The Orioles have the 11th overall pick in the first round of Monday’s MLB draft, their highest selection since taking Kevin Gausman fourth overall in 2012. But, as always, creating a strong draft class goes far beyond the first few rounds, and that might be even more important this year because of the pending overhaul the Orioles face.
On the eve of the draft’s first two rounds, which begin Monday at 7 p.m., scouting director Gary Rajsich said the Orioles will take the best player available when their first selection arrives in a draft he said is deep on pitching but could place a premium on impact position players because there’s a shortage of them, meaning the top non-pitchers might come off the board early.
“We’ve been holed up upstairs, [had] some interesting discussion,” Rajsich said. “Seems like the news every day of the picks in front of us keep changing. Just trying to keep as many options open as possible. … We feel good about what’s going to happen in the first five. We’re more concerned about what happens in the five right before us because we’re looking at the same players, basically. It happens if you’re picking five, 10, 11, 25. You’re most concerned about the teams around you, and what they’re going to do.”
Asked whether the Orioles would place a premium on position players because of the lack of depth there, Rajsich said “not necessarily. We’re still looking for the best player, so position player, pitcher. … There are some things like that. Where we’re picking this year, it isn’t quite as relevant. … Those position players have to be the right ones. I’ll leave it at that.”
Since taking Manny Machado third overall in 2010, the Orioles have selected pitchers with their first pick in five of the past six years in which they’ve had a first-round pick — they didn’t have a first- or second-rounder in 2014 because of the qualifying offer signings of Ubaldo Jiménez and Nelson Cruz — most recently taking Georgia high school left-hander DL Hall last year with the 21st overall selection.
The latest mock drafts have linked the Orioles to Tennessee high school left-hander Ryan Weathers, who was just named the Gatorade National High School Player of the Year and is the son of former major league pitcher David Weathers, should he fall to No. 11, though a shakeup within the first 10 picks could change the Orioles’ trajectory. The Orioles have also been connected to California high school right-hander Cole Winn.
The Orioles have four selections in the first 115 picks. After No. 11, they have a competitive balance pick at No. 37, as well as third- and fourth-round selections at No. 87 and 115, respectively. The Orioles forfeited their second-round pick to sign right-hander Alex Cobb, a qualifying offer free agent.
And given that the Orioles’ roster could change dramatically before the end of the season with so many pending free agents, making quality picks will be important as the rounds get deeper to add to the pool of players who could help replenish the major league roster sooner than later, Rajsich said.
“Absolutely,” Rajsich said. “We’re looking for value for our dollar that we spent. We’re aware of the fact that we need players out here because we’re going to lose a chunk of our roster pretty soon, so we’re aware of that, too.”
In recent years, Rajsich said his scouting staff did a good job of finding future major leaguers in the top-10 rounds, pointing to selections such as Trey Mancini out of Notre Dame in the eighth round in 2013 and rookie right-hander David Hess in the fifth round out of Tennessee Tech in 2014, when the Orioles didn’t have a first- or second-rounder.
Because of the lack of early picks that year, they “took more shots,” Rajsich said, in 2014. Some have seemingly panned out — like taking left-hander Tanner Scott out of a Texas community college in the sixth round — and others haven’t, like their fourth-round selection of former Notre Dame pitcher Pat Connaughton, who has decided to pursue an NBA career instead of play baseball.
“There’s a lot of pressure on every draft,” Rajsich said. “They only come once a year. With our limited international involvement, there’s more pressure on us already, so we feel a need to get it right every year. I’m proud of my staff because they’ve done a good job in the ‘A’ rounds. …You feel a little more comfortable about their ability doing that, and we’re going to try and do that again, but it’s more important when you don’t have those guys at the top.
“We were going for upside [then] because we didn’t have that at the top, but now we’ve got a couple of guys at the top. We can look for value [later on]. That’s how we’re approaching it.”