In recent years, the Orioles' first-round draft picks haven't required much seasoning before they arrived on Eutaw Street.
But in last year's amateur draft, the team's two first-round selections — pitcher Hunter Harvey and outfielder Josh Hart — represent the kind of high-ceiling, long-lead developmental projects rarely seen in the Orioles system. With this year's draft set to begin today, the two headline a 2013 draft class that is creating a bubble of intriguing prospects at Low-A Delmarva.
“It's very nice to see how many good draft picks we had last year,” said Brian Graham, the Orioles' director of player development. “I'd like to have a draft like that every year, because there are a number of guys like that who can show up in the big leagues.”
Harvey, who is 3-4 with a 2.31 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings (11 starts) after losing to Hagerstown on Wednesday, is emerging as one of the top talents in the entire 2013 draft class. The 19-year-old from Catawba, N.C., made no college plans, instead wanting to begin his professional career. When he signed his first professional contract last summer and received a $1.947 million signing bonus, Harvey was just formalizing a professional approach that had begun years earlier.
Harvey, son of All-Star closer Bryan Harvey and brother of former Florida Marlins farmhand Kris Harvey, began taking pitching seriously when he entered high school. Earlier in his development, when his fastball sat in the low 80s, he emphasized his curveball, which already grades as an above-average pitch with consistent shape and two-plane break.
His fastball has developed into a “plus” pitch as well, sitting 93 mph to 95 mph in his start May 25 against Hagerstown. But key to Harvey's development is a changeup that he says he is still learning when to throw. When he needs it, he's comfortable with the pitch. Against West Virginia on May 18, he didn't have his fastball or breaking ball but was able to lean on his changeup to get into the fifth inning, Harvey said.
Even as a prep star in North Carolina, Harvey said, he worked on his changeup in every bullpen session. He still does, and he understands he'll need that weapon in his bag to be a starter in the major leagues.
Shorebirds manager Ryan Minor said Harvey is ahead of schedule in the organization's eyes, and Graham sees an easy explanation for that.
“He's ahead of schedule because he came into the professional baseball scene ahead of schedule,” Graham said. “He's got a great pitcher's mind. … He understands himself, he understands his mechanics of pitching and he understands what kind of pitcher he is. He's so far ahead on the mental side that it definitely helps every time he takes the mound.
Hart, an outfielder who signed for $1.45million out of Parkview High in Lilburn, Ga., isn't seen as ahead of schedule — Orioles officials are just trying to help him develop one.
That process was cut short this week when Hart tore the meniscus in his right knee, which will sideline him for at least a month. Before the injury, Hart, who was in high school this time last year, was working to develop a routine “where you show up at the ballpark and go through your steps,” Minor said.
“He's made tremendous strides,” Graham said. “It's about maturity, and it takes time to learn to play every day. There's a process, and it has to do with the food you eat, what time you show up at the ballpark, your work routine. When you play 140 games in the minor leagues, your work routines are very important.”
Hart was batting .266 with a .573 OPS and six steals in eight tries. Before his injury, he acknowledged how important it was to develop a professional routine.
“We play every day, and every day you need to bring the same focus and consistency,” he said. “I'm just trying to get in the habit, get in a good routine of being consistent at what I do, day in and day out.”
Once he has the mental aspect down, the Orioles believe Hart's physical development could create a special player.
“He's a kid who's going to grow up to be bigger and stronger, and he's going to be a different animal when he gets to the point where he finishes that physical maturation,” Graham said.
The Orioles will have a harder time finding impactful talents in this week's draft. The team could have had three of the first 55 picks but instead won't pick until No. 90. By signing free agents Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz, the Orioles forfeited their first-round pick (No. 17) and second-round pick (No. 55).
Additionally, a competitive-balance pick (No. 37) was sent to the Houston Astros last year with outfielder L.J. Hoes and left-hander Josh Hader for right-hander Bud Norris. The lost picks limit the Orioles' signing bonus pool; according to Baseball America, the Orioles have a major league-low $2,204,400 pool for their first eight picks combined.
Last year's crop, however, could ultimately cover for any dip in draft talent this year.
Harvey, Hart and catcher Chance Sisco (second round) headline a deep, talented 2013 draft class. The Shorebirds offense is led by seventh-round pick Drew Dosch (.312 average), eighth-round pick Trey Mancini (.330, 35 RBIs) and 14th-rounder Mike Yastrzemski (.303, eight home runs).
The pitching staff features ninth-round pick Mitch Horacek (2.64 ERA with 55 strikeouts in 58 innings), 11th-rounder Steven Brault (3.05 ERA with 50 strikeouts in 59 innings), 13th-rounder Jimmy Yacabonis (13 saves in 22 scoreless innings) and 19th-rounder Dylan Rheault (2.36 ERA in 13 appearances).
But even Harvey, the prospect with probably the highest upside in the Orioles system, knows Delmarva is a long way from “The Show.”
“When you get to the big leagues, it's a totally different game with the talent they have up there,” Harvey said. “I want to move up, but right now I feel like wherever they have me is fine. I'm just trying to mature and learn how to pitch the game so I'll be ready.”