by Kerry Leibowitz
To wrap up the discussion of the Orioles and the draft, we’ll take an anecdotal look at the last ten years. These draft classes are still in a state of flux, so any attempt at a more formal analysis would be premature.
In 2003, the Orioles were coming off an extremely unproductive stretch of drafts (1995-2002), as we saw in the last installment of this series. The 2003 draft included the selection of Nick Markakis with the seventh overall pick. Markakis is certainly one of the club’s top position player draftees/signees since Cal Ripken, Jr. was chosen in 1978 and would qualify as a contributing level big league player if he never appeared in another game, though he’d fall short of “star” caliber, if an assessment were made today.
Chris Ray, selected in the third round with the 74th overall pick, rests on the edge of the journeyman/contributor border, with 2-4 seasons as a regular major league bullpen member. Ray’s career may be over and, if so, he’ll probably fall short of contributor status.
Casey Janssen was selected by the Orioles in the 49th round, but didn’t sign. He was ultimately drafted by the Blue Jays in 2004 in the fourth round and inked a contract with them. He’s a virtual lock to accrue career “contributor” status.
In 2004, the Orioles selected Wade Townsend with the eighth overall pick, but failed to sign him. The Rays took Townsend with the eighth selection the following year and inked him, but following injuries and ineffectiveness, he failed to reach the big leagues. The Orioles also selected Will Venable in the 15th round, but didn’t sign him. Venable re-entered the draft and was selected by the Padres in the seventh round the following year and signed with them. With three seasons as a near-regular starting outfielder under his belt, Venable has a legitimate shot to reach career contributor status eventually.
No 2004 draft Orioles signees have had meaningful major league careers to date. The most notable players that signed with the club that year are Jeff Fiorentino (third round, 79th pick) and Brad Bergesen (fourth round, 109th pick).
2005 saw the Orioles draft Brandon Snyder with the 13th overall pick and Garrett Olson (48thoverall) as a supplemental first rounder. Both are still kicking around the fringes of the major leagues, with minimal success.
Nolan Reimold was chosen with the 61st pick (second round) that season and remains part of the Orioles plans despite an injury-filled career. If he can stay healthy, contributor level status remains a possibility. David Hernandez was the sleeper of that draft, chosen in the 16th round (483rd overall) and has turned into a solid, reliable relief pitcher, well on his way to contributor status.
In 2006, the Orioles chose Billy Rowell with the ninth overall selection. Rowell is out of the organization and, apparently, out of baseball completely, at least for the time being. Pedro Beato was taken with a supplemental pick (32nd overall) and pitched a full season for the Mets in 2011, but struggled badly last year and is now with the Red Sox organization. Zach Britton (third round) remains in the Orioles organization and in the big league club’s plans; Jason Berken (6thround) has had something close to three full major league seasons through 2011, but is now on the fringes of a big league roster, having been cut from the Cubs major league camp this spring. The Orioles also chose Tony Watson (17th round) that year, but failed to sign him. Watson was re-drafted by the Pirates in 2007 and signed with them and appears to be on his way to possible “contributor” status.
2007 was the beginning of a notable turnaround in terms of Orioles first round drafting success. Matt Wieters was taken with the fifth overall pick that year and has already effectively achieved contributor status and remains a potential star designee. For good measure, Jake Arietta, who remains in the team’s plans, was a fifth round selection that year.
Brian Matusz, the fourth overall pick in 2008, has had his ups and downs early in his career but has had the equivalent of roughly two years as a “regular” and settled into a key role in the team’s bullpen down the stretch in 2012. He is in the mix as a possible rotation member in 2013 and will almost certainly be a significant relief option if he’s not moved into a starting role in 2014. Xavier Avery (second round) and L.J. Hoes (third round) were also part of this draft class and have dipped their toes into the major leagues (though their long-term prospects are uncertain).
The one obvious recent first round blight on the Orioles’ record was the 2009 fifth overall choice, Matt Hobgood, who was widely regarded as a huge reach at that slot at the time. (Some clubs had him as low as a third round selection.) Ineffectiveness and serious injuries have marred Hobgood’s career to date and it remains uncertain what, if anything, can be expected from him going forward.
2010 first round choice (3rd overall) Manny Machado was recalled to the major league club in August of 2011 and became the team’s starting third baseman down the stretch and has already been penciled into that role for 2013, though he won’t turn 21 until July. The sky’s the limit.
2011 saw Dylan Bundy (4th overall) selected in the first round. Bundy, who won’t be 21 years old until after the completion of the 2013 season, was remarkably effective for a 19-year-old at three minor league stops in 2012 and even had a cup of coffee with the Orioles late in the season. He’s expected to start 2013 at AA Bowie, but will have the opportunity to pitch his way all the way up to the big league rotation at the age of 20.
Kevin Gausman was chosen with 2012’s 4th overall pick and has been impressive thus far in spring training this year. He’ll start the season in the minor leagues somewhere—Bowie or high-A Frederick, presumably—but, like Bundy, may have a chance to reach the big leagues this season despite a fairly restrictive innings limit.
While it’s far too early to confidently project what will happen with the last few draft classes, there does appear to have been a substantial improvement in terms of the performance of first round picks over the past six or seven years compared to earlier periods. Some of this is surely a function of a steady stream of high first round selections. All six of the team’s first round picks since 2007 were in the top five overall; in the previous 42 years of the draft, the Orioles had a grand total of four top five choices. (I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the Orioles had three top 4 picks over a five-year period in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which preceded a reversal of fortune for the big league club.) Previous installments of this series have demonstrated the substantial historical advantage parlayed by players selected in the extreme upper regions of the draft’s first round. To a degree, then, what we’re seeing—and, to a great extent, hoping to see, since so many of the players we’re referring to remain in the early, formative stages of their respective professional careers—is an ironic but anticipated consequence of repeated years of terrible on field performance on the part of the major league club. After all, the only way a franchise can generate six consecutive top five draft choices is to be among baseball’s worst teams for many years in a row.
But if Weiters, Matusz, Machado, Bundy and Gausman (I’m effectively conceding here that Hobgood is unlikely to be a part of this) all reach contributing level status or better, the Orioles will have surpassed expectations. We’d expect perhaps half of the six first round selections from 2007-12 to attain that status. If five of six do so, that’s defying the odds significantly. Mix in another success story or two from a later round—which is to be expected—and you obviously have the makings of a competitive team. Add in some success via the other forms of player acquisition and you’re looking at a solid consistent contender. Stay tuned.
I hope you’ve found this series of draft articles to be of some value in terms of benchmarking a reasonable set of expectations for a team’s performance. I deliberately spent a significant amount of time establishing historical norms—round-by-round and slot-by-slot averages--to provide some context for assessing the Orioles’ draft performance over the years. One of the more frustrating aspects of draft analysis is dealing with the dynamic nature of the endeavor. It takes at least 15 years after a draft class has been selected to confidently establish the relative success or failure of its members. By that time, scouting, drafting and player development strategies may have undergone enough changes to have made any assessment of trends obsolete before the ink on the paper is dry. Nevertheless, I think some consideration of past performance remains useful, and I hope you’ve found the presentation worthwhile. In the relatively near future, I plan to take a look at another phase of amateur talent acquisition: the international player market.
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