MLB 2011 Draft: The Ideal Draft Strategy for the Baltimore Orioles
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Not many franchises took as many steps to rebuild from 2004 to 2008 as the Orioles.
Through those drafts they put together a solid amount of their current squad, including the majority of their rotation, a good chunk of their bullpen and a few position-player pieces. They also gleaned their top prospect, and several valuable pieces who should be around to contribute in a few seasons.
That hard work and good scouting (for the most part) has helped turn the O's into one of the hardest playing teams in baseball, and one of its biggest surprises in 2011.
But as with building any farm system, the work is never over, and as the front office, including General Manager Andy MacPhail and Director of Scouting Joe Jordan, gets ready for this year's draft, scheduled to begin on June 6th, here's a list of some guys worth targeting.
I should mention that of these listed players, the O's will probably take only a few, if any, since unlike all the other sports, baseball's version of the draft is much less "need based." Rather, the idea is to take the best player available, even if your farm system is chock full of talented lefty pitchers and the BPA is a talented lefty pitcher.
So let's check out the ideal draft strategy for the Orioles...but first, let's examine how the team has fared in the past few drafts.
2004-2008 Draftees on 40-Man Roster
The O's scooped up Berken in the sixth-round in 2006, and have watched him become one of their best relievers.
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As I mentioned before, the O's have had amazing amounts of success with their 2004-2008 drafts. Here's a breakdown of how the players (all on the 40-man roster) drafted in that time frame have aided the organization.
Brad Bergesen (fourth round)
Bergesen was overshadowed at the time by the drama surrounding the O's first-round pick, Wade Townsend, who ended up not signing. Bergesen, meanwhile, has emerged as a solid mid-rotation starter who just tossed his first-career complete-game shutout this past weekend.
Brandon Snyder (first round)
Snyder hasn't blossomed into the superstar hitter that the O's envisioned when they drafted him with their first pick. He has put together a nice minor-league career that has gotten him to Triple-A, where he's just biding his time until the O's give him a nice, long look.
Garrett Olson (first round, supplemental)
Olson sped through the minors, but was ineffective for the big-league squad. The O's eventually shipped him to Chicago, and got Felix Pie in return, who has been a nice bit-player for them for the past two seasons.
Nolan Reimold (second round)
Reimold has failed to stick in the big leagues for good, but has shown the power necessary to hit 20-to-30 home runs if given 500-plus at-bats in the majors. He, too, is at Triple-A, waiting for his next shot.
Chroye Spoone (eighth round)
Once upon a time the O's top pitching prospect, Spoone underwent TJ surgery and has struggled with his command ever since. He reached Triple-A for the first time this season, and has been average at best.
David Hernandez (16th round)
The second piece of valuable trade-bait from this draft, Hernandez helped the O's get Mark Reynolds, but not before showing great relief capability.
Zach Britton (third round)
Talented lefty has emerged as the O's best starter this season. He's a front-runner for the A.L. Rookie of the Year award, and a dark horse in the Cy Young race. He's second in the league with five victories, and is coming off a performance in which he allowed only three hits in nine shutout innings.
Jason Berken (sixth round)
Berken excelled in relief for the O's last season, posting some of the team's best numbers out of the pen. This year he's been roughed up, but he's still one of their more reliable options.
2004-2008 Draftees on 40-Man Roster
Matt Wieters has emerged as a stud behind the plate, while his bat has been slower to come along.
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Matt Wieters (first round)
Wieters rocketed through the minors, arriving in Baltimore in 2009. He finished strong that season, but regressed a bit in 2010. He's been the team's best clutch hitter so far in 2011, thriving with men on base and in scoring position. Wieters is the cornerstone of the franchise now.
Jake Arrieta (fifth round)
Arrieta has quietly been one of the A.L.'s best starters over the past four weeks, winning five consecutive starts. He's been a beast on the mound, going toe-to-toe with some of the best pitchers in the game, and has consistently found himself coming out on top.
Joe Mahoney (sixth round)
Mahoney exploded onto the scene last year, swatting 18 homers and driving in 78 runs, while maintaining a .307 average. Mahoney has risen to Double-A and looks like the team's first baseman of the future.
