The Orioles' five biggest draft disappointments - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Dan Connolly

The Orioles’ five biggest draft disappointments

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

Earlier we explored the best draft picks in Orioles’ history.

That was pretty easy.

Neither one of the Orioles’ two Hall of Famers that were drafted by the team was picked in the first round. One future Hall of Famer was taken late in the first, and the Orioles landed a Rookie of the Year in the 11th round and a Cy Young winner in the seventh.

As for picks that didn’t click, well, there have been a bunch. That’s the way it is with every organization, not just the Orioles.

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This franchise, though, has had its fair share of high picks who have flamed out.

I don’t usually like to use the word “bust,” especially if a guy makes the majors. That’s a tremendous accomplishment unto itself. So, we’ll call this entry “draft disappointments,” since I made my determination primarily based on what the expectations were – and what the Orioles failed to do with the picks.

The biggest draft disappointments in Orioles history

5. Drungo Hazewood, 1977, 1st round, 19th pick, Sacramento (Calif.) HS

Like most teams, the Orioles have swung and missed over the years on plenty of first-round talent, some which never made the majors. Hazewood did, so, in essence, he’s less of a disappointment than many. I chose Hazewood for this list, though, because his fall was so rapid that some old-school Orioles fans still cringe when the tremendously unique name is mentioned.

Hazewood had a chance to be one of the franchise’s greatest players. His combination of speed, power and arm strength had the outfielder compared to Bo Jackson by those who played with him in the early 1980s. Some of those Orioles say he was a better all-around player than Hall-of-Famer Cal Ripken Jr., a former teammate and friend of Hazewood’s.

In 1980, at age 20, Hazewood hit 28 homers and stole 29 bases for Double-A Charlotte and received a September promotion to the Orioles. He played in six games, was hitless in five at-bats and started just once, when he struck out in all four plate appearances. He had turned 21 a few weeks prior; he never played in the majors again, the breaking ball proving to be an unbeatable adversary. Hazewood quit the game in 1983, at age 23, to take care of his ill mother. He drove a truck, settled into life without baseball and, in 2013, died of complications from cancer.

4. Ben McDonald, 1989, 1st round, 1st pick, Louisiana State University

It is absolutely, positively unfair to suggest that McDonald was a bust. The man spent nine seasons in the majors, including seven with the Orioles. He exceeded the 200-inning plateau three times, won double-digit games in four seasons and, in 1993, he posted a 3.39 ERA in 34 starts.

But he could have and should have been a superstar if his right shoulder hadn’t been so abused as an amateur. And that’s why he has to be on this list, even if I don’t feel good about it. The expectations were astronomical, and he failed to reach them.

The 6-foot-7 right-hander was 58-53 with a 3.89 ERA in 155 games for the Orioles. Solid for mere mortals, but disappointing for the No. 1 overall pick – the only time the franchise has had the distinction of picking first.

McDonald was the victim of a bygone era in which pitch counts and innings logged were ignored. McDonald once threw 221 pitches in a high school game in Louisiana. Five times at LSU, he threw nine innings in one game and closed out the next one. He estimates he logged 352 innings in his sophomore and junior seasons and the summer in between, when he pitched for the 1988 U.S. Olympic team.

McDonald said he doesn’t regret the workload – he wanted the ball – but he paid a price. Major shoulder damage ended his career by the time he was 29. According to career WAR, McDonald was the fourth best player in 1989’s first round. Hall-of-Famer Frank Thomas, selected seventh by the Chicago White Sox, was by far the best.

3. Matt Hobgood, 2009, 1st round, fifth pick, Norco (Calif.) HS

The Orioles have drafted in the Top 5 only 10 times. Hobgood, a big right-hander from California, is the only one of that group that didn’t make the majors. He didn’t come close. His ceiling was six games of relief at Double-A Bowie in 2015. He was 1-1 with a 6.52 ERA in those appearances and 17-24 with a 4.98 ERA in parts of six minor league seasons.

Arm injuries were responsible for some of the ineffectiveness, but Hobgood (pictured above) never matched the velocity as a pro that he demonstrated as a high school senior. Hobgood won the National Gatorade Player of the year in 2009, so it wasn’t as if he were an unknown commodity.

Still, when he was selected fifth overall, the pick was panned as a reach, especially given the number of quality arms that were available. Zack Wheeler, Mike Minor and Mike Leake were taken with the next three picks after Hobgood was selected.

There had been whispers that the Orioles took Hobgood for financial reasons, but I never found credence to that. Scouting director Joe Jordan loved Hobgood’s size – 6-foot-4, 245 pounds — arm strength and makeup. The Orioles were right about Hobgood’s character. He never made excuses for his struggles and was lauded by his teammates. He just couldn’t succeed in pro ball.

2. Billy Rowell, 2006, 1st round, 9th pick, Bishop Eustace Preparatory School (N.J.)

There are other Orioles’ first-rounders selected higher than Rowell that failed to make the majors. What makes Rowell’s selection so painful is that in 2006 the club was choosing between him and a diminutive college right-hander with a funky delivery named Tim Lincecum.

