When the Orioles pick 21st in the first round of Major League Baseball’s amateur draft Monday night, they’ll be making the club’s earliest selection since 2012 – which was the inaugural one under executive vice president Dan Duquette and scouting director Gary Rajsich.
That year, the Orioles chose Louisiana State University right-hander Kevin Gausman – complete with his fondness for powdered donuts – with the fourth overall pick. Since then, the club has selected in the early-to-mid-20s in every draft except 2014, when the team’s highest pick was current High-A Frederick left-hander Brian Gonzalez at No. 90 in the third round.
In 2013, the Orioles selected right-hander Hunter Harvey, currently rehabbing from elbow surgery, at No. 22. Two years ago, they added outfielder DJ Stewart, now at Double-A Bowie, with the 25th pick. And, last June, Rajsich tabbed right-hander Cody Sedlock, who is a starter at High-A Frederick, as the club’s top choice at No. 27.
The Orioles could go in any number of directions with their first pick this year, depending on which players are plucked off the board before they’re on the clock at No. 21.
Recent mock drafts have linked the Orioles to college right-handers such as UCLA’s Griffin Canning and Missouri’s Tanner Houck. Missouri State infielder Jake Burger and North Carolina shortstop Logan Warmoth also could interest the Orioles if they’re still available.
Last week, Duquette told reporters that he believes “there are some good high school position players” and called it, “probably the strength of the draft.”
The Orioles haven’t taken a high school position player with their initial selection in the first round since third baseman Manny Machado at No. 3 in 2010. Before that, the club hadn’t done it since the ill-fated decision to pick third baseman Billy Rowell (directly ahead of Tim Lincecum and Max Scherzer) in 2006.
Regardless, Duquette wasn’t showing any of his cards last week at Camden Yards.
“We’ve taken both [high school and college players], and historically the college kids are more physically mature and they should have a shorter training period to get the big leagues to help the club,” he said. “The high school kids that you take that are premium position players … they can get there after a couple of years and be there for a long time.”
In addition to their first-round selection, the Orioles will also have two other picks before Monday night is over – No. 60 (second round) and No. 74 (competitive balance round B).
Meanwhile, Rajsich was asked whether it’d be nice to select a player with local ties.
“We look especially hard at local guys. We do,” he said. “And we would like to take them if it works out. If they’re in the right spot on the board at the right time to take them, we are happy to do that. We like local talent, and there are a few of them this year.”
Last season, the Orioles picked Archbishop Spalding left-hander Tyler Blohm in the 17th round. The two sides couldn’t agree to a deal, though, and he excelled during his freshman season at Maryland this spring. After going 8-6 with a 3.48 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 75 innings, Blohm was named by Collegiate Baseball as a Freshman All-American and earned a spot on the All-Big Ten freshman team. He’ll be eligible for the draft again in 2019.
While Blohm won’t be picked during the course of the next three days, several players with local ties could receive a call from the Orioles or another MLB team.
As many as 1,200 players will be chosen in this year’s 40 rounds. We’re not going to be able to predict every one with a connection to the state of Maryland, but here are a dozen local draft prospects to watch. They are in the order in which we think they could be drafted.
Gavin Sheets, 1B, Wake Forest
Thanks to a dominating junior season for the Demon Deacons in the potent Atlantic Coast Conference, the son of ex-Orioles outfielder Larry Sheets has boosted his stock in a big way. Sheets, whom the Atlanta Braves selected out of Gilman in the 37th round in 2014, will almost certainly hear his name called during the draft’s first night. Here’s a College Corner feature we ran about Sheets earlier this year.
Through the regional round of the NCAA tournament, Sheets (pictured above) ranked third in Division 1 with 81 RBIs. He was hitting .322 with 20 home runs in 60 games as Wake Forest prepared to face Florida in the super regionals. And that’s after the 6-foot-5, 235-pound first baseman batted .326 with nine home runs, 13 doubles and 45 RBIs as a sophomore in 2016.
Baseball America – which lists Sheets, 21, at No. 66 in its 2017 draft rankings – says the All-ACC first-team pick’s “biggest question mark is whether or not he’ll hit consistently enough” to take advantage of his left-handed power as he climbs through the minor leagues.
Peter Solomon, RHP, Notre Dame
Solomon, 20, had a 1.69 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 53 2/3 innings as a senior in 2014 at Mount Saint Joseph. Although the San Diego Padres picked Solomon in the 21st round that year, he decided to honor his commitment to pitch at the University of Notre Dame.
As a freshman, the 6-foot-4, 201-pound right-hander pitched in just 19 1/3 innings before he injured his shoulder. He broke through after his sophomore year with a 0.54 ERA in 33 innings in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League. Heading into his junior season, the Fighting Irish expected Solomon to anchor the rotation. But he moved to the bullpen after only four starts. Overall, Solomon went 3-4 with a 3.83 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 54 innings.
Baseball America ranks Solomon at No. 127 and notes that “his 91-94 mph fastball as a starter will touch 95-96 mph out of the bullpen.” He’ll likely be picked before Monday is over, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he’s ahead of Sheets on some boards. We’ll call him 1A on this list.
