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.
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.
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