Having to wait until toward the end of the first round, the Orioles beefed up their position player depth Monday night by selecting Florida State outfielder DJ Stewart with the 25th overall pick and then adding a Florida high school infielder, Ryan Mountcastle, with the 36th overall selection.
Stewart is a 6-foot, 230-pound left-handed hitter who led the nation in walks with 69 and had an on-base percentage of .500 while hitting 15 home runs and driving in 59 runs in 64 games as a junior for the Seminoles this season.
He projects as a left fielder, and immediately becomes one of the organization's top outfield prospects — not currently a strength in the Orioles' minor league system.
“Stewart is an accomplished college hitter whose power should play well in our park at Camden Yards,” said Orioles scouting director Gary Rajsich. “We are excited to have him.”
The last time the Orioles selected a position player with their first pick was in 2010, when current third baseman Manny Machado was drafted with the third selection overall out of tiny Brito Miami private high school. The last time they chose a collegiate hitter with their top pick was Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters in 2007.
Stewart, 21, was the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year as a sophomore.
“There have been a number of outstanding young men to come through our program, but none better than DJ Stewart in the way that he displayed leadership both on and off the field,” Florida State coach Mike Martin said. “DJ represented his family, his university and himself in a first class manner throughout his career at Florida State. We are extremely proud of DJ and congratulate him on being drafted by the Orioles.”
He won five state championships (three in football, two in baseball) at Bolles School in Jacksonville, Fla. He was selected by the New York Yankees in the 28th round in 2012, but chose to go to college. He hits out of an extremely low crouch, which some scouts believe could limit his power, but he has an extraordinary batting eye for a young player.
“Stewart's frame and extreme squatting stance in the batter's box give him an unusual look for a first-round pick, but he hits, controls the strike zone and has done it at the highest amateur levels for years,” said Kiley McDaniel, lead prospect analyst for FanGraphs. “He has 20-homer power that he should be able to get to in games and is deceptively quick for his size, owing it to his past as a high school running back, so he's good enough to play left field.”
McDaniel said Stewart may not be the traditional first-round pick, but he likes the Orioles' selection.
“Teams tend to opt for the projectable, prototypical-looking player in the first round,” he said. “But Stewart is a nice value here — he was 26th on my draft board — and should move quickly, even if his upside is more of a solid everyday player than a star.”
According to Baseball America, the suggested bonus for the 25th slot is $2,064,500. The club's total bonus pool for the first 10 rounds is $6,850,400. The magazine listed Stewart as the 30th-best draft-eligible player this season.
The 6-foot-4, 190-pound Mountcastle, however, was a bit of a reach out of Hagerty High School (Oviedo, Fla.). Despite batting .500 with two homers and 22 stolen bases in his 84 at-bats as a senior this year, Mountcastle was ranked as 123rd by Baseball America and 110th by mlb.com. He looks to be a below-slot pick, which could allow the Orioles to take a chance on harder-to-sign players later. The suggested salary slot for that spot is $1.71 million.
McDaniel saw the right-hander play several times and said he has been successful with wood bats on the travel circuit. He'll likely move to either corner outfield or third base, where he is considered only adequate but likely will be given the time to develop there. He posted a career-best 60-yard dash time around 6.60 in a recent all star game.
“The reason he's rated lower than where the Orioles took him by the publications (including myself) is that his swing is a little unusual, he didn't hit for power in games this spring and he ends up in a corner outfield spot for many scouts.” McDaniel said. “Mountcastle's swing had a more uppercut path as a prep underclassman that he corrected in the past year. It's a high effort swing with a little expected awkwardness as Mountcastle is still growing into his frame. It's not the kind of picturesque swing that normally goes in the top picks, but it works in games, he's athletic and the top talents were already off the board at this point.”
The club picked up their extra 2015 first-rounder — the 36th overall — as compensation for losing Nelson Cruz to free agency this winter.
The Orioles used their second-round pick, No. 68 overall, on Jonathan Hughes, a right-handed pitcher out of Flowery Branch (Ga.) High School.
Like most major league scouting directors, Rajsich has been focused more on best player available than organizational need during his tenure. In his previous three drafts, Rajsich selected pitchers with his first pick: Florida high school left-hander Brian Gonzalez (third round) in 2014, North Carolina high school right-hander Hunter Harvey (22nd overall) in 2013 and LSU right-hander Kevin Gausman (fourth overall) in 2012.
In their last 10 drafts heading into 2015, the Orioles selected high school pitchers with their top pick three times, high school position players three times, two college pitchers and two college position players. So there really has been no pattern in the last decade. The Orioles didn't have a first- or second-rounder last year due to signing Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz before the 2014 season. Their highest pick last year was in the third round, 90th overall, when they chose Gonzalez.
The 2015 draft class was considered weaker at the top than in past years, but it was fairly deep –- which made Rajsich believe he was going to get a player with each of this first two picks that could easily have been selected much higher.
The draft continues Tuesday with rounds three through 10 and Wednesday with rounds 11 through 40.
The Orioles hadn't selected this late in the first round since 1998, when they grabbed high school outfielder Rick Elder with the 26th overall pick. He never made the majors.
This was the third time since the amateur draft began in 1965 that the Orioles have selected 25th overall. In 1983, they chose right-hander Wayne Wilson out of a California high school. The next year they selected right-hander John Hoover from California State University, Fresno, with the 25th overall pick. Neither played in the majors with the Orioles, though Hoover pitched in two games for the Texas Rangers in 1990.
The 25th overall pick typically evolves into a fringe major leaguer, though there are several success stories. The most famous occurred in 2009 when the Los Angeles Angels selected future MVP Mike Trout with the 25th overall pick. Other noteworthy players selected 25th overall include infielders Chuck Knoblauch (1989, Minnesota) and Bill Buckner (1968, Los Angeles Dodgers), and pitchers Matt Cain (2002, San Francisco) and Matt Garza (2005, Minnesota).