Matt Angle (seventh round)
Angle has the skills of a fourth outfielder, but he has consistently performed above expectations everywhere he's been. He's been in Triple-A for over 100 games now, and is just waiting on a chance at the big-league level.
Brian Matusz (first round)
Matusz emerged as the staff ace late last season and was expected to take up that role in 2011, but an injury has forced him to miss almost the entire season to date.
Where They've Gone Wrong
Garcia was first tabbed by the O's in the 30th-round back in 2004
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While the O's have made some really solid choices over the past few years, they've also made some of the draft's biggest head-scratchers. Here are the decisions they wish they could go back in time and take another stab at.
Picking Wade Townsend First in 2004
Picking Townsend wasn't the right call for so many reasons. First, there were inklings about him that didn't leave too many people surprised when he washed out after just a few minor-league seasons. Second, there were still guys like Jered Weaver, Billy Butler, Stephen Drew, Phil Hughes, Huston Street, Yovani Gallardo, Hunter Pence, and Dustin Pedroia still available.
Failing to Sign a Number of Players
From 2004 to 2008, the O's failed to come to terms with a number of talented players who have since gone on to bigger and better things, including: Will Venable (15th round, 2004), Jamie Garcia (30th round, 2004) and Tanner Scheppers (29th round, 2005)
Billy Rowell (2006)
Granted, nobody could have seen the kind of bleak future the O's have been thrust into with Rowell, one of the worst hitters for average in the minor leagues, and one of the top strikeout producers. The O's famously passed on Tim Lincecum, who went one pick after Baltimore selected, Max Scherzer, Tyler Colvin, Kyle Drabek, Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain, Chris Perez and Andrew Bailey.
Matt Hobgood (2009)
The reincarnation of Billy Rowell in pitching form, Hobgood has yet to show anybody anything that warranted the fifth-overall draft choice in the 2009 draft. He has been plagued by minor injuries, poor conditioning, and decreased velocity.
Shelling Out Nearly $1 million for a Cup of Coffey
The O's made major headlines when they paid out $990,000 for 22nd-round pick Cameron Coffey in 2009, setting a late-round record. Coffey dazzled scouts in one start during his senior year of HS, showing improved velocity before being shelved with major shoulder troubles. The O's were betting on his return to form, and are still waiting.
Where They Pick in 2011
The last time the O's picked fourth, they scooped up seasoned college lefty Brian Matusz.
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Here's a breakdown of the Orioles first 10 rounds worth of picks, starting with their first pick, the fourth overall:
No. 4 overall, first round
No. 64 overall, second round
No. 94 overall, third round
No. 125 overall, fourth round
No. 155 overall, fifth round
No. 185 overall, sixth round
No. 215 overall, seventh round
No. 245 overall, eighth round
No. 275 overall, ninth round
No. 305 overall, 10th round
Who Are the Orioles Options at Pick No. 4
Gray has had a quiet, dominating year, and should be available at No. 4.
The O's hold the fourth-overall pick in one of the deepest drafts in recent memory.
They also have no compensation picks, meaning they won't select again until pick No. 64, so they better make it count. No more of this Hobgood nonsense.
Here's a few of the top guys who will likely be available at No. 4:
Bubba Starling, OF, Gardner Edgerton HS (KS)
Arguably the top position player in the draft. He has five-tool talent including some of the best speed and power in this draft class. He's a three-sport star with a commitment to play football at Nebraska, so he could be very, very expensive.
Dylan Bundy, RHP, Owasso HS (OK)
The O's already have ties to the top rated high-school pitcher, as in Bobby Bundy, Dylan's older brother, who joined the O's in 2009. Bundy has three amazing pitches with great potential and has the look of an ace.
Sonny Gray, RHP, Vanderbilt
One of the top college pitchers available, Gray has been dominant for three seasons at Vanderbilt. He's been nearly un-hittable in 2011, holding batters to a .181 average against. He features a mid-90s fastball and one of the best curveballs in the draft.