Kevin Smith, SS, Maryland
Despite being named to the 2014 Rawlings High School Gold Glove Team as a high school senior from New York, the 6-foot, 188-pound shortstop went undrafted. Smith, 20, made an immediate impact with the Terps, though, playing in all 66 games as a freshman and leading the team to the NCAA super regionals with a .273 average, 22 extra-base hits and 35 RBIs.
Like Solomon, Smith parlayed a standout performance in the Cape Cod Baseball League last summer to boost his draft stock. He carried Yarmouth-Dennis to its third straight league title and earned the League Championship Series Most Valuable Player award.
Although Smith went through some rough patches as a junior this spring — including suffering a left shoulder injury that cost him a few games — the right-handed hitter still led the Terps with 48 RBIs and tied with Marty Costes (more on him in a bit) with 13 home runs. Baseball America puts Smith at No. 80 in its list of top draft prospects and says that “Smith should still be a high draft pick, in spite of his shaky offensive track record.” Here’s our preseason College Corner piece on Smith.
Brian Shaffer, RHP, Maryland
Although his junior season ended with a rough performance against West Virginia in the NCAA regionals, the 6-foot-5, 200-pound right-hander should go high in this week’s draft. Baseball America lists the Terps’ Friday night starter as the 126th prospect available.
Shaffer, 21, gave up seven runs and seven hits, including five home runs, in the Terps’ 9-1 loss to the Mountaineers on June 2. Before that, the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year – Sedlock won the award in 2016 – had only allowed six home runs all season.
The North Harford graduate went 7-4 with a 2.66 ERA and 109 strikeouts in 108 1/3 innings for Maryland. He led the league in innings pitched and finished second in strikeouts. Shaffer “gets above-average sinking action on his low-90s fastball, throwing from a loose, low three-quarters slot, occasionally touching as high as 94-95,” according to Baseball America. Here’s a College Corner piece we ran on Shaffer earlier this month.
Jett Manning, SS, Frederick C.C.
For local baseball fans, this name’s probably one you haven’t heard before. But the Cougars’ 6-foot-3, 195-pound shortstop could be the first junior-college player from the state to come off the board this year. It all depends on whether a team feels it can sign him.
The switch-hitting sophomore from Haymarket, Va., is committed to play next season for the University of Alabama, so his signability could cause him to fall out of the top 10 rounds. Manning, 20, initially went to Western Carolina but left the program after the Catamounts coaching staff tried to convert him into a submarine pitcher, according to the Frederick News-Post.
As a freshman at Frederick in 2016, Manning batted .412 with 33 RBIs and 53 runs. This year, he hit .430 with 44 RBIs, 64 runs and a school-record 33 stolen bases in 53 games for the Cougars, who lost in the NJCAA Division II Region XX title game in mid-May.
Marty Costes, OF, Maryland
A draft-eligible sophomore, the Archbishop Curley alum has excelled offensively in two seasons for the Terps. Costes, 21, was selected to the All-Big Ten freshman team in 2016 after he hit .263 in 54 games and led Maryland in home runs (nine) and RBIs (37).
This spring, he earned a spot on the All-Big Ten first team. Costes batted .322 with a team-leading 77 hits in 61 games. He had 13 home runs, nine doubles and 46 RBIs. The 5-foot-9, 200-pound, corner outfielder/DH can hit the ball a long way, but he’ll need to work on his other tools.
Costes is No. 208 on Baseball America’s list of top prospects, so he’ll likely be picked sometime Tuesday. However, the publication noted that “there’s no obvious position for him to play” and said he’s “a below-average runner with a body that’s not going to help him improve in that area moving forward.” His right-handed power is too good for someone to pass up, though. Here’s a College Corner piece we ran on Costes earlier this season.
Will Reed, RHP, Harford C.C.
After high school, the Purcellville, Va. native initially committed to Division II Shepherd (W.Va.) before landing with the Fighting Owls heading into the 2016 season. Injuries limited Reed to only 14 innings as a freshman, but he went 1-1 with a 1.35 ERA and 20 strikeouts.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound right-hander remained healthy this spring. He earned a spot on the NJCAA Division I Region 20 first team thanks to an 8-1 record, 2.38 ERA and team-leading 78 strikeouts in 56 2/3 innings. On May 14, Reed struck out a season-high 10 batters in a season-long 7 1/3 innings as Harford beat Potomac State (W.Va.), 8-4.
Committed to West Virginia University, Reed could go in the later rounds of the draft’s second day. He’s listed at No. 236, according to Baseball America, which says “his fastball works at 91-94 mph and touched as high as 95 mph this spring, and he spins a breaking ball well.”
Ryan Selmer, RHP, Maryland
The 6-foot-8, 220-pound redshirt junior has been a major contributor for the Terps out of the bullpen over the past three years. Selmer, 22, led the team with 31 appearances (four starts) in 2015. He was 3-1 with a 2.18 ERA in 53 2/3 innings that season, playing a key role as Maryland advanced to the super regionals before losing to the University of Virginia.
