Pick any pro sport, and there is a desire for any franchise to tout its draft day haul — a process in full bloom in baseball this week with the completion of 20 rounds of selection.
The best time to evaluate a draft class is probably about five-to-seven years down the road. By then, the picks will have worked their way through their minor league careers, and there will be a clear picture of what players panned out and which ones did not.
But how about a year later? Matt Blood, Baltimore’s director of player development, said last week an organization doesn’t know exactly what it has in a draft class until it is signed, in the system and practicing, interacting and competing.
“Once you’re able to do that, you get a decent idea fairly quickly as to what kind of player they are and what their trajectory could be,” Blood said. “We’re about a year out, and I think we feel very positively about the group we drafted last year and the work they’re doing and their output so far.”
That group was headlined by No. 1 overall pick Jackson Holliday, who earned a promotion to Double-A Bowie this week after splitting the first half of the year between Single-A Delmarva and High-A Aberdeen. Nothing about the last 12 months suggests the 19-year-old Holliday isn’t on track to be an impact major leaguer.
But he wasn’t the first member of the Orioles’ 2022 draft class to make it to Bowie. That would be outfielder Jud Fabian, who snagged his own promotion to Double-A last month.
“He’s an exceptional centerfielder and he’s shown the ability to make good swing decisions and he hits the ball hard and for power,” Blood said. “The big concerns I think with him out of the draft were swing-and-miss, and I think he’s improved on that and it’s shown that he’s an advanced player, on both the offensive and defensive side.”
Holliday and Fabian were among the top 67 picks in last year’s draft class. So were Dylan Beavers (No. 33 overall) and Max Wagner (No. 42), who have been everyday players at Aberdeen this year.
Blood said Beavers, who is hitting .243 with eight homers, 39 RBIs and 15 steals with the IronBirds, underwent a bit of a swing change early in the season and is coming along well. He thinks Wagner, who has split time between second and third base, has also come on after a bit of tough luck on hard-hit balls in the season’s opening months.
Wagner is hitting .229, but has posted a .366 on-base percentage and has 21 steals in 26 attempts at Aberdeen.
“He’s hitting the ball hard and swinging at good pitches,” Blood said. “He’s stealing bases. You look at his college stolen bases versus his professional stolen bases, he’s really ramped up in that department. He’s doing everything well and you can see a positive progression in regards to his performance. It’s showing that he’s caught up to the level and even surpassed it.”
Another lineup fixture from last year’s class at Aberdeen is catcher Silas Ardoin, a fourth-rounder who arrived in the Orioles’ organization with the reputation as an advanced defensive player. He’s hitting .220 — but with a .371 on-base average — in 57 games at Aberdeen. He entered July with only one home run, then hit three in a two-night span last week.
“The question mark on him was how much was he going to hit,” Blood said. “He was always a good swing decision guy and gets on base, and recently he’s started hitting. I think he’s had three home runs in the past week. He’s starting to show some progress there. The defense is real. We’re working on the offensive side.”
Baltimore selected only one high school pitcher in 2022, 11th-rounder Zack Showalter, and he might be the most intriguing mound option to emerge over the last year.
The 19-year-old posted a 0.90 ERA in 10 innings with the Orioles’ Florida Complex League affiliate, earning a promotion to Delmarva. In three starts with the Shorebirds, he has an 0.79 ERA over 11 1/3 innings.
“He’s a big strong kid, he’s very advanced mentally,” Blood said. “He’s a smart competitor with really good stuff. He dominated in the Complex and he’s pitched really well so far in Delmarva. He’s a guy to keep an eye on.”
Elsewhere among the pitchers, Trace Bright (a fifth-rounder last year) has 78 strikeouts in 54 1/3 innings while posting a 4.64 ERA at Aberdeen, while eighth-rounder Cameron Weston is back from injury and has an 0.68 ERA in four appearances for the IronBirds.
A YEAR LATER …
A rundown of where Baltimore’s 18 draft picks from 2022 stand a year after joining the Orioles’ organization:
SS Jackson Holliday (1st round, 1st overall): Slashed .396/.522/.660 in 14 games to quickly graduate from Delmarva, then handled High-A pitching at a .314/.452/.488 rate to earn promotion this week to Double-A Bowie.
