Re-Evaluating Baltimore Orioles' Top Draft Picks from the Past Decade
It's hard to believe that we're already at the point in the season when the 2014 MLB First-Year Player Draft is just a week away.
All 30 major league organizations want to find that one special player that can turn the franchise around—or make it even better—and who will stay with the club long enough to build or maintain a winning culture.
The Baltimore Orioles are going to be at a disadvantage this year, having parted with three picks in the first two rounds. They sent a competitive balance pick to Houston in the Bud Norris trade last year and forfeited the 17th and 55th overall picks after signing free agents Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz, per Steve Melewski of MASN Sports.
Both players declined their former clubs' qualifying offers and were then tied to draft pick compensation at the expense of the team that signed them.
The Orioles' first pick of the draft will instead be the 90th overall selection. Fear not—the O's were able to nab quality prospects in the past like right-handed pitcher Mike Wright at 94th overall in 2011 and shortstop Adrian Marin at 99th in 2012.
History has proven that nailing the first-round pick isn't always the end-all and be-all. This is especially the case for the Orioles as only a select few of their top picks from the past decade have panned out—the majority of which being complete busts or failing to produce enough to have warranted a first-round pick.
I'm going to examine all of the Orioles' most recent top picks dating all the way back to 2004 and detail what kind of impact they've had on the club, be it great or none whatsoever.
2004: Wade Townsend, RHP
Right-handed pitcher Wade Townsend was the Orioles' top pick in the 2004 MLB draft and a first-team All-American at Rice University.
A highly touted prospect that put up stunning numbers at Rice, Townsend went 12-0 in 18 games that year with a 1.80 ERA and 148 strikeouts in 120.1 innings pitched. He also allowed just 74 hits in that span, according to Gary Washburn of MLB.com.
At the eighth overall pick, he was actually the third pitcher taken from Rice—two of his fellow Owls having been selected earlier in the first round. Right-hander Philip Humber was selected with the third overall pick by the New York Mets and right-hander Jeff Niemann was taken at No. 4 to the (then) Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Despite being a top-10 selection, Townsend never suited up for any Orioles' affiliates as he turned down Baltimore's offer and returned to Rice for another season.
Townsend was then selected with the same pick a year later, going to Tampa Bay at No. 8 in the 2005 MLB First-Year Player Draft.
In five seasons in Tampa Bay's organization, Townsend failed to be promoted past the Double-A level.
2005: Brandon Snyder, C
The Orioles selected catcher Brandon Snyder out of Westfield High School (Va.) with the 13th overall pick in the 2005 MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Although Snyder was drafted as a catcher, he later shifted into a 1B/DH role after struggles involving both defensive ability (poor mechanics) and injury (left-labrum surgery), according to B/R's Nick Pucci.
The fact that Snyder was such a high pick in the draft brought with it the expectation that he would be the future at first base for the Orioles. Alas, he was unable to succeed in the minors, as he failed to hit for an average higher than .261 at the Triple-A level in his more recent years in the organization.
A pair of anonymous scouts gave their opinion on Snyder to BaltimoreSun.com's Jeff Zrebiec back in 2010, and one in particular clearly never bought into him:
I’ve always thought that he was a real overrated guy. I never really liked him. He’s not much of an athlete, not a real hard worker. He doesn’t really get after it real hard. He doesn’t really have a position. He’s an extra guy to me. I don’t think he’s a future starting corner infielder in the big leagues.
2006: Billy Rowell, 3B
A power-hitting high school infielder from Bishop Eustace Preparatory School (N.J.), Billy Rowell was the Orioles' top draft pick in the 2006 MLB draft at ninth overall.
Rowell played shortstop in high school, but the plan was to have him shift to third as he was labeled a hitter-first player by former scouting director Joe Jordan according to Spencer Fordin of MLB.com.
Baltimore's front office was ecstatic about the pick, even drawing comparisons to a certain Orioles' legend who also manned the hot corner. Via Fordin:
"Jordan seemed to be leaning toward a Cal Ripken comment before backing off, adding, 'I don't want to answer that right now, until I get him signed.'"
Ultimately, the hype Rowell came with and the praise he elicited by folks in the baseball community were premature.
After steadily declining in production throughout his tenure with the Orioles, Rowell was released by the club after the 2012 postseason, per Dan Connolly of BaltimoreSun.com. He hadn't recorded a single at-bat with any Orioles' affiliate in 2012 and hit for just .227 and zero homers in 41 games at Double-A Bowie in the previous year.
2007: Matt Wieters, C
Catcher Matt Wieters was selected with the fifth overall pick in the 2007 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Baltimore Orioles.
Wieters is the first top pick of the Orioles that has contributed long-term to the major league club since they took outfielder Nick Markakis with the seventh overall selection in the 2003 draft.
After his 2008 debut season with High-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie, Will Lingo of BaseballAmerica.com broke down Wieters' strengths and weaknesses.
He labeled Wieters as "an above-average hitter with above-average power" and who is "an amazingly polished offensive player with great pitch recognition and a knack for getting himself into favorable counts."
On the negative side, however, Wieters was described as "a below-average runner" who could wear down physically behind the plate due to his large frame.
So far, Wieters has proven this scouting report to be extremely accurate.
While he has hit for above-average power at the catcher position by hitting for over 20 homers nearly every year, he hasn't done so hot in the batting average department, having yet to hit for over .262 on a full year.
The listed weaknesses are supported as well, with Wieters' speed on the basepaths being often joked about amongst Orioles fans, but that's to be expected of a player with his build and the fact that his body is wearing down more and more each year. He is catching more games than the average starting catcher year in and year out.
Wieters has been a franchise player for the Orioles and has certainly lived up to the onus of a high draft pick.
