SAN DIEGO—The Orioles might not be the kings of baseball, but they’re the rulers of the Rule 5 draft.
Every year since 2006, they’ve selected at least one player, the longest run in the major leagues. They’ve chosen seven players in the last three seasons.
Executive Vice President/General Manager Mike Elias said the Orioles are considering choosing from among five or six players in Thursday’s draft. They have the second selection.
The Orioles are looking for pitchers and middle infielders. Some of the highest-rated players at those positions are right-handed pitcher Zack Brown (Milwaukee), shortstop Wander Javier (Minnesota), second baseman Esteury Ruiz (San Diego) and right-handed pitcher Sterling Sharp (Washington).
Of the seven draft picks in the last three years, two of them, outfielder Anthony Santander (2016) and shortstop Richie Martin (2018), remain with the club.
Santander could turn out to be out the best Rule 5 selection in Orioles history, but it took him a while to produce. Santander was playing for Lynchburg, Cleveland’s team in the Carolina League, the year he was selected by the Orioles.
The Orioles chose Santander and another outfielder, Aneury Tavarez, who was returned to Boston, three years ago. Santander’s elbow and shoulder injuries limited him to 13 games in 2017 and because he hadn’t spent the minimum 90 days on a major league roster, he had to begin 2018 on the Orioles’ roster to fulfill Rule 5 requirements.
Santander seemed overmatched in early 2018, hitting just .198 with a .547 OPS before he was sent back to Double-A Bowie.
After a productive spring training in 2019, Santander began the season with Triple-A Norfolk, and was recalled in early June. Although he concluded the season 1-for-21 and was shut down several days before the season ended, Santander produced a .261 average and .773 OPS, 20 home runs and 59 RBIs.
“He appears to be one of the success stories of taking a guy out of A ball and hiding him on your major league roster and then being able to put him back in your organization,” Elias said. “It’s worth talking about, but it is really hard to do.”
With extra roster space this year, perhaps there will be more Santanders.
”There’s a 26th man on the roster this year, so that might give teams more of an appetite to try it,” Elias said.
Last year, the Orioles had the first selection in the Rule 5 and grabbed Martin, who hit just .208 in 120 games with the Orioles. His defense was outstanding.
“In Richie’s case, we knew he was going to be able to help us out defensively, even as it would probably end up being a bench/utility/glove role, which is what it ended up being,” Elias said. “We knew we’d be able to have room for that on the team and he’d fill a role on the team. But it does happen.”
A year ago, the Orioles also traded for infielder Drew Jackson, whom Philadelphia drafted from the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was returned to the Dodgers after the first week of the regular season.
Before Santander, perhaps the best Rule 5 pick in team history was Jay Gibbons, who was drafted from Toronto in December 2000.
Gibbons played seven seasons with the Orioles. He exceeded 20 home runs three times and drove in 100 runs in 2003. Gibbons had a .260 average and .768 OPS with the Orioles.
The Orioles were extremely active in the Rule 5 draft when Dan Duquette ran the ballclub.
Infielder Ryan Flaherty, who was Duquette’s first selection as GM in 2011, stayed with the club for six seasons. Left-handed pitcher T.J. McFarland, picked in 2012, was a useful bullpen piece, too. Outfielder Joey Rickard, picked in 2015, hit well in 2016 before a thumb injury cost him nearly half his rookie season.