OF Dylan Beavers (1st round, 33rd overall): Overwhelmed pitchers at Single-A last year and has a .338 on-base average and .434 slugging percentage this year at Aberdeen.
3B Max Wagner (2nd round, 42nd overall): Blood wasn’t exaggerating about Wagner’s emerging ability to steal bases. He had four in 93 games over two seasons at Clemson and has 21 in 67games this season at Aberdeen.
OF Jud Fabian (2nd round, 67th overall): Drafted out of Florida, Fabian hit .281 with nine homers and 43 RBIs at Aberdeen before poking four homers (to go with a .186 average) in his first 70 at-bats at Bowie.
C Silas Ardoin (4th round): Aberdeen’s primary catcher is hitting .220 with four homers and 26 driven in.
RHP Trace Bright (5th round): The Auburn product breezed through a short stint at Delmarva last year and is averaging 12.9 strikeouts per nine innings as a rotation member at Aberdeen.
OF Douglas Hodo III (6th round): Reached base at a .405 clip in 34 games at Delmarva to earn a promotion, then went 4 for 41 (.098) in 15 games at Aberdeen before landing on the injured list late last month.
RHP Preston Johnson (7th round): Appeared in one Complex League game last year but has spent this season on the injured list.
RHP Cameron Weston (8th round): It’s a small sample size and there was time lost to injury, but Weston has a 2.96 ERA in 10 career minor-league appearances.
SS/2B Adam Crampton (9th round): Selected out of Stanford last year, Crampton is hitting just .190 while playing regularly at Delmarva.
RHP Wyatt Cheney (10th round): Baltimore’s lone pick from the junior college ranks last year, Cheney is 2-6 with a 5.61 ERA while splitting time between Delmarva’s rotation and bullpen. He also spent 12 days on the injured list last month.
RHP Zack Showalter (11th round): Made his pro debut this season and has an 0.84 ERA in six appearances split between the Complex League and Delmarva
RHP Bradley Brehmer (12th round): A fixture in Delmarva’s rotation in the season’s first half, Brehmer is 2-3 with a 4.54 ERA for the Shorebirds.
LHP Jared Beck (13th round): Used as both a starter and reliever at Delmarva, Beck is 2-3 with a 3.86 ERA while fanning 78 in 58 1/3 innings.
C Adam Retzbach (14th round): He’s currently out because of injury and hit .208 in 32 games between Aberdeen and Delmarva earlier in the year.
RHP Graham Firoved (16th round): The reliever has gotten strikeouts (31 in 21 1/3 innings) but also pitched to a 6.33 ERA in 19 games at Aberdeen this year.
SS Carter Young (17th round): The Vanderbilt product is hitting .230 with three homers and 24 RBIs at Delmarva.
RHP Reese Sharp (20th round): Was dominant at Delmarva (1-0, 1.13 ERA, three saves, 25 strikeouts in 16 innings) to earn promotion to Aberdeen, where he has a 6.00 ERA in nine games. He has 35 walks in 34 innings between the two levels.
As for the four who didn’t sign …
RHP Nolan McLean (3rd round): The two-way player had a 3.30 ERA in 30 innings at Oklahoma State this spring while hitting .250 with nine homers in 124 at bats for the Cowboys. He was the 81st pick last year; the New York Mets took him at No. 91 (also in the third round) this week.
RHP James Hicks (15th round): Served as a frequent multi-inning option out of the bullpen for South Carolina, where he was 8-1 with a 3.48 ERA in 25 games (six starts) for the Gamecocks.
RHP Andrew Walters (18th round): Remained at Miami, where he worked as the Hurricanes’ closer for the second consecutive year. Walters was 4-0 with a 1.21 ERA and 12 saves this spring, striking out 72 while walking seven in 44 2/3 innings. Cleveland took him No. 62 overall late in the second round this week.
OF Alden Mathes (19th round): Returned to Richmond, where he hit .296 with nine homers and 49 RBIs as a senior.