons I am glad that Duquette is gone are decisions like these.

First pick - #14 overall - forfeited by signing Gallardo

Two years ago in July, there was talk of whether the Orioles might trade Zack Britton, who we then knew as Zach. One suitor was the Astros, whose drool-worthy slate of prospects included 2016 #17 pick Forrest Whitley, a pitcher.

Last July, the Orioles engaged in trades with a number of teams, including the Dodgers, to whom they ultimately traded Manny Machado. If you dug into the Dodgers farm system before those trades, one player you might have coveted was shortstop Gavin Lux, picked at #20 in the 2016 draft.

With smarter decisions, Duquette’s Orioles could have had either one of these players in the draft. It remains frustrating, though at least I can feel confident that Elias will not make such short-sighted decisions.

The O’s 2015 draft was position player heavy. Perhaps to make up for that, this draft was pitcher heavy for the O’s: All but three of their first 19 picks were pitchers.

First real pick - #27 overall - RHP Cody Sedlock - University of Illinois

In 50+ years of June drafts, there are only four players taken 27th overall who have ever accumulated 10+ bWAR. Among players drafted in the 21st century, there’s been just one: Rick Porcello. The reality is that if any idiot can look at a player and see a future star, or even just a useful regular, he’ll be gone before #27 ever rolls around.

Like most Orioles pitching prospects of late, the journey through the minors has not been a smooth one for Sedlock. Injuries and other problems led to his stalling at Frederick, where he is now pitching for the third straight season. It’s not where you want a guy to be when he’s 23.

At least the third time’s the charm, for now: Sedlock has made seven starts for the Keys this year, posting a 1.63 ERA over 38.2 innings with 35 strikeouts and 13 walks. Maybe the Elias player development program can work with that. One thing that might make the O’s return to prominence happen sooner is if a prospect who’d been written off, like Sedlock, can revive his fortunes under a the new regime. I’m rooting for him.

This pick has not worked out so far. However, it was not a reach. ESPN’s Keith Law was a Sedlock booster, rating him as the #17 prospect in the class. Baseball Prospectus put him 24th. The Orioles got a late first round (at worst) talent in the late first round. That’s good drafting. Development is another thing entirely.

The two consecutive picks after Sedlock were made by the Nationals. They selected Carter Kieboom, a shortstop who’s now MLB Pipeline’s #25 prospect, and pitcher Dane Dunning, whose prospect value they later cashed in as part of a deal to acquire outfielder Adam Eaton from the White Sox. At #34, the Cardinals selected pitcher Dakota Hudson, who’s in their rotation right now, and at #35, the Reds picked outfielder Taylor Trammell, now the #19 prospect in the game.

Second pick - #54 overall - LHP Keegan Akin - Western Michigan University

A pattern of the Duquette drafts was for the O’s second pick in each draft to be a bit of a reach relative to industry expectations. Akin was no exception, with the O’s popping him at #54 when he was not rated on Law’s top 100 or BP’s top 125. MLB.com had him at #119 in the draft class and Baseball America rated him 80th.

The O’s pushed Akin to a new level each season and he kept showing enough promise to get the next promotion. That’s continued to this season, when the Elias regime has Akin pitching at Norfolk. Akin has racked up 52 strikeouts with 19 walks allowed in his first 43.2 innings, and despite all the talk of MLB’s juiced baseballs hitting Triple-A, Akin has allowed just three homers on the year.

MLB Pipeline, which rates Akin as the 6th-best prospect in the O’s system, offers this scouting report:

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 touches 95. An above-average slider in the low 80s is Akin’s best secondary pitch, and he also demonstrates feel for a changeup that’s at least average. He throws each of his three pitches for strikes and is comfortable pitching inside against right-handed hitters with his fastball.

For them it adds up to a likely #4 starter. That would be a fine outcome. Elias isn’t going to rush Akin to Baltimore just because of nine starts with decent results, but perhaps he will get his chance if he’s still pitching like this in July or August.

Taken within ten picks of Akin were third baseman Nolan Jones (#55 pick), now the #60 prospect in baseball; current Pirates outfielder Bryan Reynolds (#59 pick), acquired for Andrew McCutchen before the 2018 season; and current Mets first baseman Pete Alonso (#64 pick), who is batting .254/.340/.590 with a whopping 16 homers in his first 48 MLB games.

Other picks of note

Matthias Dietz (second round, compensation for unsigned pick Jonathan Hughes from 2015) is looking like a washout right now. His command fled when he was promoted to Frederick last year and it hasn’t come back yet. Dietz has issued 25 walks in 15.2 innings this year.

Third rounder Austin Hays turned out to be the first player from the entire 2016 draft to make his MLB debut. Never mind that this debut was one of many dumb decisions made out of desperation in the Duquette days. The hoped-for spark at the failed end of the 2017 season did not materialize, with Hays batting just .217/.238/.317 in 20 games that September.

Injuries plagued his 2018 season, and unfortunately for Hays, after a scorching hot spring training wasn’t enough to get him onto the MLB roster, he hurt his thumb sliding into a base in a minor league spring game and is only now working his way back up through the ranks on a rehab assignment at Frederick. The guy who socked 32 dingers between Frederick and Bowie in 2017 still has some prospect shine, but as much as fans might still hope he’s part of the next good O’s outfield, it’s no guarantee.

Brenan Hanifee (fourth round) has the great personal story of coming from a family of O’s fans. The jump to High-A this year hasn’t gone well. Hanifee has a 6.06 ERA in eight games, with just 22 strikeouts in 32.2 innings, plus 21 walks.

Tobias Myers (sixth round) was traded for Tim Beckham. This trade looked better after two weeks than it does now after nearly two years. Myers has struck out 28 and walked 17 in 42 innings for the Rays High-A Charlotte affiliate, so while Beckham may be gone, what the O’s gave up doesn’t hurt yet, either.

Preston Palmeiro (seventh round) is interesting because his dad is Rafael. He is not interesting because he is batting .167/.211/.246 through 35 games at Bowie this year, his age 24 season.

**

Here are the current levels and statistics of the top five overall picks in the 2016 draft:

  1. Mickey Moniak (Double-A): .255/.288/.438
  2. Nick Senzel (MLB): .240/.321/.427 since promotion; #4 prospect in MLB
  3. Ian Anderson (Double-A): 3.70 ERA with 28 walks, 52 strikeouts in 41.1 innings
  4. Riley Pint (Low-A): 11.17 ERA with 13 strikeouts, 19 walks in 10.2 innings
  5. Corey Ray (Triple-A): .178/.259/.287

I include these because drafting is hard even for teams that know what they’re doing and are picking at the top of the draft. That’s three guys who look a lot like busts right now and a fourth in Anderson who you have to seriously side-eye his command. Senzel is the only success up to this point.

The Orioles did not pick until #27. They may not have been using a process that would lead anyone to think that they knew what they were doing. It was always going to be hard to get a sure-fire good player of any kind at #27 and beyond, good process or not.

The O’s have three names still worth paying attention to here: Sedlock, Akin, and Hays. If Akin and Hays are holding down MLB roster spots a year from now, that will still feel like a decent draft, especially if the revived hopes for Sedlock are still going. If not, well, at least Elias is here to start fixing things.

Tomorrow: DL Hall and other pitchers to hope for from the 2017 draft