O's looking to develop through Draft
Team focusing on picking best player available at No. 4
The Orioles may not be obsessing over their Draft slot, but they're determined to find a way to rebuild their organization through drafting and development. Baltimore has spent a lot of time and energy grooming the pitching stock in the farm system and is beginning to see the fruits of that process, but the offensive side of the equation still needs work. That may or may not be the priority this year, but the Orioles are all but certain to find a player they like with their top overall selection.
"I think the top of the draft is going to be pretty good," said Joe Jordan, Baltimore's director of scouting. "It's been a little bit of an up-and-down year so far, but we've gotten good looks at many of the better players in the country. We pick fourth, and I think we're going to be in good shape with that pick.
"But it's like every other year as far as forecasting what's going to happen beyond that and what we'll pick from."
MLB.com will carry every pick of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, which takes place June 5-6 at The Milk House at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, Fla. Day 1 coverage begins at 2 p.m. ET with a simulcast of ESPN2's broadcast of the first round and compensation picks. The remaining rounds on Day 1 will be shown exclusively at MLB.com, with live analysis on site from MLB.com Draft guru Jonathan Mayo.
Several of the top amateur prospects are expected to be in attendance in Orlando for Day 1 of the Draft, and each of the 30 Major League Clubs will be represented by front office executives and baseball luminaries. Fans are welcome to attend Day 1 of the Draft, and admission to The Milk House is free, with seating limited to a first-come, first-serve basis.
Day 2 will get under way at 11:30 a.m. ET and continue through Round 50, if necessary. Every pick on Day 2 can be heard live at MLB.com.
Here's a glance at what the Orioles have in store as the First-Year Player Draft approaches:
In about 50 words
The Orioles are picking fourth, one spot higher than last year and a perch tied for the second-highest in franchise history. Baltimore hasn't picked fourth since 2002, when it selected Adam Loewen. The Orioles also drafted Jeffrey Hammonds and Gregg Olson with the fourth pick, setting high hopes for their latest chance in that position.
"I think the reality is that picking that high, you've got to take what you feel is the best player," said Jordan. "If it happens to fit an organizational need or philosophy, that's fine. I always try to keep my focus on the long term. The Baltimore Orioles are going to be in existence five years from now and 10 years from now, so we need to take the best player."
Many analysts had said that there is a big gap after the fifth or sixth pick, and Jordan said recently that he's thrilled to have a crack at one of the top talents in the country. However, he also said he wouldn't mind seeing what it's like to pick late. "I think your options are better," Jordan said of the fourth pick. "I mean, I'd like to be able to pick 30 next year just because it will mean we're winning at the big league level. Picking high doesn't really factor in at all as far as more pressure. You want to get them right, so it doesn't really matter where you pick. Besides, we picked five last year, so there's not much difference."
The Orioles can go in several directions with their top pick, and they'll have several options on the offensive end. Baltimore may be enticed by college infielders Pedro Alvarez and Gordon Beckham, but left-handed pitcher Brian Matusz will also be on the radar screen if he's still available. Tim Beckham, widely expected to be the first or second pick in the Draft, would also make sense in Baltimore if he slips.
After concentrating on pitching for the last few Drafts, Baltimore has a cupboard full of high-caliber arms that stretch from the lower levels of the organization to the top. But the system is all but bereft of premium position players, with the notable exceptions of recent first-round picks Wieters, Billy Rowell and Brandon Snyder. Wieters is projected to be a year or two away from the Majors, but the Orioles may eventually have to supplement him with more offensive firepower.
The Orioles tilted extremely heavily toward pitching last year, with 17 of their first 25 picks being used on college arms. Forty of their 48 picks had some college experience, and exactly half of their picks were pitchers. Baltimore may be a little more diverse this year, but Jordan said that the economics of the game won't be a huge factor.
Baltimore signed Wieters a matter of minutes before the deadline and inked fifth-round pick Jake Arrieta to a lucrative deal. This year, Jordan said the Orioles will continue to focus on talent and worry about the dollar signs later.
"I don't look for us to do any type of signability pick," he said. "We're trying to line the country up according to ability, and that's what we'll do. The economics come into play just before the draft. We've got to present to the entire front office what we feel like is the best talent in the country and line them up the way we like them. And then the economics come in at the end."
Recent top picks
Wieters is tearing it up at Class A Frederick and was recently named the organization's Player of the Month. He'll likely be promoted to Double-A Bowie by the end of the season. The prognosis isn't as clear for Rowell and Snyder. Rowell was slowed by an ankle injury and is just getting up to speed at Frederick, while Snyder has gotten off to a slow start. Neither Rowell nor Snyder is on the immediate horizon, but Wieters may be in the Majors by the end of 2009.
Chorye Spoone, a right-handed pitcher selected in the fifth round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, has blown through the organization and is currently starting for Bowie. Spoone, a native of Pasadena, Maryland, is 2-1 with a 4.67 ERA through his first four starts and is currently battling a case of tendinitis in his right biceps
Outfielder Brandon Tripp, a 12th-round pick in 2006, batted his way to the organization's Player of the Year award last season and is off to a fast start for Frederick. Tripp is batting .288 with seven home runs and a .362 on-base percentage through his first 30 games, and the Orioles may eventually have to test him at Bowie to see if he's for real.
In The Show
Southpaw Garrett Olson was the first pick from Baltimore's '05 draft to make it to the Majors, and the Orioles are patiently waiting on development from their prospects in the last two Drafts. Wieters, believed by many to be the top position player in the '07 Draft, is the rare exception who may be pushed ambitiously without fear of risking his development.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.