The Orioles took Rowell, and the San Francisco Giants grabbed Lincecum with the next pick. Lincecum went on to win two NL Cy Young Awards. The guy selected right after Lincecum, 11th overall, was Max Scherzer, also a two-time Cy Young Award winner.

Rowell, a corner infielder/outfielder, never made it above Double-A. He batted .261 with 40 homers in 550 minor league games. The Orioles cut him loose in 2011 as a 23-year-old and he never played affiliated baseball again.

The organization was smitten by his light-tower power, and the New Jersey prep star was a darling of prospect showcases for his impressive rounds of batting practice. But he didn’t possess the baseball IQ they were expecting, he couldn’t settle defensively at first base, third base or the corner outfield and his attitude often clashed with instructors. I was told by one person in the organization that there was a collective sigh of relief on the day Rowell left as a minor league free agent.

1. Top-heavy class of 1999, featuring Mike Paradis, 1st round, 13th pick, Clemson

Due to free-agent defections in 1998 that included Roberto Alomar and Rafael Palmeiro, the Orioles had seven picks in the Top 50 of the 1999 draft. It was an unprecedented haul and was supposed to turn around the franchise.

Instead, it was a disaster.

Paradis, a college pitcher, Richard Stahl, a high school lefty selected 18th overall, and Josh Cenate, a high school lefty taken 34th, never pitched in the majors. Outfielders Larry Bigbie (21st) and Keith Reed (23rd) and pitcher Scott Rice (44th) ultimately made the majors, but had no impact.

(Well, the other two made no impact; Bigbie made considerable impact as the inadvertent, central figure of the federal investigation into performance-enhancing drugs in baseball when he befriended a Baltimore man that was a federal informant.)

The only tangible success the Orioles had in those seven picks was the guy who was taken 50th – and seventh by the team – undersized infielder Brian Roberts, a two-time All Star who played 13 of his 14 seasons with the Orioles.

Paradis gets the headline here because he was the highest pick of the group and reached as high as Triple-A Ottawa, where he had a 15.32 ERA in nine games in relief. But it’s the consistent whiffs in the Top 50 that make this No. 1 on my list.

In retrospect, it wasn’t a particularly good first round for most teams — especially from the point Paradis was selected at 13. But to make the Orioles’ 1999 draft look worse, Tampa Bay Devil Rays superstar outfielder Carl Crawford was taken with the 52nd pick, two after Roberts. And future All Stars Brandon Phillips and John Lackey were also taken in the second round while future AL MVP Justin Morneau was the fifth pick in the third round.

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Bancells Moustache

    June 15, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    I gotta disagree here Dan-o, a draft with Brian Roberts can’t be considered a complete disaster. Taking Rowell over Lincecum and Scherzer, on the other hand, is the Hindenburg bursting into flames, landing on the Titanic and causing a fireball that sets the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory ablaze.

    • Dan Connolly

      June 15, 2017 at 3:55 pm

      6 picks Stache. 6 picks in the first 44 with nothing to show but the Mitchell Report.

  2. dap1285

    June 15, 2017 at 1:27 pm

    I posted this on Facebook as well, but I was told by a certain D. Jones, comments on here are good too.

    I think you could make an argument for (insert “Cavalry” pitcher) over Hobgood. Hobgood was a reach pick with little expectations. But all those pitchers that were touted to be great pitching prospects highly disappointed. Obviously, Britton is a dominant closer, Tillman started out as a serviceable starter and Arrieta moved on to bigger and better things, but the false hope they (Matusz, Bergeson, etc.) gave during a time we needed something good made them true disappointments to me.

    • Paul Folkemer

      June 15, 2017 at 3:54 pm

      Gotta disagree. Hobgood was the #5 overall pick. You don’t waste that on a reach pick with little expectations. That’s a spot where you’re supposed to get a great talent, someone who will at least contribute to your team down the road. The Orioles’ pick of Hobgood in that spot was a head-scratcher from the very beginning, and it didn’t pay off in any way, shape, or form.

      The cavalry guys, even if they didn’t all live up to the hype, at least contributed at the major league level for a time. And none of them but Matusz were drafted as high as Hobgood.

    • Dan Connolly

      June 15, 2017 at 4:00 pm

      Comments here are much better Dap. I really try to answer most. I’d go loops if I tried to answer many of the comments on Facebook. Lots of knee-jerk folks there. This is a more thought-invoking forum. And as for your thoughts, I don’t disagree that those guys as a whole ended up less than the hype. But individually all but Matusz matched or exceeded the production of someone drafted where they were drafted. And that’s the focus of this piece. Tillman wasn’t even drafted by the Os. One interesting point here. This offseason 3 members of the “Calvary” received 1-yr contracts of eight figures in arbitration. That’s pretty stunning.

  3. 5brooks5

    June 15, 2017 at 2:08 pm

    Great subject and yes the 1999 draft set this organization back for many years. But who could forget Chris Smith, another great pick or Mr. GOLDEN ARM… Matt Riley!

