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Despite MLB lockout, Orioles have chance to add talent at margins with this week’s minor league Rule 5 draft

Had MLB’s owners not locked the players out, the Orioles’ brass and their personnel staff would be at baseball’s winter meetings to further build out the 2022 roster and stay plugged in with the game’s latest developments.

As it stands, there’s only one traditional piece of business that will be held as normal: Wednesday afternoon’s minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft.

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The signings of Rougned Odor and Jordan Lyles meant that this year’s major league phase of the Rule 5 draft wouldn’t have been the only way the Orioles added to their roster.

In the minor league Rule 5 draft, teams can select any player who is not on a 40-man roster and has been in professional baseball for at least three (for college draftees) or four years (for younger signees). Teams also have a 38-man reserve list for Triple-A players not on the 40-man roster to protect them from being selected by other teams.

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Perhaps because even the third and fourth tiers of the Orioles’ farm system can be more fascinating than watching the major league team at times, some of the names the Orioles brought in via that avenue in recent years might be familiar.

They took hard-throwing right-hander Taylor Grover on the strength of some videos on the popular Twitter account Pitching Ninja in 2018, but he struggled when he got to Double-A Bowie in 2019. A year later, they selected outfielder Cristopher Cespedes and infielder Wilbis Santiago from the Cleveland Indians.

Santiago spent some time at Double-A Bowie this summer before being released, but Cespedes made far more of an impression. The 23-year-old outfielder hit 15 home runs with a .738 OPS between Low-A Delmarva and High-A Aberdeen.

The 2021 minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft produced catcher Chris Hudgins, a regular contributor at Bowiewho deputized for Adley Rutschman when baseball’s top prospect wasn’t behind the plate.

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Hudgins had nine home runs and a .661 OPS with good defense, while reliever Rickey Ramirez, the other pick in the minor league phase, missed the first half of the season before spending the end of the year at Delmarva.

One thing this Orioles offseason has taught observers is that they’re not discerning where the talent comes from as long as it exists. Last month, they added a pair of unheralded, albeit interesting, relievers in Félix Bautista and Logan Gillaspie to the 40-man roster to protect them from the now-postponed major league portion of the Rule 5 draft because of their pitch traits.

Bautista, a 26-year-old who has been in their system since 2016 with a high-90s fastball, hadn’t pitched above A-ball until this year but has undeniable velocity and bat-missing ability in the strike zone. Gillaspie was signed out of independent ball this summer with a hoppy fastball and good breaking ball and was deemed worthy of using a major league roster spot on.

If those kinds of pitch traits are available in the minor league Rule 5 draft, the Orioles will target them. The same goes for hard contact ability, which is a key evaluation tool the Orioles use on players inside and outside their organization.

Whether there’s any value in what the Orioles add this week long-term will likely be determined years from now — such players who aren’t on the Triple-A reserve list are often younger players without much experience.

In what will be a quiet offseason for the Orioles and the rest of the game, though, any kind of event like this is at least worth following.

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