The Orioles were without first- and second-round draft picks this year, but that didn't stop Gary Rajsich, the club's director of scouting, from being excited about his new crop of players, including the three pitchers he introduced to the media and fans Thursday before the game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Camden Yards.
"We're always looking for athletic throwers, guys that throw hard, guys that have good deliveries and good upside. And I think this year we came away with three really good ones," said Rajsich, who was in his third draft with the organization. "Heading into the draft, I was a little skeptical [about] what we could come away with. But this year, I think we hit the jackpot."
The club lost its first-round pick for signing right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, its competitive balance pick after the first round for acquiring right-hander Bud Norris in a trade last season, and its second-round pick for signing outfielder Nelson Cruz.
But Rajsich believed he got a trio of top 100 players with the club's first three selections in last week's draft — left-hander Brian Gonzalez from highly regarded Archbishop McCarthy High School near Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in the third round; University of Notre Dame right-hander and basketball player Pat Connaughton in the fourth round; and Tennessee Tech right-hander David Hess in the fifth round.
"It was honestly a dream come true. I knew the Orioles had interest in me. I didn't really expect it," said Gonzalez, who declined a scholarship to the University of Miami to join the Orioles. "For me to be here is a blessing, and it's a great opportunity. I can't wait to go out there and start playing."
Rajsich said the three pitchers will begin their professional careers with the Gulf Coast League Orioles and, after several weeks of instruction in Sarasota, Fla., at least two likely will end up at short-season Single-A Aberdeen this season.
Connaughton will have to leave the organization around Aug. 1 for his senior year at Notre Dame. He'll graduate in December with a degree in business management, play on the Fighting Irish basketball team this winter and spring, and then re-join the Orioles in March or April once his basketball career ends.
"I'll be degree in hand, basketball obligation complete, and I'll be able to attack this thing full-time," said Connaughton, who is listed as 6 feet 5. "Once basketball's over, I'll come back and do whatever they want me to do and, I think, put myself in the best position to succeed."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter joked that he was hoping for an early tournament exit next year for Notre Damethe Irish.
"I've become a Notre Dame basketball fan, [but] I'm not pulling for them to go into the postseason," Showalter said. "Everybody from an Irish Catholic background, I apologize."
Hess said he played on a Little League Orioles team when he was young, so he was particularly excited about being drafted by the major league club.
"To get picked by them is a cool little thing for me," he said. "I can't explain how excited I am to be here and be part of his organization."
The Orioles do not confirm signing bonuses, but with the new collective bargaining agreement, picks usually agree to close to their suggested slot values. The 90th spot, where Gonzalez was selected, was slotted at $594,200, Connaughton's 121st spot was valued at $428,100 and the 151st pick, where Hess was taken, was slotted for $320,500. Without giving specifics, Rajsich said one player signed above slot, one at slot and one under.
The Orioles also announced Thursday that they had signed infielder Stephen Wilkerson (eighth round) and outfielder Jay Gonzalez (10th round), and both will report to Aberdeen.
Rajsich said he is "almost done" negotiating with this year's picks, less than a week after the draft was completed. He expects to sign between "30 and 32" of the 38 selections, including at least seven of the first eight. The Orioles are expected to announce the full signing list within the next week or so, once physicals are completed, Rajsich said.
Right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (right oblique strain) was back in the clubhouse Thursday after throwing 41/3 scoreless innings in a minor league rehabilitation start Wednesday at Double-A Bowie. Gonzalez is eligible to come off the disabled list Sunday, but he may not be activated until a day or two later if he is going to start against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.
"He's close," Showalter said of Gonzalez. "The earliest you could use him is Sunday and that would be … out of the bullpen, if there's a need. I'd like to not do that."
Gonzalez said he hopes to make his next start in the major leagues.
"That's my goal. It depends on what moves we're going to make and what's going to happen," Gonzalez said. "I can't worry about that. I'm going to be out here cheering for the guys. We're doing a good job now."
The decision to activate Gonzalez also could depend on when third baseman Manny Machado serves his suspension. Machado has appealed the five-game suspension in hopes of getting it reduced, but he conceivably could drop the appeal.
Once Machado accepts the penalty, the Orioles will need to play one man down and will have to call-up another infielder — the most likely candidate is Steve Lombardozzi — so activating Gonzalez as well would create a roster crunch.
The flip side, though, is that Gonzalez has excelled at Tropicana Field, going 2-1 with a 1.75 ERA in four career starts.
No six-man rotation, Showalter says
Once Gonzalez returns, the club needs to make room for him in the rotation. Right-hander Kevin Gausman has made three starts this season, including Thursday against the Blue Jays, and could be sent back to Triple-A Norfolk or put into the bullpen.
Showalter had said previously that a six-man rotation was an option, but Thursday he reiterated that mentioning that possibility was a mistake.
"Talk about regrets, I have a few. Bringing that up," Showalter joked.
He also said that going to a four-man rotation in this era of baseball is too difficult to work — even if he had two pitchers who could serve as long relievers-spot starters. So a five-man rotation seems like the best bet.
"They need to get the ball every fifth day," Showalter said. "They need their work day. … It's that time of the year now. I think just about all of our pitchers are looking toward a set every fifth-day thing."
Around the horn
With his seventh-inning RBI double, right fielder Nick Markakis passed Brian Roberts for seventh place on the Orioles' all-time hit list with 1,453. He had tied Roberts with a first-inning single. Ken Singleton is sixth with 1,455. … Machado's second-inning double snapped an 0-for-18 drought. … Nolan Reimold continued his rehab assignment at Bowie, playing left field Thursday. He was 1-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored before being replaced by Chih-Hsien Chiang in the top of the seventh inning. … Left-hander Zach Britton will sign autographs from noon to 1 p.m. Friday at the team store at the York Galleria in York, Pa.