Las Vegas — With a pair of open 40-man roster spots and the team's protracted managerial search occupying much of the time at this week's winter meetings, the Orioles' main roster-oriented activity this week will likely be Thursday's Rule 5 draft.
They hold the first overall pick, a distinction that came by virtue of their 115-loss season in 2018, and executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said they’d use that pick with a consideration toward talent instead of a positional need while keeping a list of possibilities for a second pick.
“We had a big meeting yesterday with all of our scouts — everyone who's here — to discuss the options,” Elias said Wednesday. “We're going to have another smaller option tonight and make a decision. We will use the pick, and we will have a list of players that if they're still available for the second pick, we'll use the second pick. But if those players all get taken, and we run out, we will not use the pick.”
Because the Houston Astros, Elias’ former club, spent so much time building up their farm system, they didn't really participate in the Rule 5 draft after the first year or two under general manager Jeff Luhnow. He did get utility man Marwin González in their first Rule 5 draft, but didn't keep a player they selected since reliever Josh Fields in 2012.
The Orioles, by contrast, loved the Rule 5 draft under executive vice president Dan Duquette. They got a utility infielder in Ryan Flaherty in 2011 and a bench outfielder in Joey Rickard in 2016. However, the total net contribution of their Rule 5 picks they've kept on the major league roster under Duquette (Flaherty, left-hander T.J. McFarland, right-hander Jason García, Rickard, outfielder Anthony Santander, left-hander Nestor Cortes Jr. and right-hander Pedro Araujo) is 1.2 wins above replacement (WAR), according to FanGraphs.
This year's crop of players might be the one to change that, depending on what Elias and his staff are looking for. The Orioles have holes in the middle of the infield and could probably use some starting and relieving depth, though the amount of optionable starting pitching depth they've acquired might make a starter who can't be optioned a bit moot this spring.
“The Rule 5 draft is tricky because they need to stay on the major league roster all year, so even when your approach is to go for the best talent available, which is our approach this year, you still have to be cognizant of, 'Boy, can we keep this guy on the roster all year?' ” Elias said. “Then, you have to start thinking about things like positions. I don't know how else to answer it except for it's a balancing act, but it is a secondary consideration in our case this year. We're going to be thinking about the talent first, and say, OK, can we successfully keep this player on the 25-man roster all year?”
Here are some players who might be in consideration when the Orioles make their selections in the Rule 5 draft Thursday, starting at noon:
Richie Martin, Oakland Athletics
A former first-round pick whose glove has never been in question, Martin was left unprotected because of questions over his bat. He broke out to the tune of a .300/.368/.429 batting line at Double-A Midland this year, with six home runs and 29 doubles, but the power and contact ability is new. One rival scout said the Orioles shouldn't overthink it and simply take Martin, plug him in at shortstop and move on to the next task. We'll see if it's that simple.
Jonathan Arauz, Houston Astros
Arauz was in Rookie ball when the Astros brought him back as an add-on in the Ken Giles trade with the Philadelphia Phillies during the 2015 winter meetings, and there's plenty of intelligence on him in the new Orioles' front office. Arauz hit well (.299/.392/.471) in Low-A in 2018, but struggled after a promotion to the Carolina League. Selecting him at this stage would be based on the belief that his glove could play in the majors, and that, despite his developing bat, his lack of strikeouts in the minors will be an asset.
Other names to note: Leonardo Rivas, Los Angeles Angesls; Chris Torres, Miami Marlins
Second base (and utility)
Tyler Krieger, Cleveland Indians
A teammate of Orioles utility man Steve Wilkerson at Clemson, Krieger would bring a lot of the same defensive capabilities to compete with him for that bench infield spot. A line-drive hitter who has always played steady second base, Krieger added left field and center field to his repertoire in his second go-around this summer at Double-A Akron, where he hit .276/.332/.372 with 22 doubles and five home runs.
Ray-Patrick Didder, Atlanta Braves
Didder has gotten a lot of love from the folks at Baseball America, who see his up-the-middle abilities in both the infield and outfield as assets a he grows into his swing and starts to make more contact. He hasn't shown the ability to do much more than hit singles, but he can steal bases and play solid defense if the opportunity arises.