2008: Brian Matusz, LHP
Left-handed pitcher Brian Matusz was taken by the Orioles with the fourth overall pick in the 2008 MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Matusz—the most accomplished pitcher in University of San Diego Baseball history—went 12-2 and had a 1.71 ERA in his final season. He held opponents to a .211 batting average while walking just 22 batters in 105 innings.
Even though the 2008 draft was described as being offensively loaded, the Orioles' brain trust felt comfortable taking the best pitcher on the board in Matusz.
Former scouting director Joe Jordan said that he had considered going with slugger Justin Smoak, though in the end decided on Matusz. From Spencer Fordin of MLB.com:
That should tell you how much I like him, really, because there are some quality bats in the Draft. We just went around and around the last 24 hours. It was back and forth. We had a lot of conversations with the staff, but at the end of the day, this seems to fit the blueprint of this organization going forward. From the character side, the talent side—however you want to look at it.
After having mixed results in the rotation in his early years—with the latter part of that time turning ugly—Matusz was converted into a relief role in which he has thrived with the club.
He will continue to be a key piece to the Orioles' bullpen as a shutdown lefty specialist.
2009: Matthew Hobgood, RHP
Another of the Orioles' many top-10 picks during the past decade, right-handed pitcher Matthew Hobgood was selected by the club with the fifth overall pick in the 2009 MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Drafted out of Norco High School (Ca.), Hobgood had already matured physically, listed at 6'4'' and 245 pounds. In addition, several scouting reports raved about the young righty's mound presence and powerful arsenal.
Jordan Tuwiner of OriolesNation.com witnessed Hobgood in action during minor league spring training in 2010 and gave his take on the "workhorse":
"With a calm, confident presence, Hobgood commanded two plus pitches, pounded opposing hitters inside and made numerous hitters look silly with his filthy curveball."
One big negative that Tuwiner mentioned was that Hobgood's release point on his curveball was different than both his fastball and his changeup.
With a career ERA of 4.92 and WHIP of 1.476 across five seasons in the minors, it seems as if the release-point issue greatly factored into him being a complete bust for the Orioles franchise.
2010: Manny Machado, SS
Manny Machado, drafted out of Brito Miami Private School (Fla.), was the Orioles' top pick at third overall in the 2010 MLB draft.
While Machado has only just begun his second full season with the Orioles, many fans are hoping he stays in Baltimore for his entire career.
He is a superstar on the rise. After an amazing 2013 season defensively, Machado took home his first Gold Glove Award at third base and was also awarded the Platinum Glove Award best defensive player in the entire AL.
An All-Star in his first full season, Machado also finished ninth in voting for the AL MVP Award.
Hopefully, the Orioles' front office opens up the checkbook soon and signs Machado to a long-term deal before arbitration kicks in because with a WAR of 6.43 in 2013 per ESPN.com, he is the Orioles' best all-around player.
2011: Dylan Bundy, RHP
Selected with the fourth overall pick in the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft, Dylan Bundy has yet to make a major league start after undergoing Tommy John surgery last summer.
Bundy, once regarded as the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball, is well on his way to recovering fully from the procedure and getting back into the kind of shape he was in two seasons ago. In 2012, he was simply outstanding, compiling a 2.08 ERA, a sub-1.00 WHIP (0.916) and 119 strikeouts over 103.2 innings pitched while in the minors.
Bundy has drawn some pretty favorable major league comparisons as well.
If Bundy can return to form and live up to the lofty expectations that were placed upon him, he can be a front-of-the-rotation pitcher in Baltimore for several years.
2012: Kevin Gausman, RHP
Scooped up with the fourth overall pick in the 2012 MLB draft, Kevin Gausman is looked upon as a major contributor for the Orioles and could make an impact as soon as midseason.
Gausman has been simply remarkable so far, holding his own (and then some) across four levels in the minors. In two-plus seasons at that level, Gausman holds a 3.22 ERA and an impressive 8.7 K/9 ratio.
Despite his struggles at the major league level (6.10 ERA over 51.2 innings), the Orioles still feel that Gausman has plenty of room to grow and become an impact player for them in late summer, when they'll make a strong push for the playoffs.
JD Sussman of FanGraphs.com gave some insight into how Gausman can improve and develop into a front-of-the-rotation arm:
There is little Kevin Gausman can learn by remaining in the minor leagues. To nitpick, he could throw his slider with more consistent shape. At times, it was loose and broke early. But, the "good" slider was more frequently present. Also, he could also change hitters' eye-levels better by working more effectively up in the zone with his fastball. He was content to work down in the zone a majority of the time.
2013: Hunter Harvey, RHP
Hunter Harvey was the Orioles' third consecutive right-handed pitcher taken with the team's top pick, selected 22nd overall in the 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Harvey, the son of former All-Star reliever Bryan Harvey, is still a teenager but is dominating players much older than him in the short time he has been in the organization.
Per Steve Melewski of MASN Sports, Harvey has been impressing scouts and coaches alike. After a mid-August game last year at Aberdeen in which the young phenom tossed 4.1 innings and struck out five batters, MLB.com writer Jim Callis gave Melewski his take on Harvey:
He's a guy that really came on this spring (during his senior year in high school). He touched 97 (mph) in one outing. I don't think he did that repeatedly, but you know it's in there. He's got the bloodlines because his dad was an All-Star.
He's flashed a changeup. He flashes a breaking ball. He's got the projection and he's shown you the 97. He could be a guy with three pretty good pitches.
Orioles Executive Vice-President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette personally scouted Harvey and believes he may add even more velocity as his strength increases.
Harvey has a bright future, one in which he and fellow top-hurlers Bundy and Gausman can form a powerhouse rotation that eventually helps to win a championship for Baltimore and its loyal fans.