05/27/05 8:00 AM ET
O's search for diamond in the rough
By Gary Washburn / MLB.com
With no second-round pick because of the signing of Miguel Tejada, the Orioles' top pick in last year's draft was third-round pick Jeff Fiorentino, now a popular name in Baltimore because he is the team's starting center fielder.
The Orioles can only hope to pluck out another Fiorentino type who can advance to the Major Leagues soon. But the Orioles don't feel burned by the entire Townsend fiasco.
"The only thing I think is relevant is we got a compensation pick for him," Orioles' first-year scouting director Joe Jordan said. "It doesn't affect our thinking at all. It's not going to influence our thinking whatsoever."
Townsend is eligible for this year's draft but the Orioles, with the knowledgeable Jordan at the helm, will try to draft for talent and not for need. The Orioles have a wealth of young talent in their lower levels and Jordan said they want to capitalize on their extra compensation pick -- No. 49 -- because of Townsend.
While the talent in the past few drafts has not been highly regarded, Jordan feels this draft has more potential. The Orioles would love to fill up on position players, especially power-hitting outfielders.
"More position players in the drafts than in the last few drafts," Jordan said. "There's a good mix of college and high school players. We have got a few more days left and we're going to compile a list of guys."
With the 13th pick, Jordan said he is unsure who will be available, so the club can't target one particular player. MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo projects the Orioles will select Jay Bruce, an outfielder from West Brook High School in Beaumont, Texas. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Bruce is considered one of the draft's most skilled high school players.
With three of the first 95 picks, the Orioles can add depth to their farm system. And some of the Orioles' recent draft nuggets -- Fiorentino, Hayden Penn, and John Maine -- have come in the third round or later.
"We like the depth of the draft," he said. "We feel like we're going to have a couple of options at 49 and 62. We're still high enough in the draft that we're going to get a guy that we really, really like. But the position players, that's really where the depth of the draft is."
Jordan admitted that clubs are wary of players represented by agent Scott Boras, who has two players -- Jered Weaver and Stephen Drew -- who will be re-entering the draft after not signing with their respective teams in 2004.
Signability has been an issue for the Orioles in the past few years. Even before the Townsend situation, 2002 first-round pick Adam Loewen waited until the 11th hour of the final day to sign in June 2003 and that may have derailed his on-field progress.
"The influence (of Boras) is probably affecting what a lot of teams do," Jordan said. "Signability is definitely an important part of what we do and how we will go. We want to make sure the kid we draft is part of our organization."
The Orioles have drafted an even mixture of high school and college talent in the past few years. Jordan said he has no inhibitions about drafting high school players, including pitchers. High school pitchers are considered the biggest draft risks because of their young age and propensity for arm injuries.
Jordan noted, however, that the Orioles have had their most trouble with college pitchers. Mike Paradis, Richard Stahl, Chris Smith and Beau Hale are all first-round college pitchers who either are languishing in the lower levels or in Paradis' case, out of the organization.
"I come from Montreal and Florida (systems) and in my personal opinion, it's all about taking the right guys," Jordan said. "Sometimes they were burned because they took the wrong guy. I am not opposed to taking a high school pitcher if he's the best guy on the board. There is nothing wrong with starting a guy in your organization at age 18 where he can begin learning your philosophy at an early age. It's all about getting the right guys for your system."
The Orioles have been criticized in the past for their poor drafts, but they have fared well in the past few years. Their top pick in 2004 is already in the Major Leagues while their first-round pick in 2003 has not disappointed.
Meanwhile, the their Minor League teams are filled with promising players from recent drafts, including Penn and Maine. Here's a look at the top picks from their past three drafts and how they are faring:
Jeff Fiorentino, OF, 2004, Pick #79: Fiorentino, a third-round pick, is now with the Major League team after making the improbable jump from Class A ball in May. Fiorentino has emerged as the Orioles' everyday center fielder. Fiorentino was the Orioles' highest pick because Townsend did not sign and returned to Rice University.
Nick Markakis, OF, 2003, Pick #7: Considered a fine all-around player, Markakis is flourishing for Class A Frederick after a solid year for Delmarva last season. Markakis is taking the fast road to the Majors and likely would have been called up instead of Fiorentino had he not injured his shoulder.
Adam Loewen, P, 2002, Pick #4: The Canadian left-hander has been inconsistent in his two years in the system and is still pitching for Class A Frederick. His contract stipulates that he must make the Major League roster by 2007 or be placed on waivers, so his clock is ticking.
Gary Washburn is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.