Baseball drafts are funny things

The Orioles and Nationals will look to the future tonight as they harvest the best amateur talent in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. This time of year, amid all of the predictions, it’s hard not to look back.

For the rest of you baseball junkies who have nothing better to than to look back at previous draft orders like me, I highly recommend doing so. It’s amazing to see who was passed up and how many first overall picks were misses. My favorite was the 2008 draft. Tim Beckham went No. 1 to the Rays. He’s yet to see the big leagues and is currently serving a 50-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Meanwhile, Brett Lawrie and Jemile Weeks weren’t even in the top 10.

In the mid-Atlantic region, Saturday night was a showcase of first-rounders. Both the Orioles and Nationals trotted two of their former top picks out to the mound. Both came back with wins. Both, however, have been a tale of two very different picks.

The Nationals’ 2009 No. 1 overall pick, Stephen Strasburg, struck out nine batters in seven scoreless innings against the Braves that night. The Orioles’ 2008 fourth overall pick, Brian Matusz, pitched his best outing of the year against Tampa Bay, giving up just one earned run and striking out seven in 7 1/3 innings.

If both organizations would have gazed into their crystal balls and saw those two lines as samples of what they’d be getting once Matusz and Strasburg arrived in the big leagues, you can bet there would have been high fives all around the war room that draft day.

But it hasn’t been that simple, and drafting talent in the first round isn’t that easy.

Going back to the years both players were drafted, there wasn’t much debate. Any team in baseball would have taken Strasburg if they owned that top pick. Out of San Diego State, the righty was as sure-fire as they get. And any team looking for a pitcher in 2008 would have taken Brian Matusz. It was a position player-heavy draft, but Matusz was the first pitcher taken at No. 4.

Today, Strasburg has one of the best ERAs in baseball, but the Nats had to endure losing their prized pick for most of the 2011 season to Tommy John surgery. Meanwhile, Matusz continues to battle back from a disastrous 2011 season. Saturday night was another baby step in the right direction, but it hasn’t been easy for the lefty. Neither player’s journey has been picture-perfect.

As for position players, the Nationals have been been more than pleased with the first month and a half of Bryce Harper’s big league career. His .288 batting average with five homers is impressive, especially for a 19-year-old. I’m going to go out on a limb and say no one will look back on the Nationals’ 2010 first overall pick as a bust. But that’s just me.

I know this will strike a chord with O’s fans, but the verdict is still out on the Orioles’ biggest first-round pick in recent history, Matt Wieters. He’s an All-Star and is undoubtedly one of the best defensive catchers in the game. But a .261 career batting average over his first three and a half years of his major league career is a little concerning. I’d love to see Wieters hit more consistently and when it’s all said and done, he probably will. But for a man who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as the next big thing, the offensive numbers have been subpar. Still, I believe there isn’t a manager in baseball that wouldn’t want Wieters on his roster.

Who will be the next talents the Orioles and Nats put their faith in? We’ll find out tonight. The Orioles have the fourth overall pick once again. For a team that has been so committed to using top picks on pitching, it will be interesting to see if they go for areas of need, like corner infield.

The Nationals do not have a top-10 draft pick for the first time since 2006. They sit at No. 16. Will they go for a left-handed hitting outfielder or continue to stock the farm system with power arms after losing Brad Peacock, A.J. Cole and Tom Milone in the Gio Gonzalez trade?

Whoever both teams pick, you can be sure on some random night five years from now, we’ll be evaluating them, as well.