Orioles set blueprint for rebuild during MLB draft, filling needs for pitching upside, infielder

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Drafting for need in baseball is different than in any other sport, so saying the Orioles did just that with their top two picks in the Major League Baseball draft Monday is no indictment.

Given where they are with their outfield and pitching depth in the minors, it's possible to look at the beginning of Monday's draft as a blueprint for what the Orioles will be asking for during their inevitable major league teardown.

Taking Texas power right-hander Grayson Rodriguez at No. 11 overall and Oregon State shortstop Cadyn Grenier at pick No. 37, simply put, addresses two areas where the Orioles are perilously thin in their farm system. They needed to add upside to a pitching crop that occupies a pretty thin projection margin near the middle of the future scale, and they needed some infielders. The first was a luxury, and the second was a requirement. They started the draft out with both.

"We feel very good about today," Orioles scouting director Gary Rajsich said after Monday’s picks. “We did get the pitcher that we all wanted, and we also addressed a need. We feel like we got two things accomplished today that were very, very important to the future of this organization."

Overall, they continued their trend of stocking up on pitching, especially from the college level, over the three days of the draft. Eight of their first 10 picks were pitchers, and 21 of 40 overall.

While pitching has been something the Orioles have never shied away from in the draft, it's obviously become a priority in recent years with six of their past seven first-round picks being pitchers and now three straight pitchers selected with their top pick. The depth built in 2016 and 2017, and continued early in this draft, made grabbing such a high-upside pitcher like Rodriguez possible.

The Orioles’ efforts on that front in recent years, contributed to plenty of arms who have changed the complexion of their system, such as 2017 top picks DL Hall, Zac Lowther and Michael Baumann, 2016 top picks Cody Sedlock, Keegan Akin and Matthias Dietz, and other recent additions such as Brenan Hanifee and Cameron Bishop.

None of those pitchers, save for maybe Dietz, has the power fastball that Rodriguez does. There are plenty of crafty left-handers such as Lowther and Akin, plenty of righties with strong sinkers such as Hanifee and Baumann. That created a bit of security of sorts for the Orioles to go big and take a risk with this pick, even if the 11th overall pick might not be the best venue for that.

What they got in Rodriguez is upside. It's no coincidence that the pitching prospect with the highest ceiling in the entire system — even after years of adding college pitchers in the interim — is 2013 first-round pick Hunter Harvey. Next on that list is last year's top pick, Hall, who has an easy delivery, as well as three pitches with present value and projection to dream on.

The Orioles' efforts over the past few years allowed them to get to this point, where they could hone in on a helium pitcher from Texas and not lose sight of their desire for him when there were a handful of arms they didn't expect to be there at No. 11.

Rajsich's comments about Rodriguez's combination of size (6 feet 5, 220 pounds), a repeatable delivery and his ability to throw strikes harken back to the same things he said about Sedlock two years ago. But all that didn't come in the power package Rodriguez carries, and those are the types of arms the Orioles can try for now that they have plenty of high-floor arms already scattered across the system.

Unlike the deep stock of pitchers, the middle-infield depth chart is the exact opposite. Where they were in a good spot to diversify their arms and add some power to accompany what they have on the mound, the Orioles clearly just needed some up-the-middle infield talent in a system devoid of any.

The upper minors, save for utility candidate Steve Wilkerson and light-hitting former high pick Adrian Marin, are full of six-year free-agent signings and players who have taken turns not making the grade over the past two years.

In the low minors, 2017 college infield draftees Mason McCoy (sixth round) and Trevor Craport (11th round) represent some steady depth, and last year's second-round pick, Adam Hall, has been limited to two professional games because of an oblique injury suffered early in the Gulf Coast League season last year. Hall, drafted out of Canada, recently turned 19, and Grenier's selection and likely assignment to Short-A Aberdeen might mean Hall stays in Florida for the GCL season again.

Last summer's inevitable move of Ryan Mountcastle off shortstop didn't help the situation, but there's not a lot to project forward in the middle infield at this point. Adding a player like Grenier, who is a no-doubt shortstop down the road and has the makings of a throwback middle infielder with the ability to slap the ball around and get on base, is a good start on that front.

While the public ratings make it seem like high-ranked players were available for the Orioles on Monday, what they did isn't the equivalent of a football team selecting a cornerback too early simply because they need one, or a basketball team doing that with a center.

The Orioles already have more corner outfield prospects than they have spots to play them. Center field could be covered by Cedric Mullins in the near future and Ryan McKenna or Lamar Sparks down the road. They're banking on Chance Sisco being the catcher of the future, and while first base-designated hitter types come cheap these days, they're already paying plenty for those.

So what's left is the high-upside arms and up-the-middle infield talent. Contenders, take note.

jmeoli@baltsun.com

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