BALTIMORE—Mike Elias has nearly finished signing his first draft class as Orioles’ general manager. There are still a few picks left unsigned, and next month comes with two more important dates: July 2 and 31.
Tuesday marks the beginning of the international signing period, a time when the Orioles, who have long eschewed the high-dollar foreign players, will attempt to plunge back into the market.
On July 31, it’s the trading deadline, and while Elias hopes to add talent by trading away some of his veterans, he’s not focused on it, yet.
After a press conference to introduce the newly signed second round choice, Alabama high school shortstop Gunnar Henderson, Elias spoke about next week’s international signing period.
“Most of the prep work happens before July 2,” Elias said. “We still have to get the kids signed, physicalled and get their visas processed. It’s a lot of work. Our people have been doing that behind the scenes.
“I just think it’s going to be a very fun day for this organization to have an infusion of Dominican and Venezuelan and even guys from the Bahamas. There’s going to be a lot of international talent coming in, and it’s going to be inspiring.”
Don’t expect immediate help from the international players. They’re often just 16, spend two years in the foreign academies before coming to the United States to play in the Gulf Coast League.
“Because we hadn’t been particularly active in the July 2nd market, we’re in a little bit of arrears in terms of these guys coming up and helping the GCL clubs,” Elias said. “We’re playing catch-up a little bit, but we’ll get caught up.”
With Henderson signed, the highest remaining unsigned player in LSU outfielder Zach Watson, chosen in the third round. He’s the only player among the top 11 choices who has yet to sign. Overall, the Orioles have signed 31 of their 41 draft choices.
“Knocking out our first two picks puts us in really good shape,” Elias said. “We’ve got some players left to sign in this class, some high picks and some a little later down, and we’re working on that right now.”
Henderson, who will begin his professional career with Gulf Coast in Sarasota, Fla. took batting practice with the team on Wednesday. He was chosen 42nd overall.
“This is somebody who was viewed as a talent who could have gone a little higher in the draft than he did,” Elias said. We had to pay over slot to sign him, but we were able to make it work and fit in the pool without compromising too much talent. It was a really good outcome.”
Elias has been running the Orioles’ baseball operations for seven months, and the draft was a huge step towards putting his imprimatur on the team.
“I think it’s a good start,” Elias said. “We’re looking to add talent to this organization. We’ve done that with this draft as I said yesterday, and as I remind myself, we’re not the only team that gets to draft players, so we’re going to see how our guys stack up over the years, but I think this was a really good draft for us, a lot of different type players and it’s going to improve our system.”
Elias will now step back from the scouting process until 2020. In the past when he was running Houston’s scouting department, he looked at prospects in summer leagues. In fact, he saw Henderson an estimated 30 times last summer. Now, his scouting director, Brad Ciolek is doing that.
“I’m getting out of that business,” Elias said. ““I’m trusting Brad and our scouts to handle that. Once the spring rolls around, we’re going to be picking high from the looks of things. I’ll be out in the spring, evaluating those players.”
After the international signing period begins, it will be time for Elias to focus on improving the major league club more quickly.
“I think it’s going to slowly take up more and more of our front office’s time,” Elias said. “Now that the draft’s over, we can really devote more front office and scouting resources to that, but I can’t say the trade season has picked up in the full swing from what I’ve been able to glean.”
The Orioles entered Wednesday’s game with a 22-57 record, by far the worst in the majors. They’ve lost 12 of 13 and are just 9-29 at home.
“I don’t feel great about it,” Elias said. “This has been the probably the worst two-week stretch that we had, not in terms of losses, but just the play has been rougher. The pitching’s barely making it through games. We’ve had more lapses, I think than we had in the early part of the year.
“I think some of that is just the ebb and flow of the season, but we’re in a difficult spot in terms of roster depth and talent. I do see these guys continuing to grind and play hard and run out every ball and pour out their heart and soul in each game every night, and that’s important, but we knew this was going to be a tough season, but it’s still tough to go through it on a day-to-day basis and navigate it and deal with the injuries and the roster up and downs.”
It’s possible that both Dylan Bundy and Andrew Cashner will be on the market, but without them, the Orioles would be even less competitive.
“If we were to lose one of those guys, even to injury or something, how we backfill right now is not very obvious. We’ll take that as it comes, and we’ll do what’s right for the organization, but they’re carrying us.
“I think our record when either Cashner or [John] Means or Bundy is throwing is a lot different than when they’re not. I think the [Alex] Cobb injury hurt us quite a bit. Every team is looking for starting pitching, too, even the good ones. It just makes it hard to find these guys.”