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Recent Orioles drafts didn't leave cupboard bare, could deliver early impact for new regime

Left-hander DL Hall, the Orioles' 2017 first-round draft pick, is pitching for High-A Frederick this season.
Left-hander DL Hall, the Orioles' 2017 first-round draft pick, is pitching for High-A Frederick this season. (Patrick Cavey / Frederick Keys)

First-year executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias is trying to transform the Orioles into a drafting-and-development organization.

If he delivers on his promise, some of the first truly impactful pieces to arrive at the big league level might be the last two first-round draft picks he inherited, left-hander DL Hall and right-hander Grayson Rodriguez.

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Especially in Rodriguez — and then down to Hall and any number of recent high draft picks such as Blaine Knight, Zac Lowther, Michael Baumann, and even resurgent first-round picks Hunter Harvey and Cody Sedlock — the Orioles' new brass is finding one of the hallmarks of the team's minor leagues: plenty of promise at draft time with little of it realized in a meaningful way at the major league level.

Elias, who came up as a scout and scouting supervisor with the St. Louis Cardinals before going to the Houston Astros in a director role, said over a decade on the scouting side means he knew many of the Orioles scouts when he took the job and thinks they've done some good with Baltimore.

“Our scouts here with the Orioles have had success," Elias said. "We've made some really smart picks. We've got a lot of really good pitchers in the system right now, as I've discussed, and our previous two first-round draft picks are doing really well. That's exciting."

Several of the core players the Orioles drafted who helped return the franchise to success over the past decade have left via free agency or trade, such as Nick Markakis, Manny Machado and Zack Britton. So, the current team lacks much homegrown star power.

Dylan Bundy, a 2011 first-round pick, is in the rotation with David Hess and John Means; Trey Mancini is leading the offense; and 2015 first-round pick DJ Stewart, Stevie Wilkerson and Austin Wynns are trying to solidify themselves as major leaguers. In the bullpen, there's former high draft picks Mychal Givens and Branden Kline.

Only Mancini, Bundy and Givens have achieved any kind of sustained major league success, but they were all part of strong draft classes.

Several recent Orioles drafts produced players who came right up to help a team in its pursuit of playoff success, such as 2012 first-round pick Kevin Gausman. But the drawback of some Orioles drafts under former executive vice president Dan Duquette was that they were too top-heavy. The 2012 Gausman draft is an example, as Kline is the fourth player to make the majors while the other two — Milwaukee Brewers left-hander Josh Hader and Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Christian Walker — never got to make an impact with the Orioles.

The 2013 draft, headlined by Harvey, has produced nine major leaguers after Mike Yastrzemski debuted with the San Francisco Giants last weekend. Outside of Mancini, the standout of the group, the draft produced two catchers trying to become everyday major leaguers (Wynns and Chance Sisco), two left-handers the Orioles traded for disappointing outfielder Travis Snider in 2015 (Steven Brault and Stephen Tarpley) and two relievers (Jimmy Yacabonis and Donnie Hart).

The star of the Orioles rotation this season, left-hander Means, has produced 1.8 wins above replacement according to Baseball Reference to make him by far the most valuable player from a 2014 draft class that featured Hess, reliever Tanner Scott and Wilkerson.

Stewart is the only 2015 draftee in the majors with the Orioles. Fellow outfielder Cedric Mullins is trying to get back on track in the minors after a bad first month in the majors and reliever Ryan Meisinger was lost on waivers this past offseason. Outfielder Austin Hays was the first member of the 2016 draft for any team to make the majors after he tore through the minors in 2017, but he hasn't been back since.

That leaves the new regime in the position of having two bubbles of players — those who had their major league clocks started before Elias and manager Brandon Hyde arrived, and those who didn’t. The first group, including Hays, Sisco, Mullins and Stewart, might have been brought to the majors quicker than Elias and Hyde would now expect for a major league-ready prospect. There will be much more measured development tracks for high-minors draftees such as Ryan Mountcastle and Ryan McKenna.

But it's the pitchers who Elias and Hyde will likely be able to get the most out of, and that's no accident. The Astros became known for the advantages they were able to glean from the plentiful information streams that come from every baseball game — especially in college with pitch- and motion-tracking systems, such as TrackMan. But the Orioles weren't completely out of the mix with such information.

In the past, the Orioles used those tools to help identify second-round left-handers Keegan Akin and Zac Lowther, who are probably among the three homegrown Orioles starters closest to being major league-ready. Some teams will have found that 2018 third-rounder Blaine Knight had what one scout called "ridiculous" spin rate on his breaking balls as he mowed down Southeastern Conference hitters last year at Arkansas.

Those measurables are more available on college pitchers, where the Astros have gotten some real value in recent years and the Orioles, to a lesser extent, can say the same.

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But now with two years worth of highly drafted pitchers — such as Rodriguez, Knight, Drew Rom, Hall, Lowther and Baumann — taking steps forward under the new pitching program installed by minor league pitching coordinator Chris Holt, it's clear there's been at least some overlap in what the Orioles were doing and what the new regime might want.

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