The Orioles, despite their better than expected start to the 2008 season, are knee deep in a rebuilding phase. The front office led by Andy MacPhail has dedicated the franchise to a long and strategic road back to glory with pitching and young talent as a cornerstone to sustained success.
This Thursday's rule four draft is the next battle in this effort. With the fourth overall pick, the good news for the O's is that they should be able to land top notch talent with their first pick and then four more in the top 116. This draft has the potential to be the next step for the Orioles. As a fan, the expectations are great.
The MLB draft is never a sure thing. Show me a draft in professional sports that is. For every Lebron James or Alex Rodriguez there is a Dejuan Wagner or Matt Bush.
As an MLB team, the best you can do is draft a player with the best tools, highest ceiling and best athletic ability. There are other factors too.
How signable is a player? Will a player go back to college if they don't get the deal they want? Wade Townsend burned the Orioles back in 2004 and went back to Rice. For these reasons, it is very tough to project who will go where.
All of that being said, I'm going to do my best. The Orioles have historically lacked big name position players. The only homegrown position players they currently have are Brian Roberts (1st round supplemental 1999) and Nick Markakis (1st round 2003).
There are some talented players in the minors (Matt Wieters, Billy Rowell, Brandon Snyder, Nolan Reimold, Chris Vinyard, etc.) but what the Orioles want is depth.
After re-vamping the minors with excellent pitching prospects through the Tejada and Bedard trades, I see the Orioles selecting a hitter. The top four hitters in the draft (according to Baseball America)?
Pedro Alverez (Vanderbilt)
Tim Beckham (HS)
Buster Posey (Florida State)
Gordon Beckham (Georgia)
The teams ahead of the Orioles are the Rays, Pirates, and Royals.
The Rays are playing great baseball right now. They've had great luck with BJ Upton, a high school athlete with a great bat and average glove. I see them going with Tim Beckham; taking his five-tool ability at SS and hoping they have a better fielding Upton on their hands.
The Pirates? Where to begin. They are going to take the best available and if I'm them that means Pedro Alverez. Alverez is a mature college hitter who could mimic Evan Longoria's quick ascension to the majors.
The Royals? Well, let's be honest: they kind of need everything. They need premium position players and premium arms. Their first round pick last year is struggling in A ball and Hochevar has been so-so in the bigs. Baseball America has them going with Buster Posey, a very talented catcher from FSU. I could personally see them going with either Posey or LHP Brian Matusz. Once again, who knows?
Now, the Orioles. The Orioles could go with Gordon Beckham with the fourth overall pick. I could also see them going with Justin Smoak, a switch-hitting Mark Texiera clone from South Carolina.
Either way, they land a premium position player that can make an impact within two years. These are experienced college bats and that makes me a little more comfortable projecting their potential.
Personally, I like Beckham. He plays shortstop, a position that the Orioles haven't had an impact player at sine some guy named Ripken. He can hit and has good plate discipline? Does he have the skills to stay at shortstop? Time will tell.
If last year was any indication, I expect the Orioles to take the best available when their pick comes up. I also expect them to pay whatever it takes to get the draftee signed.
This is a new Orioles team and with so much money off the books and no free agent signings on the horizon, look for them to make a significant investment in draft day talent.
Signing Wieters last year was a huge deal for the franchise. It was more than adding a premium bat and excellent all around player. It was about saying we're going to do what it takes to put a quality product on the field. Time to stop playing it safe and start playing to win.
Unlike last year, the Orioles will have a good number of picks through the first five rounds. This will allow them to restock their minor league system and add to the increasing number of quality prospects down on the farm.
Thursday could be a huge step in the right direction. With a number of talented players in the top ten, the Orioles should have a great shot of adding another piece in the puzzle that will ultimately make them a contender again.