The Orioles have done a good job signing many of their 2016 draft picks well before the upcoming July 15 deadline. That’s appreciated by the media crew, which back in the dark ages had to cover potential signings for nearly a year.
So much has changed surrounding the draft in my 16 years of covering baseball. In my first season, 2001, the Orioles took unheralded Cumberland University lefty Chris Smith with the seventh overall pick, and none of us knew anything about him aside from one mention in Baseball America.
So we huddled around a cell phone in Yankee Stadium, where the Orioles were playing the New York Yankees, and had a quick conversation with then scouting director Tony DeMacio about Smith and fellow first-rounder Mike Fontenot.
I think I may have led my notebook with it – that was it. Now there are dozens of so-called experts offering instant analysis, and MLB Network seemingly holds a vigil with every pick.
Sure, it’s overkill, especially considering we won’t see how most of these guys measure up for years. When people ask my take on the Orioles’ picks this year, all I do is shrug. I’ve never seen these amateurs play, and I may never get an opportunity.
What I thought I’d do today is look at the Orioles’ top, first-round pick in each draft I covered (excluding this year), and compare them with the five picks directly after their selections. Yes, Matt Hobgood (pictured above during his introductory news conference) was in the same draft as Mike Trout back in 2009, but they were 20 picks apart.
It’s unfair to blame the Orioles for whiffing on Trout when so many other clubs did as well. However, Hobgood, a top prep right-hander from California, never made the big leagues, and the next 10 guys taken after him did (though there are no real stars in that group so far). So I’ll primarily limit the second-guessing to the five picks directly after the Orioles’ selection.
There have been some ugly misses and some good calls.
2001 – LHP Chris Smith, Cumberland University, 7th pick
Outcome: A converted outfielder, Smith was viewed as a reach at the time and he never developed as a pitcher, compiling a 7.52 ERA in parts of four injury-riddled and ineffective seasons. He never got above Low-A Delmarva.
The following five: No one of note in what history has shown was a top heavy draft (Joe Mauer, Mark Prior and Baltimore boys Gavin Floyd and Mark Teixeira were all taken in the Top 5). The best of the five players following Smith was infielder Chris Burke, who played roughly 500 major league games.
2002 – LHP Adam Loewen, Fraser Valley Christian (Canada) HS, 4th pick
Outcome: No one faulted the Orioles at the time for this pick. Loewen had everything: size, strength, athleticism, feel for the game, great makeup. He just couldn’t stay healthy. Shoulder issues ended his pitching career prematurely (after just 35 games and a 5.38 ERA with the Orioles) and he switched to the outfield. He upset the Orioles’ brass by leaving as a minor league free agent and joining his home country Blue Jays. He had one homer in 14 games as a hitter with Toronto, and it was, of course, against the Orioles. He switched back to pitching and made the majors again with the Philadelphia Phillies as a reliever in 2015 (6.98 ERA in 20 games). He’s currently pitching in Triple-A for the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.
The following five: In retrospect, this one hurts. Eventual Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke went two picks later, sixth overall, to the Kansas City Royals. With the seventh pick, the Milwaukee Brewers took Prince Fielder. Well, the Orioles of that time didn’t need an ace or a slugger, right?
2003 – OF Nick Markakis, Young Harris Junior College, 7th pick
Outcome: Most teams saw Markakis as a pitcher. The Orioles loved his bat. They made the right call. Within three years, he was in the majors and was a consistent performer for nearly a decade in right field. Of the 37 players taken in the first and supplemental round in 2003, Markakis had the highest career WAR heading into 2016. The second highest WAR of that group? The 37th and final pick, Adam Jones, taken by the Seattle Mariners.
The following five: All five selected after Markakis made the majors; none was an impact guy. The best was lefty John Danks, taken by the Texas Rangers with the ninth pick overall. Lefty Paul Maholm, taken eighth by Pittsburgh, also had a solid career.
