Last week's annual minicamp at the Ed Smith Stadium complex in Sarasota focused on a group of minor league pitchers, most of whom are working their way up to the top rungs of the Orioles minor league system. But the organization's next group of talent is coming on fast right behind them.
It's a group of players who don't have much professional experience under their belt, but the Orioles believe they possess not only the talent, but also the makeup, to be fast-tracked up the minor league ladder.
The Orioles have suffered through some difficult drafts over recent years, and some of that is because they chose to forfeit some of their top picks, like in 2014, when their first pick was the 90th overall because they lost their first two picks through the qualifying offer process by signing Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz.
But in the most recent first-year player draft – even though they lost their first pick, the 14th overall at the time, to sign right-hander Yovani Gallardo, who was traded earlier this month – the Orioles believe they got a haul. And they're eager to see how quickly those players can develop.
The Orioles' first two picks in last year's draft, right-hander Cody Sedlock and left-hander Keegan Akin, are both expected to open this coming season at high Class-A Frederick, entirely skipping the low full-season Class-A level at Delmarva.
Sedlock – taken with the 27th overall pick, a compensation pick for losing left-hander Wei-Yin Chen to free agency, out of the University of Illinois – threw just 27 innings for short-season Class-A Aberdeen. Sedlock made nine starts, not going beyond three innings or 54 pitches in either of them, posting a 3.00 ERA. He was coming off a college season at Illinois that saw him throw 101 1/3 innings.
Akin, who was the Orioles' second-rounder out of Western Michigan with the 54th overall pick, threw 26 innings at Aberdeen, posting a 1.04 ERA and 0.846 WHIP in nine starts. Akin also didn't throw more than three innings or 60 pitches in any of his outings, but averaged 10 strikeouts per nine innings. Akin threw 109 innings in his final college season.
The Orioles' third-round pick in last year's draft, outfielder Austin Hays, is also expected to make the jump from Aberdeen to Frederick. Hays, who was drafted out of Jacksonville University, was spectacular in 38 games in Aberdeen, hitting .336/.386/.514 with 15 extra-base hits (nine doubles, two triples and four homers) and 21 RBIs.
In Sedlock, Akin and Hays, the Orioles drafted a trio of college juniors – all of whom were in their age 21 season – who combined both polish and promise. Ultimately, they believe they have the talent and makeup to handle the jump, and the resolve to deal with any adversity they might find along the way.
It's been rare in recent years that the Orioles have skipped a level with prospects -- Kevin Gausman is the exception; he never pitched at Delmarva, making the jump from Aberdeen to Frederick in his first pro season. The fact the club is confident to do this with all three gives an indication of how special it believes these players are and their potential to help the big league club sooner than later.