When the Orioles get ready to select their first-rounder Thursday evening, they won’t be high-tailing away from a high school pitcher, according to amateur scouting director Gary Rajsich.
If the guy they want is there at No. 27, the Orioles are going for it, even if he is a high-school right-hander – a commodity that has become baseball’s ultimate roll of the dice in recent years.
“That’s the riskiest demographic, high school, right-handed pitching,” Rajsich said. “But we’ve never been afraid of it. If there is a right-handed pitcher that has a ceiling of being a high-impact major league starter, we’re not going to run away from it.”
His boss, Orioles’ executive vice president Dan Duquette, concurs – about the risk and reward. He’s not against it, but stresses the club will have done its homework before such a selection.
“If you look at the history of the draft, it takes a little longer for the high school pitchers to get (to the majors), and the odds are against you from an injury perspective,” Duquette said. “So if a team’s going to take a high school pitcher, they need to have a pretty clear idea that that pitcher’s going to be healthy and be able to give them that service.”
The Orioles have taken a high school right-hander with their first-round pick in three of the past seven drafts. Matt Hobgood (2009) is out of baseball, Dylan Bundy (2011) is a rookie reliever with the Orioles after overcoming elbow and shoulder injuries and Hunter Harvey (2013) has been limited by various ailments, including sports hernia surgery that currently has him on the minor league DL.
Harvey, 21, still has a high upside, but he has pitched just 113 professional innings since being drafted. As the son of former major league closer Bryan Harvey, one of the intriguing things about drafting Harvey was that the Orioles’ organization believed he was handled carefully as an amateur and may not be as susceptible to arm injuries as other young pitchers in this era of overuse. And, yet, he also has lost time to a serious forearm/elbow strain.
So if another Harvey-type — a highly coveted and theoretically durable high school right-hander — drops to 27th, would the Orioles be willing to take that risk again?
“I can’t say that we would do that, but if one of those high school pitchers does to fall to us, I wouldn’t hesitate,” Rajsich said. “The idea in the first round is we’re all trying to get as high an upside in the players as we can, and oftentimes the high school players have the highest upside. That’s why you take the gamble. And they are worth the risk if you are willing to wait for them.”
The sense is that, all things considered, the Orioles will end up with a college pitcher in the first round. They’ve been linked by various draft experts to Vanderbilt’s Jordan Sheffield and Virginia’s Connor Jones, both coveted right-handers whose stocks have dropped recently.
Regardless of who they take first, the Orioles are expected to select more pitchers than position players in the draft’s 40 rounds.
“We always look to add to our club and rank the players by their overall value, but over half the players we take will be pitchers. We put a lot of value on that, obviously,” Duquette said. “We’ve done a good [job] of identifying some pitching in the late rounds to come up and help our team or to help us in a trade. And we’re going to look to do the same thing again this year.”
The Orioles are in a unique position in this draft. Despite finishing in the middle of the pack in 2015, they have four of the top 91 selections in the draft: Nos. 27, 54, 69 and 91. They would have had two more, but they forfeited pick No. 14 by signing free agent Yovani Gallardo in February and then traded away the No. 76th overall pick and Brian Matusz to the Atlanta Braves last month for two minor leaguers and salary relief.
Although their draft bonus pool has dropped to roughly $5.87 million for the Top 10 rounds, they are still about middle of the pack in the majors as far as money allocated without being subjected to a tax. And with the extra picks early, the Orioles could, theoretically, take a chance on a player whose stock has fallen due to perceived financial demands.
“We do have the benefit of seeing who is dropping, but there’s always a reason why they are dropping that you have to be prepared for,” Rajsich said. “You are a little suspicious there, because of some of the guys that do drop down that far, you wonder if it is because of the money. You have to look at the money you have, and make sure you can actually manipulate your draft pick to make it worthwhile. You have to weigh the benefits and the risks.”
The bottom line, Rajsich said, is that in a draft that’s perceived to be light at the top but deep throughout – especially in pitchers and center fielders – he thinks he’s going to land quality players, including an intriguing one at No. 27.
“Picking down at 27th we’re going to have to wait and we’re going to watch a lot of good players fly off the board,” Rajsich said. “I just think we’re gonna have our choice of two or three that we really want there and they’ll likely be there, I hope. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.”