2004 – RHP Wade Townsend, Rice University, 8th pick
Outcome: The Orioles never signed Townsend, who went back in the draft, was selected by the Tampa Bay Rays with the eighth pick in 2005 and never made the majors due to injuries. The Orioles never really wanted Townsend; they were leaning toward taking high school shortstop Chris Nelson, but ownership, which had just signed Miguel Tejada to a six-year deal, nixed grabbing another shortstop. Nelson was taken with the next pick by the Colorado Rockies; he became a fringe major leaguer.
The following five: Unlike Townsend, the next five players all made the majors. The best one? Right-hander Jered Weaver, who has won more than 140 games in his career for the Los Angeles Angels. Neil Walker, taken by the Pittsburgh Pirates with the 11th pick, has had a good career.
2005 – C Brandon Snyder, Westfield (VA.) HS, 13th pick
Outcome: Snyder made it back to the majors this year, playing in nine games with the Atlanta Braves at age 29. He had pop in his bat, but never really had a position after his on-again, off-again catching experiment with the Orioles failed. He hit .242 in 171 big-league plate appearances spread over five seasons (and .273 in 16 games for the Orioles in 2010 and 2011).
The following five: All Star outfielders Andrew McCutchen and Jay Bruce went with the two picks before Snyder. The Orioles were salivating when they thought Bruce may drop to them. The five after Snyder weren’t as accomplished. The best of that group was right-hander Chris Volstad, who pitched in 131 big league games. Jacoby Ellsbury was taken 10 picks after Snyder.
2006 – 3B Billy Rowell, Bishop Eustace (NJ) Prep School, 9th pick
Outcome: If you’re squeamish, you may want to move on to the following year’s description. This is the Godzilla of Orioles’ first-round disasters. A big, left-handed power hitter, Rowell never made it above Double-A, where he hit .227 with no homers in 47 games. He couldn’t play defense and he clashed continually with Orioles’ instructors. Say his name now and people in the organization still wince.
The following five: Clayton Kershaw was taken two picks before Rowell; nothing could have been done about that. But the Orioles were choosing between Rowell and a college pitcher with a funky delivery named Tim Lincecum. Scared that Lincecum was an injury waiting to happen, the O’s went with Rowell; the San Francisco Giants grabbed the future, two-time Cy Young Award winner with the 10th pick. The next selection, 11th by Arizona, was another perceived injury risk and future Cy Young winner, Max Scherzer.
2007 – C Matt Wieters, Georgia Tech, 5th pick
Outcome: The Orioles got lucky on this one. David Price was the consensus No. 1 pick, but Wieters was on many boards as No. 2. His perceived contract demands – ultimately he agreed to a $6 million bonus in the 11th hour – dropped him into the Orioles’ lap. And though he hasn’t met the lofty expectations attached to him, he’s been an All Star and a solid contributor/leader.
The following five: He’s clearly had a better career than the next four (righty Jarrod Parker is the best of that quartet), but the Giants hit paydirt again with the 10th pick overall, selecting future World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner.
2008 – LHP Brian Matusz, University of San Diego, 4th pick
Outcome: The first pitcher selected that year (current Orioles’ DH Pedro Alvarez was taken second by Pittsburgh), Matusz was in the majors by the following season and won 10 games for the Orioles in 2010. But he never could maintain consistency and eventually was moved to the bullpen to be a lefty specialist – and became a solid contributor on two playoff teams. The Orioles finally cut ties with Matusz this season (trading him and a draft pick to Atlanta for two minor leaguers) and he’s now in the minors with the Chicago Cubs.
The following five: Those dastardly Giants. The next pick after Matusz was catcher Buster Posey, a future MVP for San Francisco. Also taken directly after Matusz was first baseman Yonder Alonso (seventh by Cincinnati), who is best known in these parts as Manny Machado’s brother-in-law.
