With a farm system that only recently began to be regarded as improving and a wave of major league free agency set to affect the Orioles' top stars in the near future, executive vice president Dan Duquette deflected the idea that the MLB draft season creates pressure for the front office.
"The draft's the important time," he said. "If you do a good job, I kind of liken it to opening presents on Christmas Day for the organization. If you get some good players for the draft, you should have some good talent that will be an asset to the club for years and years. And if you can bring up a player or two every year from your farm system to help your club, to me you have a healthy, productive farm system. That's what we're trying to do, bring up a couple players each year to help us remain competitive in the East. And the crux of those players come from the draft."
In this year's MLB draft, which starts Monday, the Orioles have four of the first 100 picks, including three on the first day.
Their first-round selection is 21st overall, with their second-round pick at No. 60 and a competitive-balance-round pick at No. 74. The 74th pick is the only one that can be traded, and can be dealt until the beginning of the draft. In the three seasons of competitive-balance picks being distributed, the Orioles have dealt all three of their selections.
Their set of picks comes with a total signing bonus slot value of $6,846,700, according to Baseball America, which they can spread among their top players without incurring a penalty.
And as the team's scouts have been in town the past week-plus to set up their board, it's become clear where they might be looking that first day.
"The strengths of the draft the first day, I think they're pretty equal," scouting director Gary Rajsich said. "Both pitching and hitting, both college and high school, I think it's pretty equal on the first day, which is the first two rounds. After that, the college players get a little thinner, but I think pitching is the strength from there on out."
Duquette said he believes the draft is strongest in high school position players. The Orioles took high school shortstop Ryan Mountcastle in the compensation round between the first and second round in 2015, and he's proved an advanced hitter for his age, but that's not how the team usually uses its high picks.
Especially recently, the Orioles have homed in at the top of the draft on college players with quicker paths to the majors.
Last year, three of the top four picks (first-round right-hander Cody Sedlock, second-round left-hander Keegan Akin and third-round outfielder Austin Hays) were college players who started this year at High-A Frederick, with Hays in particular excelling. The other first-day pick along with Sedlock and Akin, right-hander Matthias Dietz, was a junior college player.
A year earlier, the Orioles selected Florida State outfielder DJ Stewart with their top pick. He's batting .241 with a .755 OPS and eight home runs at Double-A Bowie.
But the focus, particularly of late, is rebuilding the pitching depth thinned by trades over the past few years. The Orioles have dealt the likes of Eduardo Rodriguez, Steven Brault, Stephen Tarpley, Zach Davies and Josh Hader to keep the club in contention.
"We were trying to get some pitching depth to replenish our pitching staff," Duquette said. "We made a lot of trades from our minor league operation to keep the team in contention over the last couple of years, so last year we focused on pitchers that were college pitchers that could come and help us either quickly in the big leagues or be available for trade by the draft so we could complement our team.
"We've got to do everything we can to stay competitive against the Red Sox and the Yankees in the East, and having a decent draft and having players available from the farm system that can either contribute to the team on the farm or be utilized in trades when we're in contention, that's what we're trying to do every year."
The team's scouts began meeting in their draft room above the B&O Warehouse earlier this month, and Rajsich said they began putting their draft board together "day by day, player by player" as time went on.
"We're trying to get all the information we can about the guys we think might be in our range for our pick," he said. "Obviously, there are several that we know will be picked before, but we're trying to home in on that five or six guys that might be available to us and what some of our options are by taking each one."
Said Duquette: "There's players coming from all over the board that can end up playing in the big leagues, and our scouts … are working hard in the room right above the warehouse there. We've got about 20 people in, and they're focused very acutely on the pitching. We're going to try and find some good solid pitching depth that we can utilize and also the position players. But there's been a lot of time this week on pitching — good pitching."
Recent Orioles first-round picks
2010: SS Manny Machado, Brito High, Miami, 3rd overall
2011: P Dylan Bundy, Owasso (Okla.) High, 4th
2012: P Kevin Gausman, LSU, 4th
2013: P Hunter Harvey, Bandys High, Catawba, N.C., 22nd
2013: OF Josh Hart, Parkview High, Lilburn, Ga., 37th
2015: OF DJ Stewart, Florida State, 25th
2015: SS Ryan Mountcastle, Paul J. Hagerty High, Oviedo, Fla., 36th
2016: P Cody Sedlock, Illinois, 27th