One of the Orioles’ main appeals of hiring executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias and his top deputy, assistant general manager Sig Mejdal, away from the Houston Astros this offseason will be showcased Monday.
The Orioles select first overall in the Major League Baseball draft by virtue of last year's 115-loss season. Elias and Mejdal bring over a decade of experience working together on drafts with the St. Louis Cardinals and Astros, including three straight top picks from 2012 to 2014.
As they know, whether they hit on the top overall pick — and whether a team succeeds with its top pick, whenever it is — paints a lot of the perception about how that overall draft went. With All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa as their first No. 1 overall pick in 2012, that draft has particular heft to it. With neither the next year's top pick, right-hander Mark Appel, nor the 2014 top pick, left-hander Brady Aiken, succeeding, the pitfalls of those selections trickle down to the rest of the class.
Appel was dealt to the Philadelphia Phillies in the trade for closer Ken Giles and never reached the majors, while Aiken had an elbow problem come up in his post-draft physical and wasn't signed.
They just go to show how volatile the prized top pick the Orioles have can be, even if Elias wants to hold the lessons from each and how they inform the Orioles' 2019 choice close to the vest.
"I don't necessarily want to articulate the biggest lessons learned in advance of the draft because I don't want people to read into what I'm saying for the draft. But I know that each year that we did it, we underwent the process differently, the preparation process," Elias said. "There were improvements in it, and sometimes we took a step back and did something better the first time around. Really, it's just process improvement.
"I think our results were kind of extreme. The ones that went poorly — especially in one case — was just horrible luck. And another one, we got kind of the worst possible outcome on a player that was sort of the consensus top talent. And then with Correa, it was a grand slam. We take a player that was projected to go sixth or seventh, and he ends up looking like the best player out of the draft, and we underpaid him. It was just kind of an extreme set."
That same assessment goes for the Astros' drafts as a whole while Elias was there. There have been tremendous success stories, just not always with the first overall picks.
They've had enough cracks at them to know that even if it's where the most attention and resources are devoted, the pick needs to be made with the same processes as any other.
"In some ways, a [No. 1 overall pick] isn't different than any other pick," Mejdal said. "You take the best player available. With that said, there's no way it is the same as any other pick — the amount of attention given, the importance of that makes it a different animal. But the process that we relied on doesn't break down or somehow not be useful when it comes to the [No. 1 overall] pick. We reminded ourselves of that, and try to stick to the process."
While Elias wasn't yet the scouting director for the 2012 season after his old boss, Jeff Luhnow, took over as general manager, he was in an advisory role and played a heavy role in evaluating Correa. He was installed as the scouting director and led the next six drafts before taking the Orioles job this past fall.
2012 — Top pick: Shortstop Carlos Correa (No. 1 overall)
While Correa was a high first-round player, the Astros took a gamble in selecting him over Byron Buxton and Mike Zunino and were rewarded with one of the game's brightest stars. He's one of nine big leaguers from that draft and accounts for 20 wins above replacement (WAR) out of the 26.4 WAR from the 2012 Astros draft class.
Right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. was a big part of the World Series-winning rotation in 2017, and they used other high picks — such as current Oriole Rio Ruiz (fourth round) and outfielder Brett Phillips (sixth round) as trade chips down the road.
2013 — Top pick: Right-hander Mark Appel (No. 1 overall)
After Appel was selected eighth overall in 2012 and returned to Stanford, he was the consensus top player in the country and the Astros' top choice in 2013. He struggled in his first full season at the launching-pad that was High-A Lancaster and had a 4.37 ERA with pedestrian peripheral stats in 2015 before he was dealt to the Phillies as part of a five-player package for Giles. He pitched two years in their system before retiring.
While he extracted some value for the Astros, Appel was part of an anomaly of a draft class from that era, with just four major leaguers and only first baseman Tyler White contributing much of note.
2014 — Top pick: Left-hander Brady Aiken (No. 1 overall)
Aiken was one of several candidates for the top pick, but as an impressive prep left-hander, he distinguished himself over a diverse group of potential selections. His post-draft physical revealed a problem with his ulnar collateral ligament, which requires Tommy John surgery to repair, so the Astros lowered their offer and didn't sign him.
While that left a dent on the club as the Astros were already starting to take heat for the cold-blooded nature of their rebuild and for three straight years of losing under Luhnow, that draft was still productive — even if not for them.
While outfielder Derek Fisher is a useful piece of the current roster — and was selected with a competitive balance round pick acquired from the Orioles in the Bud Norris trade — right-hander Daniel Mengden (fourth round) and center fielder Ramon Laureano (16th round) have developed into nice big leaguers for the Oakland Athletics. Right-hander Josh James was a 34th-round pick who is one of the poster boys for the Astros' pitching development the Orioles hope to replicate in Baltimore.
2015 — Top pick: Shortstop Alex Bregman (No. 2 overall)
As compensation for not signing Aiken, the Astros got the second pick the following year and selected Bregman, who is the reigning All-Star Game MVP and one of five major leaguers from that draft. They also had the fifth overall pick and used it on outfielder Kyle Tucker, a consensus top-20 prospect who debuted in the majors last season at age 21.
Bregman was a pick Elias said "just went really smoothly, and that turned out well.”
"Even the process of picking fifth, it's very similar to picking first,” Elias said. “Just the high picks as a whole, it's a little different process than when you're picking in the teens or 20s. And it is not easy. I just think the fact that we've been there before helps."
The Astros’ third pick, outfielder Daz Cameron, is a star in the making in the Detroit Tigers' system after being used in the trade that landed Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander.
2016 — Top pick: Right-hander Forrest Whitley (No. 17 overall)
While no one from the 2016 draft has made the big leagues yet, Whitley was a pop-up Texas prep pitcher in his draft year, similar to last year's Orioles top pick, Grayson Rodriguez, and is the top-rated pitching prospect in the minors, according to Baseball America.
Their second pick, outfielder Ronnie Dawson, was rated the No. 13 prospect in the system by Baseball America this past offseason.
2017 — Top pick: Right-hander J.B. Bukauskas (No. 15 overall)
Back in the middle of the first round again, the Astros went with a developed college pitcher out of North Carolina in Bukauskas. He's one of several college arms they've been happy with so far from this draft, including Corbin Martin (second round), who made his major league debut May 12, Mount Saint Joseph graduate Peter Solomon (fourth round), Brandon Bielak (11th round) and others.
2018 — Top pick: Outfielder Seth Beer (No. 28 overall)
The reward for a World Series title was a late pick for the Astros last year, and they went with Beer, an outfielder from Clemson who rakes. This draft was notable in that after second-round prep right-hander Jayson Schroeder, the Astros didn't take another high school player until they selected Bregman's brother, A.J., in the 35th round.
With the emphasis on projections and the increase in information on college players compared with high school players, the Astros' predilection for the more-knowable college performers after their first few picks is a strategy that could be replicated in Baltimore, especially as Elias and Mejdal get their infrastructure up to speed.
2019 MLB draft
Rounds 1-2: Monday, 7 p.m.
Rounds 3-10: Tuesday, 1 p.m.
Rounds 11-40: Next Wednesday, noon
TV/streaming: MLB Network/MLB.com