TORONTO — Through their analytical advancements and organizational changes, the Orioles have worked to mimic the Houston Astros as they’ve embarked on a full-on rebuild to make the major league team a consistent winner. But Baltimore won’t be able to match the three straight No. 1 overall draft picks Houston had earlier this decade.
Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays ensured the Orioles will have the second selection in the 2020 amateur draft, their second straight top two pick after having only one previously.
A season after taking Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman with the franchise’s first No. 1 overall pick in 30 years, the Orioles (52-107) will draft behind the Detroit Tigers, whose 46-111 disaster proved uncatchable. It’s possible for the Miami Marlins to match the Orioles for the majors’ second-worst record at 55-107, but the Orioles would win the tiebreaker for the second overall pick because they had a worse record in 2018.
Although it’s easy to draw a line between the Astros’ three consecutive No. 1 overall picks from 2012 to 2014 and the franchise’s modern successes, only one of those top picks has reached the majors, while their No. 2 overall pick in 2015 has been perhaps more impactful.
With Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias then working for them in an advisory role, the Astros took Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa first overall in 2012, but their next two No. 1 selections, both of which came with Elias as scouting director, weren’t so fruitful. Stanford right-hander Mark Appel, the 2013 top pick, was included in a trade with the Philadelphia Phillies for reliever Ken Giles and retired before reaching the majors.
Giles, since traded to Toronto, finished off the Blue Jays’ victory Wednesday by striking out the side in the ninth. Billy McKinney hit a leadoff home run off Gabriel Ynoa, who Rowdy Tellez also took deep in the fourth before homering off Paul Fry in the sixth. After scoring 21 runs in the series’ first two games, the Orioles failed to score until the eighth, when Rio Ruiz’s RBI groundout and DJ Stewart’s bases-loaded walk plated runs before a flyout by Chris Davis left the bases full.
“We had our chances late in the game," Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. "Just didn’t quite get the big hit.”
The 2014 draft’s No. 1 selection, prep left-hander Brady Aiken, didn’t sign with Houston because of a medical issue. Not signing Aiken gave the Astros the second overall pick in 2015, with which they selected LSU shortstop Alex Bregman. This season, Bregman has hit 40 home runs for a Houston team that locked up a third straight division title and is pursuing a second World Series championship in those three years.
Bregman, drafted three years and one pick behind Correa, has surpassed his fellow Astros infielder in Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement (19.9 vs. 18.4) and trails him marginally in Baseball-Reference WAR (20.5 vs. 21.0) for their careers.
Although Bregman is a notable example given the connection to Elias, the recent history of the second overall pick generally bodes well for the Orioles. Minnesota Twins center fielder Byron Buxton, a Gold Glove winner, and Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, the 2015 National League Rookie of the Year and the circuit’s 2016 MVP, were drafted after Correa and Appel, respectively.
That doesn’t make the season the Orioles have endured any easier. Wednesday’s defeat was their 107th, following a 115-loss campaign that garnered the right to draft Rutschman. But for the first time since 1979, a team with that many losses won’t hold baseball’s worst record.
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“I want them to feel what it feels like to win, and I feel sorry for some guys a little bit at times because they’re trying so hard to win, and something happens late in the game, and it doesn’t happen," Hyde said before the loss. "I think there’s going to be a day sometime soon where we’re going to win those games that we should’ve won, and our guys are going to look back at this and probably be better because of it.”