    • Dan Connolly

      June 15, 2017 at 4:02 pm

      Chris Smith was heavily considered. He was considered a reach at the time, too. But he was lower than Hobgood in draft position AND history showed that was a terrible draft overall through the majors from Smith on.

  4. rphlew1

    June 16, 2017 at 9:29 am

    I really enjoyed reading this, Dan. You did a lot of research on it. It is interesting that so many stars were picked lower in draft. Many life situations and success mirrors this. Those that don’t necessarily have natural abilities succeed because they have to really work hard to attain the skills that some have naturally. Of course injuries can’t be controlled.

  5. Camden Bird

    June 16, 2017 at 6:29 pm

    And notice that all but two were high schoolers . I have ALWAYS been leery to taking high school kids. Unless they’re a natural stud, the learning curve is usually way too steep to jump from pitching against a bunch of kids to 20-something yea r old pros in the minors. That’s not to say you should never take a high schooler (just look at Machado); and there have certainly been disappointments taken from college. But every time I watch the draft and hear Selig (and now that idiot Manfred) say “The Baltimore Orioles select… high school…”, I always groan a bit.

  6. ChrisP

    June 17, 2017 at 9:15 am

    I think you’re missing our pitcher from up north, Mr Adam Loewen. 2002 First Round (4). I think he could easily be number 3 ahead of Hobgood. He’s pitching in the minors for Texas at age 33. He has 10 career wins and 8 of this with Baltimore.
    Enjoy all the BB podcast. Keep up the good work!

  7. Jonathan

    June 23, 2017 at 4:25 am

    McDonald has no business being in that top 5.

    I understand why 1999 draft was on this list, and even #1, but to be fair to the organization, look at who their competition selected, that is, who their competitors valued, and you soon realize that the draft at the top was week in general, even most of the picks not doing anything. Some of the lower picks in that draft did better overall than the higher draft choices. The Saving Grace of that 1999 draft class was Eric Beddard……who gave us Adam Jones and company. So…..the 1999 draft was pretty good to the Orioles.

    • Jonathan

      June 23, 2017 at 5:01 am

      fwiw, some of my comments are similar to what you stated above about the 1999 draft, which I had initially read your final paragraph until after posting my comment. Sorry about that.

      Despite it’s seeming failure in producing 7 stars (HA), I consider the draft a success because it gave us 2 all stars in Roberts and Bedard/Jones. Any draft that gives the Orioles 2 all stars is a success to me.

      • Jonathan

        June 23, 2017 at 6:56 am

        Another thing about the 1999 draft. I think you’ve succumbed to internet folklore with this one actually. I’d forgotten this initially, but it used to be common for the Orioles to hope that even 2 of their drafts produced anyone with major league experience…..any major league experience. Despite the hype surrounding the 1999 draft, it was actually better than many other drafts that the Orioles had. Besides Roberts and Bedard, their was Willie Harris too. Even Bigby had a few seasons in the bigs. Harris had 8-10 I think.

        Take the 1971 draft for example. We had four of the top 100 picks in that draft, the top one being #23 Randy Stein. Randy played in our minors for 6 years before being traded away for an undisclosed return to the Yankees (perhaps cash). He never saw ml experience. with the O’s. The only player in that draft to see any ml experience with us was the seventh round pick, Hank Small, who got four at bats (Keith Reed had 5 ab’s). That’s all the ml experience he ever had in his career. Stein did go on to play some in the majors after the Yankees traded him away to the Angels, who released him, than he was signed by the Brewers who finally gave him a shot, traded to Seattle, released, than a cup of coffee with the Cubs. His career? 65 relief appearances and 2 starts. Scott Rice, whom we drafted in 1999 before Roberts, had a career of 105 relief appearances with the Mets. Those two guys represented the whole class of 1971. If all we got out of 1999 was Larry Bigby, who had a .267 average in 1227 at bats, most of which were with the Orioles, than it would have been more of a success than the 1971 draft year who, btw, was selected #21 overall, two slots above Randy Stein. To compare 1971 and 1999 would be like saying the only productive players we got from 1999 was Scott Rice and Keith Reed. Wow.

        The big difference why 1999 is seen as the organizations great draft failure goes to promotion. Drafts used to not be promoted at all. They wouldn’t even let you know how was drafted until a considerable time after it was over. I believe only the first round was published for awhile too. The other thing is the average fan has no idea that first rounders don’t have all that great success after the first 10 picks……..at least for the first decades the draft started. And as you mentioned, sometimes drafts are weaker than other years, like 1999. The fact that we got two all stars from that draft makes 1999 a much better success than many other of our drafts.

        • Jonathan

          June 23, 2017 at 7:17 am

          Here’s another sad draft year: 1972. Our only draft choice that year that got more than a game of ml experience (one had 4 ab’s again) was Mike Willis a 4.59 career relief pitcher with 300 innings total selected in the 20th round. Yep, that’s round…….all our 19 earlier picks and 24 picks later were busts or failed to sign. A year later we finally started hitting pay dirt when we selected Flanagan and Murray.

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