In 1978, the Orioles used their second-round draft pick on an infielder that most teams had projected as a pitcher. They weren’t going to let the son of Cal Ripken Sr. elude their grasp.
Thirty four years later, the Orioles dipped back into that gene pool, drafting Ryan Ripken — son of Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. — with the 612th overall selection in the 20th round of baseball’s amateur draft.
The 6-foot-6, left-handed first baseman — once best known for squirming around his father during some of the most memorable moments in Orioles history — batted .377 with 25 RBIs in his senior season at Gilman. He also went 4-1 on the mound with a 2.30 ERA and was named an all-star in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association.
“First of all, this kid’s got a chance to be a good player,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said from Boston before Wednesday night’s game against the Red Sox. “His last name being Ripken is after the fact. He is an interesting prospect. Obviously, he’s had the right things taught and said to him, and I’m sure he has a grip on reality on how professional baseball works, growing up in it.”
Ripken, 18, now faces the reality of deciding whether to sign with the team his surname has become synonymous with — or pursue a collegiate career at South Carolina.
If he signs with the Orioles, his signing bonus cannot exceed $100,000, otherwise it would count against the O’s cap for bonuses they can pay to their top 10 picks.
If he joins the two-time defending national champion Gamecocks, he wouldn’t be eligible to be drafted again until the year of his junior season.
“I am excited and honored to have been drafted by the Orioles,” Ripken said in a statement released by a family spokesman. “As everyone knows, the Orioles are tied so closely to my family through my grandfather, uncle [Billy Ripken] and my dad. They have been my team for as long as I can remember so that makes this moment that much more special. Right now I am enjoying the moment with my mom, dad and sister as I prepare to graduate from Gilman this weekend.”
Cal Ripken Jr. also released a statement through the family spokesman.
"[My wife] Kelly and I are very happy for Ryan and proud of him,” he said. “This is an exciting day for him and one that he has earned through his hard work. Being drafted is a great thrill for any young ballplayer and Ryan is no different. The fact that he was selected by his hometown team is special and memorable."
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said he expects Ripken to go to college, but that it was still worth using a pick on him.
“The Ripken family has had a long association with the Orioles,” Duquette said. “He’s a good athlete in his own right. We thought it was the right thing to do, to draft him. He’s got a good opportunity to go to South Carolina. We expect he’ll go to South Carolina. But we thought it was the right thing to do to draft him today.”
Ripken has been described by Gilman coach Larry Sheets, a former teammate of Cal Jr.’s on the Orioles, as “a tremendous leader on our team, not verbally but by the way he played. His knowledge of the game is far superior to most high school players.”
Sheets said in a text message Wednesday that he’s confident Ripken will make the best decision for his future.
“I think it's both exciting and rewarding that Ryan was drafted by the Orioles today,” Sheets wrote. “I'm sure that he will think about it and make the right decision as far as what he is going to do from this point on.”
Ripken was also a basketball star at Gilman, surpassing 1,000 career points and leading the Greyhounds to the MIAA B Conference title this winter.
He wasn’t the only player with local ties that the Orioles selected on the final day of the draft. A round earlier, they took left-hander pitcher Josh Hader out of Old Mill High School in Anne Arundel County. Hader went 10-0 with an 0.39 ERA and 125 strikeouts in 72 2/3 innings this spring.
They also tested the gene theory in another instance, drafting bench coach John Russell’s son Steel, a catcher from Midland Junior College in Texas, in the 32nd round. They already have Steve Tolleson, the son of former major leaguer Wayne Tolleson, on the 25-man roster.
“It’s the same thing with Steel and Tolleson and different guys like that,” Showalter said. “That’s one thing that makes them attractive. It all started with what we think [Ripken] can be. You can’t teach 6-foot-6 and left-handed. That happens naturally, good genes.”
A few other local notes...
St. Paul’s grad John Kuchno was taken in the 18th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Kuchno pitched for Ohio State this year.
The Milwaukee Brewers selected University of Maryland senior shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez, who is from Oak Hill, Va., in the 17th round. It’s the second year in a row Brewers have taken him.
The New York Yankees picked Terps lefty James Reed, of Gaithersburg, in the 21st round.
Patrick Blair, a Calvert Hall alum and Wake Forest junior shortstop went to the Astros with the first pick of the 24th round.