The Orioles knew going into Thursday’s Rule 5 draft that it would be a challenge to carry one pick next year because they still have to keep one of last year’s selections, outfielder Anthony Santander, on the roster for the season’s first six weeks to fulfill his Rule 5 requirements. Despite that, the Orioles were the most active team in the Rule 5 draft as the only team to make three selections.
Entering the draft with six open spots on their 40-man roster, the Orioles had plenty of space to take players. And the Orioles filled half of those spots by selecting left-handed swingman Nestor Cortes from the New York Yankees in the first round, right-handed reliever Pedro Araujo from the Chicago Cubs in the second round and right-hander José Mesa from the Yankees in the third round.
The Orioles had taken eight players in the Rule 5 draft under executive vice president Dan Duquette’s leadership over the previous six years and selected at least one player in every year since 2006. Heading into it, Duquette said the draft offered the opportunity to acquire young talent from deep organizations that couldn’t protect all of its promising players. And the Orioles used it to poach two arms from the division-rival Yankees.
“We feel they have a legitimate shot to compete in the spring,” Duquette said.
But the addition of the three pitchers creates a roster crunch for the Orioles come spring, when 30 pitchers are now already expected to be in big league camp with the team still needing to acquire starting pitching help this offseason to fill out its rotation.
Cortes is the most likely to stick. The Orioles need left-handed help in the rotation and the bullpen, and Duquette believes Cortes could fill both roles.
Cortes moved his way from High-A to Triple-A last season, posting a 2.06 ERA in 30 games (13 starts). The 23-year-old, who was taken with the ninth pick in the Rule 5 draft, held opposing hitters to a .211 average. He’s not a power arm, but Duquette said Cortes’ excellent control — he had a 1.08 WHIP, struck out 105 and walked just 32 in 104 2/3 innings last season — and his breaking ball can allow him to stick on a big league roster.
“He did a nice job with the Yankees,” Duquette said. “He’s advanced. He’s pitched well at Double-A, pitched well at Triple-A and we think he may be able to compete for a spot starter [job] with a big league club. He has good pitches and good experience. He had very good success at every level.”
The other two pitchers can be considered reaches because they barely have any experience above the Single-A level.
Araujo, 24, has made just one appearance above Single-A, spending most of the season at the Cubs’ High-A affiliate, going 6-1 with a 1.81 ERA and 10 saves in 64 2/3 innings. He came onto the Orioles’ radar with a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League, where he had a 1.74 ERA and struck out 15 in 10 1/3 innings for the Mesa Solar Sox.
“He shows three good pitches, good control,” Duquette said. “He’s also gotten very good results over his professional career and he’ll give us an option to compete for the bullpen.”
Mesa, 24, who is the son of the former Orioles starter with the same name, went 5-1 with a 1.93 ERA in 29 games (eight starts) in 84 innings at High-A and Double-A.
“He looks just like his daddy,” Duquette said. “He’s got the same kind of build, very similar delivery. It looks like a flashback to his dad when he was a closer for the Indians. And he’s got a very good curve, good control, nice composure and a good assortment of pitches.”
The Orioles selected catcher Martin Cervenka from the San Francisco Giants in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 draft. He hit .278/.343/.418 with 24 doubles, eight homers and 57 RBIs at High-A last season.
The Orioles lost six players in the Triple-A phase: catcher Yermin Mercedes (Chicago White Sox), infielder Brayan Perez (Oakland Athletics), left-hander Mitch Horacek (Colorado Rockies), outfielder Jay Gonzalez (Arizona Diamondbacks), infielder Angelo Mora (Los Angeles Dodgers) and pitcher Brandon Barker (Miami Marlins).
“I think that’s a good reflection on the depth of our farm system,” Duquette said. “We’ve made some good strides overall in stocking the farm system with players and that was reflected in the number of players drafted off our Double-A roster. With the work that our scouts and player development people have been doing over the last couple years, the Orioles have a little more depth, particularly to the position players throughout the minor leagues with the other clubs. You saw that depth and [they] made some selections from our staff, so I think that’s a compliment to the work that our people have been doing for the last couple of years.”
Orioles add Kelly
The Orioles also signed right-hander Michael Kelly, who pitched at Double-A and Triple-A in the San Diego Padres system, to a major league deal, Duquette announced. Kelly went 10-4 with a 4.19 ERA in 28 games (22 starts) last season.
“We see him as a good prospect to come up and support our major league staff,” Duquette said. “He’s got a good curve, he’s good breaking stuff. He’s another South Florida kid. He’s been very durable over the course of his career and he should be ready to do well at Triple-A and support the major league team.”
Even though Kelly’s overall numbers were strong, he has yet to establish himself at the Triple-A level. He posted a 6.64 ERA in 13 appearances (seven starts) at Triple-A El Paso this past season, but Duquette believes Kelly — who was a six-year minor league free agent — can contribute to the major league staff at some point in 2018.
“So we added a little more pitching depth today with this signing and some young pitching [in the Rule 5],” Duquette said. “Some of it we hope is ready to help the big league club when we start the season, but the other pitching we hope will be able to come up and support the club during the year.”