Jed Bradley, LHP, Georgia Tech
Another seasoned college pitcher, Bradley is one of the top college lefties. He has an excellent repertoire, good velocity and outstanding makeup. The O's struck gold once with a Georgia Tech star (Wieters) and could go that same route.
Danny Hultzen, LHP, Virginia
Hultzen could be the O's preferred pick, but Arizona, which picks at No. 3, is apparently very high on him. He has amazing control and has seen a tick in his velocity this season. Once thought of as a mid-rotation starter, he now looks like a front-line ace.
What the Experts Are Saying
According to Baseball America, lefty Jed Bradley will be the pick.
A quick glance at the draft rumors via Google reveal several things.
First, there really is no consensus on the O's pick. They've been linked to nobody officially, but Trevor Bauer, Jed Bradley, Bubba Starling, Danny Hultzen, Dylan Bundy, Archie Bradley and even Francisco Lindor, unofficially.
Second, need won't play a role. It's safe to say that the O's selection of shortstop Manny Machado last year was the best of both worlds, taking the best player available, while also drafting for need. That won't be the case this season for one reason: the O's have way too many needs, including first base, outfield, pitching, and power, power, power!
Baseball America is one of the best places to go for draft coverage, both pre-and-post draft. Here's what Jim Callis, their draft guru, had to say in their first mock draft of the year...
"ORIOLES: Baltimore scouting director Joe Jordan is from Oklahoma, as is Bundy, who's exceptionally polished for a high school arm and whose older brother already is a Baltimore farmhand. But the Orioles may be spooked by prep pitchers after taking Matt Hobgood fifth overall two years ago. Don't be surprised if manager Buck Showalter has a say in this pick, and he'd want more immediate help, too. They'd love Hultzen, but if he's off the board and they don't buy into Bauer's unorthodox mechanics and regimen, Georgia Tech lefthander Jed Bradley could be their man."
Projected pick: Jed Bradley
With the 4th Pick...
Here's what I think the O's will likely do, provided the player they like is still available, as echoed in my most recent mock draft.
"The motto for the Orioles since Andy MacPhail took over has been 'buy the bats, grow the arms.'"
And for the first two drafts that MacPhail was a part of, that belief held true. The team picked up Brian Matusz and Matt Hobgood with the first two first-round picks of the MacPhail era.
They went off the chart last season to pick up an elite talent, franchise cornerstone Manny Machado, but my guess is that, despite their lack of offensive talent in the pipeline, they head back to the heart of their motto.
And the arm they'll tab with the fourth-overall pick will be one that's very familiar to them, Oklahoma prep star Dylan Bundy.
The Orioles already have Bundy's older brother, Robert, in their employ, so it only makes sense to snag the younger, bigger fish. Bundy has been lights out so far this season, guiding his Owasso HS squad to the No. 1 ranking in the country, according to Baseball America.
Bundy has been the team's ace, going 9-0 and allowing only 15 base hits in 48 innings of work. He's racked up 111 strikeouts, and get this: In eight starts, he has six one-hitters and one no-hitter.
Toss in the fact that he hit 100 mph on one scout's radar gun during his last start, and Bundy's helium is soaring as we near closer to draft day.
The Orioles tried to go the high-school route in 2009, when they tabbed California right-hander Matt Hobgood. That experiment hasn't worked out so well, as Hobgood has struggled with conditioning issues and now arm troubles. He isn't expected to get back on the mound until the summer, at the earliest, and even when he's been on the mound, his velocity has been down from the 94-to-97 mph the team saw from him prior to the draft. He also hasn't been very effective, showing poor command and a lazy breaking ball.
If MacPhail's smart, he'll turn to the top high-school pitcher rather than try to go off the deep end again."
With the 64th Pick...
Because this draft is so deep, the O's actually have a pretty good chance at picking up some decent talent that could make a huge impact in the second round.
With their second pick, I think they should go along the position-player route, looking for the best hitter available, regardless of position.
I think they could do a lot worse than Vanderbilt's Aaron Westlake, who in addition to being pretty well seasoned at first base, has some of the top college power in this draft.
