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Orioles focus on high school position players in MLB draft

After using their first selection of the MLB draft on a polished college outfielder — Florida State's DJ Stewart — the Orioles turned their focus to high school position players.

Including 36th overall pick Ryan Mountcastle on Monday, five of the Orioles' 11 picks through the first two days of the draft were high school position players. Last year, 15th-round second baseman Alejandro Juvier was the only high school position player they took.

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"Each draft presents something different, and this year it's high-school strong and we drafted into the strength of the draft," Orioles scouting director Gary Rajsich said Tuesday night. "The position players in high school are good. We wanted to grab some bats this year, and I think we've done that."

Among the players who fill those needs are fourth-rounder Ryan McKenna, fifth-rounder Jason Heinrich, eighth-rounder Seamus Curran, and ninth-rounder Jaylen Ferguson.

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McKenna, a center fielder from St. Thomas Aquinas (N.H.) High who lives in Berwick, Maine, is well-regarded for his tools despite coming from a cold-weather climate. Heinrich, of River Ridge Middle (Fla.) High, is a left fielder with right-handed power potential.

Curran, from Agawam (Mass.) High, is a first baseman who Rajsich said is "really strong, and he's got a live bat." Ferguson, of Arlington (Texas) High, plays center field and is committed to Grayson College in Texas.

The pitchers selected Tuesday also provide some upside, Rajsich said. Left-hander Garrett Cleavinger, a reliever from the University of Oregon selected in the third round, has two "really good pitches" — a mid-90s fastball and a curveball — and "could be close to the big leagues and a fast mover through our system," Rajsich said.

The only high school pitcher of the second day, right-hander Gray Fenter from West Memphis (Ark.) High, was a "surprise" in the seventh round, Rajsich said.

"We realized that, talking to the advisers, that we were going to have the funds to do it, and it's a big arm for us," he said. "It's maybe a top-of-the-draft, first-day type guy we were able to get in the seventh round."

A pair of college seniors — right-hander Jay Flaa of North Dakota State (sixth round) and left-hander Reid Love of East Carolina (10th round) complete the haul for the second day.

Rajsich said he didn't expect any issues signing the 11 players selected so far. Major League Baseball recommends signing bonus figures for each draft slot in the first 10 rounds. The Orioles have $6,850,400 allotted for signing bonuses, with a small overage allowed before they face penalties.

If a player signs for less than his pick's slot value, the team can reassign it. Players selected after the 10th round can sign for a maximum of $100,000, with any overage taken off the bonus pool for the first 10 rounds.

The first local player off the board was Maryland second baseman Brandon Lowe, one of four Terps selected on the draft's second day. Lowe went 87th overall to the Tampa Bay Rays.

He suffered a leg injury in the Terps' Saturday loss at the University of Virginia in the NCAA super regional, and is a draft-eligible sophomore, so the first-team All-Big Ten Conference second baseman could return to Maryland and potentially go higher without the cloud of injury.

The Minnesota Twins brought in a strong contingent of Maryland players on Tuesday, with three of their picks having ties to the state.

Alex Robinson, a hard-throwing left-handed reliever who found a home in Maryland's bullpen over the past two years, went to Minnesota in the fifth round (140th overall), and center fielder LaMonte Wade (St. Paul's) who emerged as a standout for the Terps as a junior and dominated their NCAA tournament Los Angeles regional with two home runs and several outstanding defensive efforts, went to Minnesota in the ninth round.

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Robinson struck out 32 batters in 27 2/3 innings for the Terps, going 1-1 with a 1.63 ERA. Wade missed six weeks with a hand injury, but hit.335 in 42 games.

Minnesota's final pick of the day was South Carolina-Aiken shortstop Sean Miller (Archbishop Spalding).

Two other local players went in the 10th round: Navy right-hander Stephen Moore to the Atlanta Braves, and Maryland left-hander Jake Drossner to the Milwaukee Brewers.

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