Despite some impressive play in the high school postseason and runs of unprecedented success by several local college programs, this year does not appear to be a particularly stout campaign for Maryland amateurs when it comes to Major League Baseball’s first-year-player draft.
It would be stunning if a Maryland product was selected tonight, the first day of the three-day draft.
The first 78 selections – the Top 2 rounds and all compensatory and competitive balance picks – will happen tonight. Rounds three through 10 will be held Tuesday afternoon and rounds 11 through 40 occur on Wednesday.
The Orioles have two, first-day picks, 11th and 37th overall, and then one each from rounds three through 40. They do not have a second-round pick due to the March signing of right-hander Alex Cobb.
As usual, the Orioles are expected to target pitching early in the draft, though they also would like to address the organization’s dearth of middle-infield talent within their system.
Executive vice president Dan Duquette always says he likes to pick up local products whenever possible, but there’s not a whole lot of draft-worthy talent in the state.
The University of Maryland, for instance, had a down year in 2018 and previously noteworthy Terps players such as outfielder and Archbishop Curley grad Marty Costes, who was taken in the 25th round by the Houston Astros in 2017 and didn’t sign, and infielder A.J. Lee aren’t in Baseball America’s Top 500 draft-eligible list this year.
There seems to be a consensus Top 3 in the area this year – and all are from the collegiate ranks: Towson’s Richie Palacios, Maryland’s Nick Dunn and Navy’s Noah Song. It’s a crapshoot as to which will go first: A shortstop with baseball lineage; a second baseman and consistent performer versus top competition; or an accomplished pitcher with strings attached. Ultimately, Palacios’ speed thrusts him into the top spot for us. But we’ll see this week.
In talking with people around the game and scanning various publications and websites, here’s our best guess at which Maryland-based players could be drafted in 2018. We give you a Top 10, but we kind of cheated. Our 10th pick is a group of 10 high school players headed for college baseball that may be taken late in the draft.
1. SS Richie Palacios, Towson University
Junior/Brooklyn, N.Y./ Bats/Throws: L/R
First, start with the lineage. His dad played minor league ball, his brother, Josh, was a fourth-rounder in 2016 and is playing High-A in the Toronto Blue Jays’ organization, and his uncle, Rey, logged 101 games for the Kansas City Royals from 1988-1990. Then throw in what Palacios has done on his own: This year he led the CAA in doubles, runs scored and logged a school-record 52 walks. Palacios was the only player in Division 1 with at least 50 walks, 50 runs scored and 25 stolen bases.
He’ll be the first Towson University player to be drafted since catcher Brady Policelli (13th round, Detroit Tigers) in 2016 and could be the highest Tiger selected since lefty Chris Nabholz (2nd round, Montreal Expos) in 1988 or lefty Chris Russ (3rd round, Texas Rangers) in 2000. Palacios’ blazing speed is a separator, but there is a question as to whether the 5-foot-10, 180-pounder will stick at shortstop or be moved to second base or center field as a pro. Scouts think he can hit, though, and his batting eye should carry over, too. Palacios is ranked as the 134th best player in the draft by MLB.com’s Mike Rosenbaum and the 142nd by Baseball America.
2. 2B Nick Dunn, University of Maryland
Junior/Sunbury, Pa./ Bats/Throws: L/R
Dunn, who is listed at 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, has been a key player for the Terps since arriving at College Park. He has started every game in three seasons and this year became the 13th University of Maryland player to reach the career, 200-hit mark. A Big Ten first-teamer and a second-team, Baseball America All-American, the lefty batted .330 with a .980 OPS, 10 homers and 23 multi-hit games.
Dunn’s approach at the plate is what separates him from other second basemen. He has great plate discipline that limits his strikeout totals and allowed him to post more walks than strikeouts for his collegiate career. However, Dunn’s below-average arm and fringy speed limits him to second base, according to Rosenbaum, who lists Dunn as his 174th best draft prospect. On Fangraphs, Dunn is ranked as the seventh best second baseman and 101st best player, and Baseball America ranks him 153rd.
3. RHP Noah Song, U.S. Naval Academy
Several publications, including Baseball America, view the Navy right-hander as the best prospect coming out of Maryland this year. And we probably would, too – he was BaltimoreBaseball.com’s top pitcher on our 2018 Collegiate All-Maryland, All-Star team – if it weren’t for his military responsibilities. To get out of his Navy commitment, Song would have to pay back the estimated educational costs for attending the Academy, which would be significant. So, any team that drafts him has to consider that into the overall bonus, which might make taking him cost prohibitive. Plus, Song has a chance to go to flight school, so his options aren’t baseball-only.
Still, his baseball future seems fairly bright if he chooses that path. He’s listed at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds and can get his fastball up to the mid-90s. He dominated the Patriot League, winning First Team honors while leading the conference in strikeouts (121), shutouts (4), complete games (5), and innings pitched (89). The knock on him is that he’ll have to develop his secondary pitches to be effective in the big leagues. MLB.com’s Mike Rosenbaum and Baseball America has Song ranked as the 135th best draft prospect.
4. RHP Cody Morris, University of South Carolina
The Orioles selected Morris in the 32nd round in 2015 out of Reservoir High (Howard County), where he led the Gators to a state title as a junior. He had to have Tommy John surgery in 2015, though, so he chose to honor his commitment at South Carolina instead of going pro. Smart move.
