In terms of productivity and results, the Baltimore Orioles had one of the best drafts of 2007. Despite signing their most notable pick, catcher Matt Wieters, just minutes before the deadline, thus eliminating his chance to play ball in the minors in 2007, the Orioles still received rave reviews on a handful of other prospects. And that success has been carried over into 2008, with Wieters emerging as the top catching prospect in the minors, righty Jake Arrieta establishing himself as one of the top arms of 07, and other pieces crucial to the Orioles road to establishing a winning program. But, just as it seems the class of 07 has just begun to take its cuts, there is the new class of 08 to indoctrinate into the system. And while there are not nearly as many sure fire hits as the previous years class, there does appear to be some vast potential for these youngsters.
Clearly, the Orioles struck gold with their first pick, Brian Matusz, a 6-4, 200 lb southpaw from the University of San Diego. Matusz established himself as the top collegiate pitcher in this years draft class with a 12-2 record, a 1.71 era, and 141 strikeouts. Matusz (pronounced Mattis) has excellent control over a repetoire that includes four average-better than average pitches: a sinking fastball, a slider, a go-to out pitch curve, and a wicked changeup. There were concerns about his velocity, which sat in the upper 80's this year, after topping out at 94 his sophomore year. But with control and poise on the mound, Matusz can get by in the majors in the upper 80's and low 90's. I liken the Matusz pick as the Orioles trying to recreate their 2002 pick of Adam Loewen, who had the same specs as the Orioles first round pick in 08: big lefty, deceptive delivery, good pitch arsenal, although Matusz has more seasoned experience than Loewen did. All in all, I'm stoked about the Orioles first pick. I see Matusz moving fast through the Orioles system, given the success of last years pitchers in the minors, eventually topping out as a #1 starter at the best, reliable inning eating strikeout #3 pitcher. I put his ETA in Baltimore at 2010.
After Matusz, you'll definitely hear the words "projective" and "potential" a lot. Second round pick CF Xavier Avery recieved a full-scholarship to play football at Georgia, so we know his athleticism isn't in question. What is, is how he will develop, or if. At 5-11, 180 he doesn't bring much projectible power to his stellar play in center, but the name of his game is speed. It is hard to deny his 08 statistics were eye-popping, even for high school. In only 66 at-bats, Avery raked at a .561 clip, with 8 home runs, 24 RBIs and 35 stolen bases! The Orioles wanted to get some big bats early in this years draft after focusing on pitchers in the early rounds last year, but only time will tell with Avery. If all goes well, I can see Avery emerging as a decent starter in the mold of a young Kenny Lofton. At worst, he'll lead whatever league he plays in in stolen bases. ETA: Midseason 2013.
Third round pick Jerome Hoes is a local product, from Mitchellville, Maryland. Hoes has showed the skill-set appropriate for a decent everyday second baseman, but more likely a decent utility guy. He has committed to North Carolina, which immediately brings to mind thoughts of current Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts. At best case scenario, he's Brian Roberts with less stolen bases, a lower average, with an ETA in Baltimore of 2013 as well, sooner if he establishes himself at ONE position. Worst case, he heads off to North Carolina to establish himself as a collegiate hitter who likely goes about the same position in three years.
With their fourth pick, the O's went back to the outfield, snagging speedy Illinois outfielder Kyle Hudson, also a two-sport star. This pick reeks of the Matthew Angle selection of last year, which doesn't bother me too much, for Angle has emerged as one of my favorite players. Hudson, like Angle, has too much speed for his good, swiping 40 bases this past year, while maintaining a team leading .398 average.
The Orioles fifth-20th picks will be covered in a later article...