Three catchers, three shortstops and three outfielders walk into a bar... Knock knock, who’s there? Three catchers, three outfielders and three center fielders.
What do you get when you cross three catchers, three shortstops, and three center fielders?
Not a lot of pitching.
Yikes. I’d like to personally apologize for that. When it comes to making bad jokes, I’ve got a little bit of experience. When it comes to drafting potential Major League baseball players? Not so much... That’s why when the Orioles elected not to select a pitcher until the eighth round of the MLB draft, I was surprised, but not upset.
While the MLB draft does not generate the hype or fanfare of those in football or basketball, Orioles fans certainly had reason to pay attention this year. Most entered Monday night with two preconceived notions— Adley Rutschman was the best player available, and this year’s class lacked pitching talent.
Due to these widespread opinions, few were surprised when Baltimore made Rutschman the first overall pick. Concurrently, it was not a shock that no team drafted a pitcher until the Reds went with lefty Nick Lodolo seventh overall.
All of that being said, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to raise an eyebrow when the team with the highest earned run average in baseball nearly neglected pitching through the first two days of the draft. The Orioles eventually selected College of Charleston right-hander Griffin McLarty and VCU right-hander Connor Gillispie in the eighth and ninth rounds.
Both McLarty and Gillispie are college pitchers, so they could develop relatively quickly. Some scouts have projected Gillispie to work out of the bullpen, while McLarty could serve as a starter. That being said, hardly any of us had heard of these two before this week, and it’s difficult to get excited about a pair of guys you know next to nothing about. I won’t pretend to know more than I do today.
In case you haven’t gathered it by now, nine of the Orioles first 11 picks were catchers, shortstops, and center fielders. Of course, everyone knows the old adage about drafting as many shortstops as you can. Teams can always convert players down the road, and players can split the middle infield duties if they begin at the same level. The same logic applies to center fielders.
The Orioles clearly expect Rutschman to play a big part in their rebuild, and the team still has hopes for Chance Sisco. Still, no organization can be faulted for adding depth behind the plate. There’s no way of knowing if the Orioles entered the draft hoping to select three backstops this early, or if the players available were just the highest ranked guys on their board at the time. To the same point, Baltimore could have been close to selecting several pitchers only to see a team above them snatch them up.
While the Orioles won’t have a large influx of pitching talent entering the minors this year, they’ve had several arms exceeding expectations at low levels this season. Grayson Rodriguez had been 6-0 with a sub-two ERA prior to taking a loss last night. DL Hall has flashed great potential at times at Frederick. Zac Lowther holds a 1.82 ERA through 10 starts at Bowie, and teammate Alex Wells has matched him with a 1.62 through eight outings. And yes, we can all still hold out hope for Hunter Harvey.
If a club can never have too many shortstops, it certainly can’t have enough pitching. Baltimore lacks talent at the Major League level and at triple-A Norfolk, but that does not mean they should have reached. Mike Elias may be new in town, but he and his team earned the trust of fans instantaneously. If Sig Mejdal doesn’t see value in a certain pitcher, then I don’t see value in that pitcher. That mindset may not last forever, but it applies right now.
Elias has also proclaimed that the Orioles will be bigger players in the international market. There’s no doubt the club is doing their due diligence on foreign arms, and Baltimore should be active once the next signing period opens later this summer.
The draft will continue today, and the Orioles will almost certainly add several more pitching prospects to the organization. While low-level draft picks can be likened to lottery tickets, some of those scratch offs have to be winners.
One of the toughest factors in evaluating a draft is that it cannot truly be judged until several years later. There’s always a chance a pitcher selected this year and Rutschman end up hugging on the cover of Sports Illustrated someday. Until then, we’ll just have to wait and see.