Before we fall too deep into the throes of Adley Rutschmania, let’s keep in mind there are 29 other major league teams telling their fans about all the promising young players they selected during the three days of this year’s Major League Baseball draft.
That’s not meant to throw a wet tarp over the Orioles and the pending arrival of the best college baseball player in the country. It’s just a reminder that there is no such thing as a can’t-miss prospect and the vast majority of the 1,200-plus players chosen in each year’s draft never make a significant impact at the big league level.
Now, you’re free to resume feeling pretty darn good about this important juncture in executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias’ organizational overhaul. The Orioles have a right to do some chest-thumping after drafting Rutschman, who is a fantastic prospect and — hopefully — the face of a truly transformative moment in team history.
It certainly should be viewed as a sign that ownership is committed to doing whatever it takes to acquire top talent as the new front office moves on to the international phase of its player development strategy next month.
Of course, the importance of this year’s draft goes way beyond Rutschman. The Orioles have drafted and signed several of the most highly regarded amateur players in the sport over the past decade — and gotten their money’s worth from some of them — but still spent much of that time getting little respect for the depth of their overall minor league talent.
Elias made it clear that his top priority was to change that — to create an “elite talent pipeline” that would carry the team back to prominence and keep it there.
There are several ways to do that. But the best way is to string together several productive drafts that dramatically repopulate the farm system to create future major leaguers and the valuable trade chips necessary to put the finishing touches on an emerging ballclub.
Whether this is the start of that obviously will not be known for quite a while, but fans have reason to feel confident that Elias and his staff possess the know-how to identify the best talent in both the draft and the international free-agent market.
There also is room for some healthy apprehension, since every great draft is as much the product of good fortune as it is the result of keen organizational insight and solid preparation. You have to be lucky and good, and the Orioles badly need the draft portion of the rebuild to get off to a strong start.
This has always figured to be a deliberate process. It’s still too early to fully evaluate the talent that former baseball operations chief Dan Duquette acquired when he traded away the veteran nucleus of of the team last July. It’s also too early to tell which of the young players Elias brought in as placeholders this season will actually earn a place in the club’s long-term plans.
Rookie shortstop Richie Martin, for instance, has shown he’s a capable defensive infielder and could own the position if he can grow into a solid on-base guy. But the club used the top pick of the second round to draft high school shortstop Gunnar Henderson, and also took shortstops Joseph Ortiz and Darrell Hernaiz with their fourth- and fifth-round picks, respectively.
Make of that what you will, but good middle infielders are always in demand and remember that the best shortstop prospect of the past decade — Manny Machado, the Orioles’ 2010 top draft choice — has spent all but 226 of his 986 major league games at third base.
The fact that the Orioles took two catchers and three shortstops in the first six rounds suggests Elias was fully in a best-player-available mode. The most curious thing about the front end of his first Orioles draft was the lack of any pitching until well into day two. But the balance of talent in this draft clearly leaned toward position players.
The first pitcher selected by the Orioles was College of Charleston right-hander Griffin McLarty in the eighth round, and they followed that up by taking Virginia Commonwealth right-hander Connor Gillispie with their next pick.
It wasn’t an indication that Elias is comfortable with the club’s minor league pitching depth, but that the Orioles clearly feature a higher level of pure talent at the lower levels of the system than what has been shuttling back and forth from Triple-A Norfolk.
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Though Elias has shown this season that he’s not willing to rush the process, the first two days of the draft showed that he’s not planning to drag it out either. All but two of their first 34 picks were college players, which should hearten Orioles fans who don’t want to wait forever to enjoy their next contending team.