D.J. Burt, Kansas City Royals
A repeater at High-A Wilmington this year, Burt hit .280 while playing second base, third base, shortstop and left field, but brings an intriguing combination of speed and on-base capability that could fit in well with some of the Orioles' new faces, such as Cedric Mullins and Jonathan Villar.
Drew Jackson, Los Angeles Dodgers
Even with four seasons in the minors on his resume, Jackson is still more promise than results after hitting .251/.356/.447 with 15 home runs and 20 doubles for Double-A Tulsa this year. He's got the arm for shortstop— as evidenced by his error count this year — and the speed to make an impact on the bases, but is still only coming into his own offensively. If the Orioles get the most out of his bat, he could be an interesting add.
Luis Carpio, New York Mets
Carpio, 21, hasn't hit for average or shown any kind of offensive consistency since Rookie ball, but he does have a decent approach and can handle any infield position. His 2016 shoulder injury might have something to do with that, but if there's confidence in the bat, it might not be the worst flier.
Other names to note: C.J. Hinojosa, San Francisco Giants; Daniel Brito, Phillies; José Gomez, Phillies
Just take the bat
Jake Gatewood, Milwaukee Brewers
A former first-round pick who hit 19 home runs at age 22 for Double-A Biloxi this year before tearing his ACL, Gatewood does plenty of damage when he makes contact but has some swing-and-miss problems. His injury could allow the Orioles to stash him on the disabled list early in the season and bring him along later in the year, perhaps when the roster is further culled by trades.
Max Schrock, St. Louis Cardinals
A true second baseman who added some third base this year in his first season in the Cardinals organization, Schrock has hit at every level except Triple-A. He never hit below .300 in any professional season before this year, when he batted .249 at Triple-A Memphis. His carrying tool is his ability to get the bat on the ball, making him difficult to strike out, though his swing hasn't produced much power to this point. He's a good table-setter in that sense, but won't be an asset defensively and might be limited to second base.
Jason Vosler, San Diego Padres
Traded to the San Diego Padres as they were trying to clear space on their 40-man roster, Vosler has impressed in the past few years with the Chicago Cubs' affiliates. Primarily a third baseman with some second base experience, Vosler hit 23 home runs with 29 doubles between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa, though there's some strikeout liability.
Cristian Santana, Los Angeles Dodgers
Despite the Orioles' best efforts to raid the Dodgers' affiliate at Rancho Cucamonga and take every performer they had in the Manny Machado trade, the 21-year-old Santana slipped through the cracks despite hitting 24 home runs there. With all the caveats about his power, Santana has youth on his side and the talent to grow into a good third baseman, though it's hard to project how well he'd handle the majors at this point.
David Thompson, Mets
Thompson had a lost 2018 because of a hand fracture, but hit .263 with 16 home runs and 29 doubles at Double-A Binghamton in 2017 and has the tools to handle third base. A right-handed hitter who handles both left- and right-handers well, Thompson could just be a flier on a bat that's grown into some power, though he is already 25.
Kean Wong, Tampa Bay Rays
A second baseman who has added some third base and left field recently, Wong has been solid but not spectacular with his bat at every level, finishing 2018 batting .282 with a .750 OPS and 23 doubles at Triple-A Durham. He could be developing power, but might just be what he is, though even that profile could be helpful to the Orioles.
Baltimore Orioles Insider
Riley Ferrell, Astros
A former third-round pick who signed for $1 million in 2015, Ferrell saw his walk rate explode in 2018 between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Fresno. Elias know him better than anyone else would, and if he believes the Astros left a possible gem out there, he'll look hard at bringing one last Houston piece north to Baltimore.
Tyler Kolek, Marlins
Kolek, a former first-round pick who the Astros did extensive work on in 2014 before ultimately selecting Brady Aiken, Kolek hasn't had nearly the stuff he entered pro ball with and has struggled with injuries. But if the stuff is still there, he could be worth a look despite his significant inexperience.
Jairo Beras, Texas Rangers
A converted right-hander with a serious fastball, Beras has a young arm and misses bats. Even though he has only 68 1/3 innings, a believer could stash him in a major league bullpen and hope the secondary pitches are good enough to allow him to hang with hitters who won't be afraid of his fastball.
Other names to note: Art Warren, Seattle Mariners; Junior Fernandez, Cardinals