In 2016, the Riverdale Baptist graduate finished tied for the team lead with 27 appearances – all in relief. He had a 2-2 record and 4.34 ERA in 37 1/3 innings. And this year, Selmer made the second-most appearances (27) for the Terps. He was 2-2 with a 3.05 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 41 1/3 innings.
Selmer isn’t an overpowering pitcher, especially for someone who towers over pretty much every hitter in the world not named Aaron Judge. His fastball reportedly sits between the high 80s and low 90s, but good movement helps him to get groundballs when needed. You should expect Selmer to come off the board either late Tuesday or early Wednesday.
Harold Cortijo, RHP/OF, Riverdale Baptist
The 6-foot, 169-pound right-hander proved why he’s the state’s top high school recruit this spring. Cortijo, who can hit the mid-90s with his late-moving fastball, went 11-0 with a 0.55 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 63 1/3 innings to lead the Crusaders to a 30-1 record and Top 10 national ranking.
Cortijo, 19, held opponents to a .100 average, but his success wasn’t limited to the mound. The Seminole State College of Florida commit also hit .529 with four home runs, 31 RBIs and a .798 slugging percentage while playing outfield.
Thanks to that dual-threat performance, Cortijo followed Blohm as the Gatorade Maryland Baseball Player of the Year. Baseball America lists Cortijo at No. 262 in this year’s draft. The publication says, “Cortijo’s athleticism, arm strength and deception give him a chance to develop into a major leaguer.”
Jamal Wade, RHP, Maryland
Recruited out of St. Paul’s as a position player, the 6-foot, 205-pound junior right-hander transitioned to the mound ahead of this season for the Terps. Wade, 21, only batted .203 with 11 RBIs and 40 strikeouts in 118 at-bats as a freshman and sophomore.
In 2017, the younger brother of former Maryland standout LaMonte Wade – who is currently at Double-A Chattanooga in the Minnesota Twins’ system – made 17 appearances out of the bullpen. He was 1-0 with a 5.03 ERA, so the project is definitely still a work in progress.
However, Wade throws a fastball that touches the mid-90s. He combined that heat with a wicked curve to strike out 33 hitters in 19 2/3 innings this year. And opponents only batted .208 against him. Because of his limited experience, Wade likely won’t be picked until somewhere between rounds 15 and 20. Another year at Maryland could improve his status.
Jeremy Arocho, OF, Old Mill
The 5-foot-10, 160-pound switch-hitter emerged as a major draft prospect after he batted .435 with three home runs, 17 RBIs and 24 runs during his junior season in 2016. Arocho, 18, finished the year with a .529 on-base percentage and a .739 slugging percentage.
The breakthrough performance helped Arocho earn a spot on BaltimoreBaseball.com’s inaugural “Diamond Nine” team. The Patriots shortstop was also named to The Baltimore Sun’s All-Metro team. With a commitment to Maryland and major league scouts checking in on him for this year’s draft, Arocho appeared to have plenty of options for the future.
But the four-year starter’s stock took a major hit this spring. Pressing hard, Arocho struggled to a .220 average and .328 on-base percentage in 50 at-bats before leaving Old Mill’s team in late April. Nevertheless, Arocho’s speed and potential could lead a major league team to still select him in this week’s draft. Otherwise, he’ll play at Northwest Florida State College, which won the NJCAA Division 1 World Series in 2015.
Zack Ridgely, LHP, Radford
As a former Archbishop Curley baseball player – shockingly (or not), I wasn’t drafted – it’s exciting to include two fellow alums on this list. But after Ridgely felt tightness in his forearm during the Big South tournament May 25, it’s unclear if he’ll be selected.
Prior to the injury, it was essentially a lock that both Costes and Ridgely would be off the board before the 20th round – and perhaps as early as the 12th. Now, it will depend on whether an organization sees enough promise to take a chance on the 5-foot-11, 183-pound left-hander who earned the conference’s Pitcher of the Year award at Radford (Va.) University. Ridgely, 21, went 7-5 with a 2.84 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 95 innings for the Highlanders as a junior this spring. He had a season-high 13 strikeouts against UNC-Asheville on May 6.
Last week, Ridgely met with Orioles team orthopedist Dr. John Wilckens and underwent an MRI. In the best-case scenario, he’ll receive a platelet-rich plasma injection and begin throwing again in a month or two. If he’s drafted, he’ll more than likely give up his final year of eligibility at Radford for a shot at the pros.
12 MORE NAMES TO CONSIDER (in alphabetical order)
Randy Bednar, OF, Landon HS
Taylor Bloom, RHP, University of Maryland
Nick Cieri, C, University of Maryland
Ethan Gallagher, OF, Mount St. Joseph
Kieran Garner, RHP, River Hill
Brandon Gum, 1B, University of. Maryland
Zach Jancarski, OF, University of Maryland
Luke Johnson, C/DH, Harford C.C.
Josh Netterville, OF, Northwest HS (Montgomery)
Jared Price, RHP, University of Maryland
Mike Rescigno, RHP, University of Maryland
Tre Todd, C, Harford C.C.