Orioles hope to land one of few standouts in 'very shallow' draft

For the sixth consecutive year, the Orioles will select in the top five of baseball's amateur draft, this time making the fourth overall pick on Monday night.

Then they will wait. And wait. Until Tuesday, when they make their second selection, the fifth pick in the second round, 65th overall.

"It's going to be painful," said Orioles' first-year scouting director Gary Rajsich. "There's a lot of good players we are going to have to sit and watch fly off the board."

Because there are 29 additional supplemental first-round picks this year for free-agent losses last winter that don't involve Baltimore — and an additional regular first-round pick since once club, the Toronto Blue Jays, failed to sign their 2011 first-rounder — the Orioles are basically getting their second-round pick in what once was a third-round slot.

With drastic changes to the new collective bargaining agreement in regard to the draft, there likely won't be so many supplemental picks in the future. That's just one of myriad differences scouting directors will be dealing with in 2012 and beyond.

"I think everybody is in same boat here. It's been food for thought as far as how you handle the draft, who you are taking and what we can do in certain situations," Rajsich said. "But in the end we are still committed to getting the best players where we can get them."

This year, the number of rounds has been scaled down from 50 to 40 and the draft will play out for three days — with the first and supplemental rounds on Monday night; rounds two through 15 on Tuesday and the remaining selections Wednesday.

Under the new CBA, major-league deals for amateurs are not permitted, and the deadline for signing draftees has been pushed up from mid-August to mid-July (July 13 at 5 p.m.).

Also, teams will be assigned a total amount that can be spent on the first 10 rounds, and if clubs exceed that sum, they will be taxed and could lose future draft picks, depending on how much they overspend. The Orioles allotted expenditure this year for those 10 rounds is $6,826,900 according to Baseball America. That includes a slotted $4.2 million for their first-rounder.

Rajsich can exceed $4.2 million for his top pick, but then somewhere in the next nine rounds he'll have to go under the suggested slots to stay at budget. All picks after the 10th round to do not count against the $6.83 million, as long as those individual signings do not exceed $100,000. That will be a big change for the Orioles, who in the last few years have paid well above slot for players that slipped deeper into the draft due to signability issues.

"I think the days of overpaying a kid that wants to go to school, paying him [high bonuses] in the 16th, 17th and 18th rounds may be over," Rajsich said. "[Signability] is more important than ever before, no question about it. … We have to be sure we know what the signability is. It is more critical than ever."

In 2011, with former amateur scouting director Joe Jordan leading the charge, the Orioles also had the fourth overall pick, signing Oklahoma prep phenom Dylan Bundy to a $6.255 million big-league deal that included a $4 million signing bonus.

That kind of expenditure won't happen at No. 4 this year for several reasons, including the reality that none of the potential top picks are as highly regarded as Bundy or several of the other 2011 draftees were.

"There doesn't seem to be as much depth to this draft as there were with others," Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said. "Hopefully, we'll get a few good players."

Without revealing specifics, Rajsich said he believes there's a significant drop off in talent beyond the draft's top tier. Whether the Orioles get one of those elite players may depend on what the teams ahead of them — the Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins and Seattle Mariners — do.

"Right away, it gets very shallow as far as talent and upside," Rajsich said. "Without giving you a specific number, there are very few [exceptional players available]."

That seems to be the consensus throughout the industry. No player has emerged as the clear-cut favorite to go to the Astros with the first pick. High school center fielder Byron Buxton may have the most upside, but he is considered years away from contributing.

The Astros have been linked to Buxton and Stanford right-hander Mark Appel, who has Houston roots and is arguably the most polished pitcher in the draft. Considered the best collegiate player heading into this season, Appel didn't really separate himself from the other top pitchers, fellow right-handers Kyle Zimmer of the University of San Francisco and LSU's Kevin Gausman.

The Twins, who pick second, have plenty of holes and could be a wild card. Buxton, a lanky, Eric Davis type, would seem a natural for the rebuilding Twins, but Minnesota has spent several recent draft picks on outfielders and may decide to bolster a weak pitching corps. That could lead them to a guy like Zimmer or LSU's Gausman.

