How important is the 14th overall pick? And how much should the Orioles be committed to keeping that selection in the upcoming draft?
As the Orioles continue to look to upgrade their starting rotation and add a corner outfielder, they appear determined to keep their first-round selection, meaning that they will be reluctant to pursue players who declined the qualifying offer and are now tied to draft-pick compensation, such as former Chicago Cubs outfielder Dexter Fowler and ex-Texas Rangers right-hander Yovani Gallardo.
The Orioles currently have six selections in the first 91 picks in this year’s draft. That surplus is coming from a combination of their regular picks, a competitive-balance pick, a compensation pick for losing Wei-Yin Chen and another compensation pick for being unable to sign their second-round pick last year.
They will have their highest first-round selection since taking Kevin Gausman fourth overall in 2012, so right now, the club sees having the 14th selection as a key to getting a high-caliber pitching prospect.
Taking a look at how the 14th overall pick has fared, however, shows selecting at that point is a crapshoot.
Fernandez, the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year, isn’t far removed from Tommy John surgery, but the 23-year-old is still one of the game’s top young arms.
Six of the past seven players taken with the 14th pick were pitchers, and there’s no reason to believe the Orioles wouldn’t take a starting arm with their selection.
Other relatively recent position players taken with the 14th pick were Billy Butler (2004), Aaron Hicks (2008) and *cough* Travis Snider (2006). Former Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees right-hander Jeff Weaver was the 14th pick in 1998.
The last time the Orioles had the 14th pick, they selected Beau Hale in 2000. Hale never made it beyond Double-A Bowie, missed two years because of rotator cuff surgery and was out of the Orioles organization after the 2007 season.
In fact, just eight of the past 17 picks taken at No. 14 have made it to the majors. Yes, that’s a misleading number because Fernandez was the most recent to make it to the big leagues and he was fast-tracked by the Marlins, so there could be other recent picks knocking on the door like San Francisco Giants pitching prospect Tyler Beede, who will be in big league camp this year after being taken 14th in 2014.
But dating to 1999, the only players taken at No. 14 to become established major league players have been Fernandez, Heyward and Butler.
Jason Varitek (1994), Derrek Lee (1993), Cliff Floyd (1991) and Tino Martinez (1988) all were 14th overall picks who went on to become All-Stars. Before them, Tom Brunansky (1978), former Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli (1973) and ex-Orioles left-hander Scott McGregor (1972) all had strong careers after being selected 14th overall.
Lee, who played part of his last season of a 15-year big league career with the Orioles, owns the most career wins above replacement among No. 14 picks (34.3), but the 26-year-old Heyward (31.2) will likely pass him.
But the reason the Orioles are so driven to keep the No. 14 pick has less to do with the past than with the present -- and the future.
Given the number of high-round picks the Orioles have, this year’s draft will be a critical one for the organization.
Remember Andy MacPhail’s old mantra of buying the bats, growing the arms? Current executive vice president Dan Duquette subscribes to the same theory, saying many times over his term that the key to sustaining long-term success is player development and international signings.
And while the Orioles bought a big bat in retaining Chris Davis, the arms – with the exception of right-hander Kevin Gausman – have yet to arrive.
Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey still have plenty of promise, but first must prove they can stay healthy, and their next tier of young arms -- pitchers like Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson -- have yet to gain their footing at the major league level.
So the Orioles need to utilize this draft to replenish the system with starting pitching prospects. That’s why, in part, it’s necessary to keep this year’s first-round pick.
The Orioles took 20 pitchers in last year’s draft, but their draft class was heavy on relief arms.
Rays interested in Desmond
The Tampa Bay Rays reportedly have interest in signing shortstop Ian Desmond. That should matter to Orioles fans because Desmond is tied to draft-pick compensation and the Rays currently hold the 13th overall pick.
So if the Rays sign Desmond, they would forfeit their first-round pick, and the Orioles would move up one spot to 13th.
A reminder. The first 10 draft picks, which go to the teams with the 10 worst records last season, are protected, meaning those teams don't have to give up their first-round pick to sign a free-agent tied to draft pick compensation.
Could Rockies outfielders interest Orioles?
I’m being asked a lot about whether the Orioles would be interested in acquiring an outfielder from the Colorado Rockies by trade.
The Rockies’ signing of former Orioles outfielder Gerardo Parra gives Colorado a surplus of left-handed outfield bats, and while the Rockies have reportedly listened to offers for Carlos Gonzalez and Charlie Blackmon, it appears Corey Dickerson is the most likely to be shipped.
There’s no doubt Dickerson would look nice in the Orioles batting order. His stats might be inflated by playing in Denver, but a career .879 OPS is attractive. Even though he was limited to 65 games last year by injury, the 26-year-old Dickerson has averaged 24 homers per 162 games and would be under team control for the next four years.
The same reasons that make Dickerson attractive are the same that make a trade to the Orioles unlikely. Barring a deal involving Gausman or Jonathan Schoop -- which isn’t going to happen -- the Orioles are unlikely to have the trade chips needed to make a deal work.
One report said the Rays were in talks with Colorado with left-hander Jake McGee serving as a possible trade chip. The Orioles couldn’t match that unless they were willing to give up a Gausman or Schoop (which, again, they won’t).
Hot stove event
One more plug for my former colleague Dan Connolly, who will be holding his annual hot stove baseball talk at the Zion Lutheran Church on 2215 Brandywine Lane in York, Pa., Thursday, Jan. 28 at 7 p.m.
The special guest will be Philadelphia Phillies assistant general manager Scott Proefrock, who spent three years as director of baseball administration/assistant GM for the Orioles. Other speakers include Mel Antonen, a baseball writer for SI.com, panelist for MASN and a Sirius/XM talk show host, and Connolly, who covered baseball at The Baltimore Sun and authored “100 Things Orioles Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die.”
For more information, contact the church at 717-767-4673.