2009 – RHP Matt Hobgood, Norco (CA) HS, 5th pick
Outcome: From the moment he was selected, this pick was considered a reach nationally. But Hobgood was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year as a high school senior. He never reached the velocity he demonstrated in high school, dealt with injuries as a pro, and posted a career 4.98 ERA in six seasons while barely getting above High-A (six relief appearances at Double-A Bowie in 2015). He’s out of pro baseball at 25.
The following five: Well, none has won postseason awards, but the next 10, including nine pitchers, all made the majors. Mike Leake (eighth, Cincinnati) and Drew Storen (10th, Washington) have had the best careers so far, but Zack Wheeler (sixth) and Mike Minor (seventh) have been felled by arm surgeries. And, yes, Trout (25th) and A.J. Pollock (17th) were in this draft.
2010 – SS Manny Machado, Brito Miami (FL) Private School, 3rd pick
Outcome: Yeah, no complaints here. He’s routinely mentioned as one of the best five players in the game right now, along with Washington’s Bryce Harper, who was the first overall pick in this draft. The Orioles hadn’t taken a high school hitter with their top pick since Rowell. But this one turned out a little better.
The following five: Matt Harvey (seventh), Drew Pomeranz (fifth) and Delino DeShields (eighth) have had flashes, but not Manny-like. The only other player besides Harper in the first round of this draft that is considered an elite player right now is lefty Chris Sale (13th).
2011 – RHP Dylan Bundy, Owasso (OK) HS, 4th pick
Outcome: The jury is still out, strictly because Bundy has been limited by injuries, including Tommy John surgery. He is out of minor league options, so he has had to pitch out of the Orioles’ bullpen this year and has acquitted himself well. But the Orioles still see him as a starter, and potentially one at the top of the rotation if healthy.
The following five: Two infielders, Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor (eighth) and Washington’s Anthony Rendon (sixth) get the nod over Bundy now, but there’s plenty of time for this to end up as the right selection. Already this looks like a pretty good first round with Gerrit Cole (first), George Springer (11th), Jose Fernandez (14th) and Sonny Gray (18th).
2012 – RHP Kevin Gausman, Louisiana State University, 4th pick
Outcome: The Orioles were thrilled when Gausman, the draft’s first pitcher, fell to them at fourth, though they also would have loved to have had Byron Buxton (second) or Carlos Correa (first). Gausman was in the majors by 2013 and is now a set part of the club’s rotation. He still hasn’t reached his potential as a top-flight starter, but the Orioles are hopeful.
The following five: The most accomplished of the five behind Gausman is probably lefty Andrew Heaney (seventh), but he has missed most of this season with an elbow injury. Of the group, Chicago’s Albert Almora also has made the majors. Deeper picks in the first round include Addison Russell (11th), Corey Seager (18th), Michael Wacha (19th) and Marcus Stroman (22nd).
2013 – RHP Hunter Harvey, Bandys (NC) HS, 22nd pick
Outcome: Harvey, the son of former big-league closer Bryan, has the ability, but because of injuries he has pitched in just 25 pro games since signing in 2013. He is currently rehabbing from sports hernia surgery. The good news is he is only 21.
The following five: Chi Chi Gonzalez, the pick right after Harvey, made his big league debut last year and appeared in 14 games (10 starts) for Texas. He was an 11th round pick by the Orioles in 2010, but didn’t sign. The Giants took shortstop Christian Arroyo with the 25th pick in 2013 and he is considered a Top 100 prospect.
2014 – No first- or second-round pick (due to the signings of Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz)
2015 – OF D.J. Stewart, Florida State, 25th pick
Outcome: Stewart hit .230 with a .366 on-base percentage in 62 games at Low-A Delmarva and then was promoted to High-A Frederick in June. He has a good batting eye, but the organization has tried to make his batting crouch less pronounced. He’s a work in progress.
The following five: It’s way too early to know, but perhaps the best of the five picked after Stewart is catcher Taylor Ward, who was selected 26th overall by the Los Angeles Angels. After a good start last year, Baseball America listed Taylor as the top prospect in a weak Angels’ system. But he has struggled to hit at High-A this year.