While it can be easy to evaluate draft prospects based on radar-gun readings and other superficial numbers, the Orioles clearly looked beyond them Tuesday when making their early selections during the second day of this year’s Major League Baseball draft.
In taking Arkansas right-hander Blaine Knight with their third-round pick (87th overall) and Kentucky high school left-hander Drew Rom in the fourth round (115th overall), the Orioles had to be drawn to both pitchers, at least in part, by their secondary-pitch spin rates.
Knight owns a mid-90s fastball and a breaking ball with one of the highest spin rates in the country, according to Baseball America, which named him a second-team All-American.
And while Rom, a senior at Highlands High School in Fort Thomas, Ky., throws a fastball that a seemingly pedestrian 88 to 91 mph, he complements it with a split-fingered fastball that recorded the lowest changeup spin rate — a good quality for an off-speed pitch — at a national showcase in February.
The Orioles also continued their run on pitching in the early rounds, drafting eight pitchers Tuesday, including six college arms, in their first 10 picks.
Knight, a 6-foot-3, 165-pound junior, went 11-0 with a 2.74 ERA in 16 starts as the Razorbacks’ Friday night starter. He held opponents to a .224 batting average and struck out 88 batters in 95 1/3 innings while walking just 22.
Knight, whose draft slot holds a $663,200 bonus value, was selected by the Texas Rangers in the 29th round in 2017 as a draft-eligible sophomore but decided to return to college for his junior season.
Rom, a 6-2, 170-pound left-hander with a lean, long frame who has led his high school team to the state tournament, is 8-6 with a 2.42 ERA and 119 strikeouts in 60 innings this season. He’s committed to pitch at Michigan, but his draft spot is slotted a $483,300 bonus.
The Orioles took Iowa junior Robert Neustrom with their fifth-round selection. The 6-2, 208-pound left-handed-hitting outfielder batted .311/.386/.538 with 15 doubles, 11 homers and 36 RBIs in 53 games for the Hawkeyes.
With their sixth-round selection, the Orioles took Puerto Rican right-hander Yeankarlos Lleras out of the Leadership Christian Academy in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. A lean 6-0, 150-pound prospect with a unique low three-quarters arm slot, Lleras owns a low-90s fastball as well as a slider and changeup. He is committed to Florida International.
Central Florida right-hander J.J. Montgomery was the Orioles’ seventh-round pick. A 6-0, 200-pound junior, Montgomery worked as both a starter and reliever this past season, going 6-4 with a 2.54 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 63 2/3 innings. He posted a 1.16 ERA as a reliever, striking out 34 batters in 23 1/3 innings.
The Orioles selected Elon right-hander Ryan Conroy in the eighth round. Conroy, a 6-3, 190-pound junior, was 4-3 with a 3.29 ERA in 79 1/3 innings this season, striking out 67 batters while walking 32 and holding opponents to a .237 batting average.
In the ninth round, the Orioles took St. John’s left-hander Kevin Magee. A 6-2, 210-pound senior, Magee was 7-3 with a 2.67 ERA, 92 strikeouts and 16 walks in 77 2/3 innings, holding opposing hitters to a .249 batting average.
And with their final pick of Day Two, the Orioles took pitcher Dallas Litscher, a 6-8, 250-pound right-hander out of the University of Saint Katherine in San Marcos, Calif, a National Christian College Athletic Association school. Litscher posted an 8-1 record and 3.05 ERA this season, compiling 105 strikeouts and 53 walks in 73 2/3 innings.
On Monday, the Orioles took high school right-hander Grayson Rodriguez of Nacogdoches, Texas, with their No. 11 overall pick and selected Oregon State shortstop Cadyn Grenier with the 37th overall selection.
Among local prospects, the Cleveland Indians took Towson University junior shortstop Richard Palacios with the penultimate pick in the third round (103rd overall). It’s the highest a Tigers position player and third highest any player from the school has been drafted. Left-hander Chris Nabholz was a second-round selection of the Montreal Expos in 1988, and left-hander Chris Russ was taken No. 94 overall by the Texas Rangers in 2000.
Palacios, a 5-11, 180-pounder, hit .301/.457/.515 with 18 doubles, eight homers and 31 RBIs this season. He was 25-for-26 on stolen-base attempts. Palacios’ pick has a bonus slot value of $544,200.
Maryland second baseman Nick Dunn was taken in the fifth round by the St. Louis Cardinals. Dunn, a Baseball America second-team All-American, hit .330/.419/.561 with 10 homers and 39 RBIs for the Terps. The junior has a bonus slot value of $333,700.
South Carolina right-hander Cody Morris (Reservoir), a draft-eligible sophomore, was selected by the Indians in the seventh round.