He hit 10 home runs during his redshirt-freshman season, another 14 during his RS-sophomore year, and he's well on his way to setting a career-high, with 10 through 47 games.
What is most impressive about Westlake's power is how easy it comes. He's a big guy (6'4" and 230 pounds) with a sweet lefty swing. He has impressed scouts and opponents alike with his very smooth transition to the new BBCOR bats that play a lot more like wood than aluminum.
Westlake has been Vandy's top offensive player, adding in 34 RBI and 13 doubles along with those 10 long balls. He's struck out more than he should (37), but has also shown an amazing capability to rack up the walks (36).
And as much flak as Westlake takes for his defense, he's committed only four errors all season, good for a fielding percentage of .991.
Snatching up an all-around player of Westlake's caliber should provide an instant boost to the farm system.
With the 94th Pick...
...the Orioles select another pitcher, left-hander Ryan Carpenter from Gonzaga.
Carpenter is one of many college arms who have finally put it together, securing their statuses as early-to-mid round draft selections.
For Carpenter, it's been a long, tough road.
A former 21st-round pick of Tampa Bay back in 2008, Carpenter spurned the Rays to pitch for the Zags. Despite having great potential, including prototypical pitchers size (6'5", 205 pounds) and a fantastic curveball, Carpenter struggled mightily, finishing his freshman campaign with an ERA over five. Things didn't get much better as a sophomore, and he had an even worse year, notching an ERA approaching 6.00 with a career-low in strikeouts.
Through it all, Carpenter continued to show great stuff and a solid work ethic.
It finally started to pay off last summer, when Carpenter showed improved command and the ability to dominate in the Cape Cod League. He posted a 3-0 record, a 2.56 ERA and a 39-to-10 K-to-BB ratio in 38.2 innings. He also only surrendered one home run.
He carried that momentum over into the 2011 season and he's been leading the way as the team's ace. He's already set a career high with seven victories (to only one loss), and has shaved close to three runs off of his career ERA. He has averaged more than a strikeout an inning and has 90 for the season. He's also continued to be incredibly stingy with the long ball, serving up only two in 82.2 innings.
If Carpenter can finish strong, and I'm betting he will, he could find himself sitting pretty with a spot in the first five rounds.
Plus, I dig the beard.
With the 125th Pick...
...the O's tab another power-hitting first baseman with the hopes that one of them will emerge as the front-runner for the job sometime in the near future.
Bird is a talented prospect in his own right, but just might slip through the cracks and end up as a third, fourth or even fifth-round pick. At 6'4" and 220 pounds, you wouldn't necessarily think that Bird will end up behind the plate in the long run (unless you're an Orioles fan), but for the time being, playing there has helped enhance his draft stock.
Most scouts seem to agree that he'll likely have to move to a corner infield spot. He has more than enough arm for third, which would seem the most likely landing spot, although his high-school coach seems to think he'd be a perfect fit at first.
Regardless of his position, Bird will be a nice find in the middle rounds due to his seasoned bat. He's been unstoppable against Colorado high-school competition, bashing home runs at such a high rate that he's become a regular intentional walk against most teams. Baseball America reported last August that he was once walked intentionally six times in one game!
Teams don't do that for just anyone.
Bird also has a great eye at the plate. It probably helped that he spent two seasons catching Gausman, who can fire fastballs in the low-to-mid 90s. Bird does have a commitment to Arkansas in his back pocket, so to ink him the O's will likely have to go slightly over-slot.
With the Rest of Their Draft Choices
The O's scooped up Ronnie Welty in the 20th round in 2008 and he's been one of the best hitters since.
It's common to see every team load up on large quantities of pitchers during the late rounds. This is a necessary part of baseball, as each team requires the same (or more) number of pitchers than position players.
And while the Orioles will likely follow this trend to the letter, it would be nice to see them take some fliers on some high-ceiling hitters late in the draft, even if they're players who have college commitments that seem unbreakable.
This is potentially the final year of the draft where teams will be able to spend as much as they want on whoever they want, so they better live it up while they still can.
That, and the O's need hitting talent.