The Orioles’ new front-office regime for the first time completed half of its draft-and-develop backbone Wednesday, with the impact of the analytics-based approach already showing.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias and assistant general manager Sig Mejdal came over from the Houston Astros this offseason hoping to bring with them the same data-backed success the 2017 World Series champions enjoyed. Interim scouting director Brad Ciolek, retained amid the team’s front-office turnover, told The Baltimore Sun on Wednesday that the Orioles scouts he oversaw had access to statistical information they hadn’t previously had when evaluating players.
“Let’s just say that in years past, we’ve always taken a look at analytics, on the analytic side of things, but Mike and Sig bringing their philosophies over and their strategies from Houston, we were exposed to information we just didn’t have previously,” Ciolek said. “Being able to take all that information into account when making decisions in the evaluation process was a great exposure to, at least for me, to kind of take that information and encapsulate it into our decision-making process.”
The draft began with the Orioles taking Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman first overall, immediately establishing him as the face of their rebuild. Yet they hope many of their 40 picks who followed Rutschman also make contributions to an eventual turnaround.
In Rutschman, second-rounder Gunnar Henderson and competitive-balance pick Kyle Stowers, Ciolek thinks the Orioles finished the draft’s first day Monday with three players who project to hit for power.
“The one thing that we’re really happy is that at the top, we really got some elite talent to add to our farm system,” Ciolek said. “It’s obviously not every day you have a quality group of players, especially getting a guy like Adley Rutschman and then following it up with Gunnar Henderson at pick 42.”
Henderson, a high school shortstop from Alabama, was one of only eight high schoolers the Orioles selected, with six coming among their final seven picks. As more colleges steer toward analytics the way professional levels have, there has also been an increase in information about the players there compared to high schools. Although Ciolek said it was not necessarily an intent to prioritize collegiate amateurs, the amount of information available on them did not hurt.
“That’s just the way that the board came together,” he said. “With that said, there is more information that we have at our disposal for college players, and Sig and [data analyst] Michael Weis did an incredible job of tapping into that for us. And allowing us to complement that information with our scouting reports made us feel extremely confident in a lot of these college bats that we took and the college pitchers as well.”
The Orioles didn’t take a pitcher until the eighth round, again a result of how their draft board lined up with when they picked. But they went after them heavily Wednesday, at one point taking a college arm with 16 of 20 picks.
“We felt like the depth of quality college position players was very good,” Ciolek said, “and we felt that that was our main priority and focus the first few selections of the draft, and then we were able to find some pitching later on, a little bit further down in the draft, we thought was excellent value.”
Value came in other forms as well. The newly used data also allowed the Orioles’ analytics department to steer scouts toward certain players at smaller schools. Ciolek noted 14th-rounder Mason Janvrin, 15th-rounder Kyle Martin and 21st-rounder Toby Welk in particular.
“We have kind of adopted a philosophy that we’re gonna look and there will be no stone left unturned,” Ciolek said. “That’s also a great job that our analytics department did in giving us names of guys from smaller schools that may be underscouted and undervalued.
“Those are guys our analytics people kind of pinpointed for us, and our scouts did a good job of going out and rounding up and getting looks at these guys and then reporting back to us, and it made it possible for us to do our homework on them.”
As much as information played a role in the Orioles trying to capitalize on the past three days, so did communication. Ciolek called the past few months “pretty hectic” after transitioning from assistant scouting director to the interim role. But he also noticed that more emails, texts and phone calls were exchanged among staff than in years past to ensure everyone was on the same page.
“There was a transitional period, but I will say that with all the changes and new additions to our philosophy and strategy, I think that our scouts and our front-office staff has done an incredible job adjusting on the fly, so to speak,” Ciolek said. “I think we put forth a very good effort, and I’m excited to see what our hard work brings once we get these guys all signed up.”
Of course, the mission with this draft class turns toward the developmental portion of the organizational mission. After making an effort to sign their 41 selections, the Orioles will start the development process, hoping to build a layer toward a brighter future.
“We’re real pleased with how it turned out,” Ciolek said. “We’re excited to get these guys in black and orange.”
Ciolek on draftees
Here’s some of what Ciolek had to say about many of the Orioles’ early draftees.
Rutschman: “It’s not every day that you’re able to find a plus-hitter with plus-power from both sides of the plate, not to mention an elite defensive catcher behind the plate.”
Henderson: “He’s shown plus-power throughout the last year or so when we were scouting him on the circuit, and he’s got a plus-arm. He’s gonna stay probably on the left side of the infield. If he can’t stay at short, he has enough arm and defensive ability to stay at third.”
Stowers, a Stanford outfielder: “Kyle Stowers also has left-handed power. Showed that power out in the Cape and did an excellent job actually cutting down his strikeouts this past year with Stanford. Just taking that approach to the next level and we think that he’s versatile enough to play all three outfield positions, and he’s shown enough athleticism where he’ll be able to also play center field for us if needed.”
Stanford catcher Maverick Handley (sixth round): “We got Maverick Handley, who’s a very good catch-and-throw guy. We also think he’s capable of handling a pitching staff at the next level. He likes to show off his arm, and he’s a guy that’s gonna give you quality at-bats.”
TCU outfielder Johnny Rizer (seventh round): “Johnny Rizer, who’s a plus-defender in center field, he can really go out and catch the ball, and he’s had a great year for TCU.”
College of Charleston right-hander Griffin McLarty (eighth round): “His stuff has ticked up the last few weeks, and we’ve been kind of monitoring him all spring. He was actually up to 94 [mph] in his conference tournament. He shows a feel for four pitches, fills up the zone with strikes and he’s always shown the ability to get guys out. So, seeing the velocity uptick the last few weeks made us excited that we were able to get him where we were.”
VCU right-hander Connor Gillispie (ninth round): “Connor Gillispie at VCU has been up to 93 [mph], there’s been some deception in his delivery, allowing for his stuff to play up, and he does a good job of changing some eye levels and mixing all three of his pitches for strikes.”
On drafting corner infielder Andrew Daschbach in the 11th round as a third Stanford draftee: “We were actually joking about that, that we might be able to charter a plane once they’re all done playing and get them all in here at once.”
Pitt right-hander Dan Hammer (13th round): “We were excited to see Dan Hammer was there from the University of Pittsburgh. Dan is a guy that we’ve been kind of following since high school. He came out of the Philadelphia area, went to Father Judge High School, and even though he struggled some this year in the ACC, he’s touched 95 [mph] and has shown feel for a plus breaking ball. He had a good summer, and we’re looking forward to seeing if we can reproduce that once we get him ready to roll here with us.”
Janvrin, a Central Missouri outfielder: “He is a guy that has shown game-changing speed. He’s a true 80[-grade] runner, and Scott Thomas, our scout there, did a good job of keeping tabs on him throughout the spring. He can play center field for us at the next level. He has a very simple swing, but it has plus bat speed. He’s really an excellent ball-in-play [hitter] and we believe that we can hand [him] over to our development people, and he’s got a very high ceiling.”
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Martin, a Fordham right-hander: “Kind of a middle reliever, but he really comes out and challenges hitters. He has a bulldog mentality. Got a deceptive delivery, and he’s been up to 94 [mph]. He also has a changeup and slider, and it’s a really uncomfortable look for opposing hitters.”