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Orioles still hope Connaughton will return to baseball despite having NBA option picked up

Pat Connaughton, a former Orioles farmhand currently playing in the NBA with the Portland Trailblazers, during pregame warmups of Monday's game against the Washington Wizards at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C.
Pat Connaughton, a former Orioles farmhand currently playing in the NBA with the Portland Trailblazers, during pregame warmups of Monday's game against the Washington Wizards at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. (Eduardo A. Encina / Baltimore Sun)

This summer offered an opportunity for former Orioles draft pick Pat Connaughton to revisit his professional baseball career after spending the past two seasons as a reserve guard in the NBA.

But on Thursday afternoon, the Portland Trail Blazers guaranteed the third year on the contract Connaughton signed after being drafted out of Notre Dame in 2015, essentially ensuring that he will continue his professional basketball career through the 2017-18 season.

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The Blazers had a 2 p.m. EST deadline to waive Connaughton or guarantee his third year, which would give him $1.4 million for the 2017-18 season. The first two years of his NBA contract was guaranteed.

"Good for Pat," Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said before Thursday's series opener against the Toronto Blue Jays. "It looks like a pretty good deal for him. I have believed and maintained since the kid was in high school that his future is in Major League Baseball, but he doesn't see it that way. It's really his career, right?"

The 24-year-old Connaughton was the Orioles' fourth-round draft pick out of Notre Dame in 2014 and they gave him a $428,000 signing bonus. They haven't attempted to recoup the bonus even through he has pursued an NBA career and hasn't pitched in the Orioles' minor league system since pitching six games for Short-A Aberdeen in 2014.

"We invested a certain amount of money in him knowing that he was a two-sport athlete," Duquette said. "I think there's a flicker. The light is still on. The kid has great abilities, he's a great athlete. Whatever he decides — to pursue Major League Baseball, he could have a great career. But until he decides that, he's going to be a basketball player."

Connaughton has always left the door open for a return to baseball. He said during this past basketball season that he keeps his arm loose and basketball keeps him in shape. But the Orioles have been waiting for Connaughton to fully invest in rising up the team's minor league ranks.

He hasn't pitched competitively for nearly three years, but the Orioles stilling believe he could become a major league option quickly. Still, his professional baseball experience is small. He posted a 2.51 ERA in 14 1/3 innings for Aberdeen in 2014.

The Orioles still hold Connaughton's baseball rights through 2020.

He averaged just 2.5 points per game for the Trail Blazers last season, as his playing time nearly doubled in his second pro season to 8.1 minutes a game, and he figures to play a more prominent role with the club in 2017-18.

Baltimore Sun columnist Peter Schmuck contributed to this article.

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