A draft-eligible sophomore, Morris, 21, is listed by Baseball America as the ninth best prospect in South Carolina and 292nd in the nation. He’s big – listed at 6-foot-5, 222 pounds by South Carolina – and has a fastball that can reach the upper 90s, though it sits in the low-to-mid-90s. He had a solid sophomore season for the Gamecocks: 7-3, 3.80 ERA in 14 starts. And he struck out 76 batters while walking 26 in 71 innings. His ERA dropped slightly when facing teams in the difficult SEC.
5. C Spencer Smith, Harford Community College
Freshman/Durham, NC/ Bats/Throws: R/R
Smith is coming off his first season with the Fighting Owls, a Maryland JUCO powerhouse, after transferring from East Carolina University this past winter. The former all-state catcher in North Carolina was selected by the Texas Rangers in the 37th round out of high school, but didn’t sign, choosing to go to ECU.
This spring, Smith served as Harford’s designated hitter following labrum surgery last fall. In 55 games, the 6-foot-1, 205-pounder recorded 52 hits –19 of which were home runs. He had a .319 batting average and notched 69 RBIs while drawing 42 walks. Baseball America ranks him as the 375th best prospect in the country. Several of his teammates at Harford were also listed by the publication as among the best draft-eligible players in Maryland, though no others made the Top 500 nationally. Those players are: lefty Zach Guth, shortstop Braydon Parr, outfielder Chase Ragsdale, right-hander Truman Thomas and infielder/outfielder Ryan Calhoun.
6. RHP Stephen Pelli, St. Mary’s HS (Annapolis)
Pelli, a four-year varsity player, was used primarily in relief at St. Mary’s. The 6-foot, 215-pound right-hander pitched just over 146 innings from freshman to senior year. He posted 245 career strikeouts – including 96 in his junior season — and a career ERA of 2.49. His most impressive year came as a sophomore: a 1.78 ERA in 43 1/3 innings pitched. He allowed only 29 hits and struck out 70 batters. He’s done well on the showcase circuit and misses bats despite a mid-80s fastball, thanks, in part, to his changeup.
Pelli, who committed to North Carolina last summer, made five appearances for the Saints his senior year. He is the last of the five players from Maryland – and the only high school one – to land in Baseball America’s Top 500. He was 395th.
7. RHP Jacob Zebron, Col. Richardson HS (Federalsburg, Caroline County)
Zebron announced his commitment to North Carolina State following his junior season, in which he registered a 1.62 ERA over 42 1/3 innings pitched. This past year, the right-hander turned it up a notch. Zebron, standing at 6-foot-2, dominated hitters all season long — posting a sub-1.00 ERA and striking out 70 batters in 51 innings of work. He allowed 26 hits, none of which were home runs. The Eastern Shore native gave up nine runs (five earned) in eight starts.
8. 3B/RHP Isaiah Pasteur, George Washington University
Senior/Westminster, Md./ Bats/Throws: R/R
Considered the best player in Carroll County out of Winters Mill in 2014, Pasteur went to the University of Indiana and made the 2015 Big Ten All-Freshman Team. He transferred to George Washington after his sophomore year and had to sit out a season. He excelled in 2018, winning both the Atlantic-10 and Eastern College Athletic Conference Player of the Year awards. The 6-foot-2, 218-pound right-handed hitter batted .331 with a .987 OPS, 11 homers and 31 steals in 34 attempts. He also pitches; he was 2-1 with a 3.45 ERA in 12 games. As a senior sign, he won’t command a high bonus, and so he should be an intriguing draftee for some team. The Orioles know him – he played on the Oriolelanders local scout team out of high school.
9. OF Zach Jancarski, University of Maryland
Senior/East Norriton, Pa./ Bats/Throws: R/R
Jancarski hit .279 with seven homers and a .378 on-base percentage and .831 OPS while starting all 54 of the Terps games this season. The six-foot, 185-pounder can hit leadoff, play center field and make things happen with his legs. He was successful in 10 of his 11 stolen base attempts this year. Not the most heralded name on the Terps’ roster, but he’s a ballplayer. He’s a classic senior-sign, a player teams would like to have in their organizations, but not someone who is going to command much of a bonus.
10. High School Possibilities
Very few local prep players are getting national draft buzz, but with 40 rounds, you never know if a MLB organization will dip into Maryland for a later-round flier. There are high school players with solid collegiate commitments that could have their names called this week on the third and final day. That group includes: Ryan Archibald, 3B, John Carroll/Arizona; Maxwell Costes, 3B, Gilman/Maryland; Kevin Madden, SS, St. Paul’s/Virginia Tech; Nolan Matsko, SS, Dulaney/Georgetown; Tristan McDonough, RHP, Decatur/University of Miami; Kody Milton, 3B, Severna Park/Maryland; Paul Nixon, 1B, Archbishop Curley/Harford CC; Jose Rivera, INF, Riverdale Baptist/Gulf Coast State (Fla.) JC; Corey Rosier, OF, Riverdale Baptist/Chipola (Fla.) JC; Joe Seidler, RHP, Chesapeake-AA/Radford.
Writers Sean Naylor, Mike Mills and Dean Jones Jr., contributed to this report.