One hitter that has shot up the projected first round is Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa, who draws comparisons to Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki. Correa will likely become the highest drafted player in his country's history — and now looks like he may crash the first five picks.

If Buxton is gone and Correa is available, the shortstop may land with the Mariners at No. 3. Seattle has been linked to University of Florida catcher Mike Zunino, who is considered the best of a weak collegiate position player pool.

When it's time for the Orioles to pick, at least one of the top collegiate hurlers should be available as well as one among Buxton, Correa and Zunino. The Orioles seem set for now and in the near future at center field, shortstop and catcher, but Rajsich said his philosophy is to target the best player regardless of position or organizational need.

In the unlikely event Buxton is available at No. 4, it's hard to imagine the Orioles passing up a dynamic athlete with gap power, excellent speed and an arm so strong that his fastball has been clocked at 98 mph. Correa also may give the Orioles pause, especially considering he could eventually end up at third base.

Otherwise, bank on the Orioles taking a pitcher in the first round for the fourth time in five years. Zimmer and Gausman — both 6-feet-4 and hard-throwing — have been connected to the Orioles in recent weeks. Gausman is more established and has faced better competition, but Zimmer's intense mound presence and advanced command may put him a tick ahead.

One other option, albeit a slight long shot at No. 4, is California high school left-hander Max Fried, who is considered the best southpaw in the draft.

Rajsich said he and the organization will weigh all factors, and they hope to walk away with the highest-rated player available — whether it is a hitter or pitcher out of college or high school.

"I'm just looking at the best player, wherever he may be. I believe in balance," said Rajsich, who was hired in November after two-plus decades as a scout. "I have a short and long term goal for the organization. I believe in that mixture of older veteran players and younger players. I think it's very healthy to have both throughout development."


Orioles' potential draft targets

Mark Appel

Position: Right-handed pitcher

School/Class: Stanford University/junior

Height/Weight: 6-feet-5, 215 pounds

Bats/Throws: R/R

Skinny: Considered most polished pitcher in the draft. Has a mid-90s fastball that can run up to high-90s, a hard slider and improving changeup.

Byron Buxton

Position: Outfielder

School/Class: Appling County (Ga.) HS/senior

Height/Weight: 6-feet-2, 175 pounds

Bats/Throws: R/R

Skinny: Arguably the best all-around athlete in the draft with highest upside of any position player. Draws comparisons to B.J. and Justin Upton and former Oriole Eric Davis.

Carlos Correa

Position: Shortstop

School/Class: Puerto Rico Baseball Academy

Height/Weight: 6-feet-4, 190 pounds

Bats/Throws: R/R

Skinny: Perhaps no one in this draft has skyrocketed more in the last few weeks. A big, slick-fielding shortstop who can hit, scouts compare his tools to Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki.

Max Fried

Position: Left-handed pitcher

School/Class: Harvard-Westlake High (Calif.)/senior

Height/Weight: 6-feet-4, 180 pounds

Bats/Throws: L/L

Skinny: Widely considered the best draft-eligible lefty, prep or college. Can mix speeds on his fastball, which can reach in the mid-90s. Has a developing changeup and curve.

Kevin Gausman

Position: Right-handed pitcher

School/Class: LSU/sophomore

Height/Weight: 6-feet-4, 185 pounds

Bats/Throws: L/R

Skinny: Has worked extensively with LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn, the former Orioles' bullpen coach who was well-respected by club brass. Has a mid-90s fastball that can reach up to 97-98 mph. … His second best pitch is a big-league caliber changeup.

Kyle Zimmer

Position: Right-handed pitcher

School/Class: University of San Francisco/junior

Height/Weight: 6-feet-4, 220 pounds

Bats/Throws: R/R

Skinny: Fastball sits in mid-90s and tops at 99 mph. Also has a power curveball and throws a changeup and slider for strikes. Scouts love his demeanor and clean delivery.

For complete bios on each potential target, go to baltimoresun.com/oriolesinsider.

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