NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland — The Rule 5 draft is often just a post script for teams at baseball’s annual winter meetings. But for the Orioles, it’s usually the main part of the letter.
While the New York Yankees added top closer Aroldis Chapman and the Boston Red Sox snagged lefty ace Chris Sale this week, the Orioles picked up two Rule 5 picks on Thursday morning – minor leaguers that were eligible, but left off, their respective teams’ 40-man rosters.
“We’re the Orioles. And we have a certain way of building our team and doing things,” executive vice president Dan Duquette said. “And we have to be very resourceful to compete against the behemoths in the AL East. And we’ve effectively done that for a couple years, and we’re gonna compete, and we’re gonna try to do it again this year.”
Duquette said that he’ll continue to look for major-league catchers and outfielders on the free-agent and trade markets, as the meetings come to a close.
“We work at building our team year-round. We’re trying to build our team so that we’re good in October,” he said. “But we have to work at it on a year-round basis. I’m happy that we added two good young players today and we’re going to continue to add to our club.”
There always seems to be a letdown for fans when the Orioles leave the meetings with only a Rule 5 player and nothing else. But that’s the modus operandi with this team. And though their Rule 5 picks always seem to be on the roster margins – swingman T.J. McFarland and utility man Ryan Flaherty, for instance – they have contributed at the big-league level.
I joked going into today that the Rule 5 draft is like Christmas in December – yes, a joke – for the Orioles. Well, they selected two outfield types, and one is nicknamed Santa. So, hey, at least Duquette and Company are festive.
At first blush, it looks like neither of the new Orioles’ players is a strong defensive outfielder, but both bring offensive skills that the club wants at the big-league level or, at the least, within the system.
With the 12th overall pick, the Orioles took speedy infielder/outfielder Aneury Tavarez, 24, from the Boston Red Sox organization. The Dominican Republic native is listed as a second baseman, but has played all three outfield spots in the minors. A left-handed batter, Tavarez hit .335 with a .379 on-base percentage, .506 slugging percentage, seven homers and 13 triples for Double-A Portland last year.
“This kid is a good offensive player, excellent speed,” Duquette said. “We’ll need to find a position for him. He can hit. He can run and he does have some power, if you take a look at the 13 triples he had. That’s reflective of his power as well as his very capable speed.”
With the 18th and final pick of the big-league phase of the draft, the Orioles selected switch-hitting outfielder Anthony Santander, 22, from the Cleveland Indians organization. The Venezuelan hit .290 with 20 homers and 95 RBIs in 128 games at High-A Lynchburg in his fourth pro season.
“Santander is a disciple of Victor Martinez, and if you see him play, he has a lot of Martinez’s mannerisms. He’s got a similar type stance,” Duquette said. “He’s an excellent young hitter. He was the best offensive player in the Carolina League.”
Santander is more of a hitter than fielder at this point in his career, but right now the question is when he can get back on the field. Santander had offseason surgery on his right shoulder.
“We didn’t have access to all of the medicals on him, but we had (some) access, and we’re comfortable in that we think he’s worth a shot based on his talent as a hitter,” Duquette said.
The Orioles must keep each selection on their 25-man roster throughout all of 2017 or offer him back to his original organization for half of the $100,000 it cost for the selection. However, that rule includes an allowance for some time spent on the disabled list – something most all of the Orioles’ Rule 5 selections have done in the past – and it’s possible that Santander could start the year on the DL. Duquette said he wasn’t sure yet that Santander would be ready for spring training.
Santander’s potential, however, made the Indians think that he could be drafted — even with his recent shoulder woes.
“Santa certainly is a high-upside prospect. He was a force at the plate for Lynchburg last year from both sides of the plate. He played mostly outfield, a little bit of first base,” said Cleveland’s assistant GM Carter Hawkins, who oversees the Indians’ farm system. “A great approach at the plate offensively. He had some leadership qualities down there as well. Right now, he’s going through some rehab for a shoulder injury. So, we’ll obviously hope for the best with him through that. We’re excited for him for the opportunity, but obviously really disappointed to lose him.”
The Orioles, who lost no one from their organization in the draft, also selected two players in the minor-league phase of the draft: right-hander Jefri Hernandez from the Cincinnati Reds organization and lefty Brian Moran from the Atlanta Braves’ organization. Moran is the brother of Houston Astros’ infielder Colin Moran and the nephew of former Orioles’ star B.J. Surhoff.
“If you’ve been around B.J. you know B.J.’s very proud of his nephews that play in pro ball. But that’s not why we drafted him. He has good ability,” Duquette said. “He’s a very good competitor. He has an excellent changeup. And we’re gonna take a look at him.”
The Orioles will take a look at all these guys and see if they have a chance at helping at the major-league level.
These are never sexy transactions at the winter meetings – last year they drafted Joey Rickard, who was a force in the early part of the season — but it is what these Orioles do. We’re all used to it by now.