When this year’s MLB draft comes to an end on Thursday night, there will have been only five rounds. That is a long, long way from the usual 40, and what makes it even tougher is that bonuses for undrafted players will be capped at $20,000, instead of the typical system where a post-10th round bonus can be up to $125,000 without counting against the signing pool.
The rationale from the league for doing this seems to be about controlling costs. It’s short-sighted, like a lot of MLB decisions, as the likelihood based on past draft history is that some players from the pool of those who would have been taken after the fifth round, who will now go undrafted, would have had MLB careers. Maybe now they will not even get started on the professional path. It’s only the league’s loss.
If the draft had always stopped at just five rounds, the history of the Orioles would probably look a lot different. Here are the late-round Orioles who’ve gone on to have the best time in MLB:
Drafted: 1987, 13th round
WAR as Oriole: 0.7
Career WAR: 44.2
Unfortunately for Orioles fans, the best player ever picked by the franchise after the fifth round is not one who is typically known as an Oriole. Finley only got to play two seasons in Baltimore before the team included him in the trio of players sent to Houston for Glenn Davis. Finley was still producing in MLB a decade after the trade, and Davis, well, you know.
Finley won five Gold Gloves, all in his 30s, made two All-Star teams, and reached base eleven times in the 2001 World Series where the Diamondbacks beat the Yankees. Two of his best seasons, by bWAR at least, were the ones right after the Orioles had traded him, when he was worth 5.2 WAR and 5.7 WAR for the 1991 and 1992 Astros.
Drafted: 1978, 6th round
WAR as Oriole: 17.4
Career WAR: 31.3
My favorite Mike Boddicker Orioles fact is that he pitched a complete game shutout in the 1983 ALCS and a complete game in the 1983 World Series where only one unearned run scored against him. He came up big for the Orioles in his first full season as a big leaguer and his 20 wins in the 1984 season are the most recent time an Orioles pitcher has reached that mark. No one has even reached 18 in the 2000s.
The Orioles dealt Boddicker near the trade deadline during the lost 1988 season. In return, they got Curt Schilling and Brady Anderson. Schilling’s on the cusp of Hall of Fame induction, though of course due to that same Glenn Davis trade he did not contribute much here. As for Anderson, I can’t imagine the Orioles of the 1990s without him.
Drafted: 1973, 7th round
WAR as Oriole: 21.5
Career WAR: 25.5
Between his playing career, his broadcasting tenure, and his stint as a general manager of the Orioles, there weren’t a lot of years from Flanagan’s 1975 debut through to his 2011 death where he wasn’t involved with the Orioles in some way. His place in Orioles history would be assured even if he hadn’t won the Cy Young in 1979 or been a part of the most recent no-hitter in 1991.
Over his big league career, Flanagan’s 3.90 ERA was enough for an exactly league average ERA+ of 100. If the next seventh round pick who can go on to a solid Orioles career is on the draft board in 2020, he won’t be picked.
Drafted: 1968, 11th round
WAR as Oriole: 24.9
Career WAR: 24.4
The 1973 AL Rookie of the Year was on the Orioles for more than a decade and never played for a losing O’s team. This is something that, after the last dark years and during the current ones, amazes me when I think about how many good players came through who never got to be on a good O’s team. Maybe he would have made it to the Orioles even sooner except he was busy leading a platoon in Vietnam. This is also amazing about Bumbry.
Across 13 years with the Orioles, Bumbry batted a combined .283/.345/.380, with 252 stolen bases and almost as many triples (52) as home runs (53).
Drafted: 1999, 6th round
WAR as Oriole: 12.8
Career WAR: 17.4
The trade that eventually helped usher the Orioles out of the basement of the American League East never could have happened if Bedard hadn’t been able to be drafted. Bedard was drafted from a Connecticut junior college after a high school career in Ontario. That’s the exact kind of player who probably won’t get much of a look this year; no one had any chance to showcase their talents this spring.
That 2007 season that pumped up Bedard’s trade value to what it was is not something whose like we get to see every year, or even at all. Even in the 2014 season, when the rotation was actually good, no one came close to 2007 Bedard’s WHIP (1.008), strikeouts (221), or ERA+ (146). No one has ever topped 221 strikeouts in a season in all of Orioles history, and Bedard is also the only one to ever go above a 10.0 K/9.
Orioles of recent vintage
Caleb Joseph, 2008 7th round
One kind of player the Orioles and every other team might miss out on in this draft is the kind who might say, “Somebody’s got to be Adley Rutschman’s backup,” and then go on to be the kind of pleasant, hardworking backup full of personality whose every little success feels like a celebration.
Zach Davies, 2011 26th round
Not that Davies ever got to be good on the Orioles, thanks to one of Dan Duquette’s more idiotic decisions. But another type of player the Orioles will miss out on in a five round draft is a late-round high schooler who beats the odds. The 2016 and beyond Orioles sure could have used a quality young starter, and they had him until somebody thought that was worth giving up to get Gerardo Parra.
Josh Hader, 2012 19th round
Not that Hader, either, ever got to be good on the Orioles, though at least the Bud Norris trade netted the O’s a quality season from Norris in 2014. One more type of player the O’s won’t get to draft this year is the local kid who’s kind of a lottery ticket.
Trey Mancini, 2013 8th round
“The draft is a crapshoot” is the kind of thing that losers who draft poorly have to tell themselves to feel better. It’s true, though, that there’s a luck element on having an eighth round pick turn into a player as good as Mancini. This year’s draft, the O’s won’t have an opportunity to even try, unless the next Mancini takes a $20,000 signing bonus after going undrafted.
John Means, 2014 11th round
On the third day of the 2014 draft, nobody would have guessed “future All-Star” or “runner-up for Rookie of the Year” as the O’s selected Means. It is probably the case that there is at least one pitcher who nobody thinks much of right now, who, with a chance in the pros, will suddenly be better than anyone ever thought - and he, too, will go undrafted in 2020.
It is not an every year occurrence for the Orioles to draft and sign a solid or better player in one of these later rounds. There have been years where the best the O’s got that far down in the draft was Ty Kelly. There are other years worse off than that, where the best the O’s got was Cedric Mullins. They won’t be able to get those sorts of players in this draft, either. They will just have to make their picks and hope for the best.