Jon Shepherd: Looking back on this year's draft

When the Orioles chose to sign what Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz, two free-agent stragglers with free-agent compensation attached to them, it was a blessing and a curse for the amateur scouts in the organization.

Bad news first - the curse was the continual loss of top selections in the draft. Add in the loss of a competitive pick, which the team dealt in the Bud Norris trade last year, and the Orioles handed over three picks over the first two rounds. The major league draft is one where talent is somewhat exponentially found in the front end, so those moves precluded the Orioles from selecting any obvious elite prospects. For instance, the average production of a first-round pick is about 15 times better than the average third-round pick. In other words, the Orioles potentially lost out on a lot of talent and future cheap production in exchange for three bona fide major leaguers.

However, talent distribution is based on historical averages and one can lay claim that this situation the Orioles found themselves in is not typical. By exchanging out their top three selections for established players, they effectively shrank the world of prospects for their amateur scouts. This created the opportunity for the team to ignore evaluating top-tier talent and focus instead on lower, fringe talent.

That may be why fans and talking heads alike were slightly confused over the team's selections. For instance, the Orioles selected Brian Gonzalez with the 90th pick in the draft after he was ranked 386th overall by Baseball America. Based on my conversations with talent evaluators and a scout, Gonzalez was considered by some to be a successful high school player with limited upside. He had a big body, was not particularly athletic and could use college to find that he might become more playable with his bat. Keith Law mentioned Gonzalez as the most questionable selection from any AL East team on the second day of the draft.

That said, it is possible that Gonzalez requires several views to appreciate what he can become. Perhaps, a varied sampling of scouts watching Gonzalez over a few performances, some overlapping, may describe a lackluster player while a more focused evaluation might turn over attributes that can be linked to future success.

Although not seen as much of a stretch last year, Hunter Harvey was not seen as the success he is becoming. He was described as a low-90s pitcher with a developing breaking ball, but no usable changeup. The Orioles slightly tweaked his mechanics and he now potentially holds two plus fastballs, a plus breaking ball, and a plus changeup. The fastball is the only one consistent among those, but the others have that promise. Maybe Gonzalez is similar, but there is a difference between a miss of a handful of picks versus Gonzalez being taken a couple rounds late.

As the draft progressed, the following selections came mainly from the college ranks, which I found surprising. The club selected college players from the fourth round through the 14th round and then sprinkled in some prep players. Most of those college players appear to be signings in the $5,000 to $10,000 bonus range. I had thought if a team had the ability to ignore top talent that it could invest more in high school talent in terms of looks by their scouts. That is the level where I would presume that there is the least information and the statistics are almost useless. That level is where a team with increased scouting may be able to gain an advantage.

At the college level, the players are largely well-known and teams, for the most part, know how far to use statistics earned at the level. College is the place where I would presume it would cost more to improve over other clubs than it would at the high school level.

In the end, though, you have to trust in your scouts to carry the water. Yes, the team wound up selecting a collection of players dissimilar to Baseball America's ranking, but one needs to note that those are not consensus rankings. There are no such things as consensus rankings among major league teams. Those rankings are developed from conversations with professional scouts and front-office folks. The crew at Baseball America then sorts through that information and comes up with a decent list that was 500 players deep this year.

The truth is that most teams do not rank players 500 deep. You tend to have more top-200 lists that are then supplemented with targeted players for organizational needs. Those rankings and lists look nothing alike from team to team. There is simply no consensus being developed, so try not to be hung up on that. Only time will tell whether this was a successful draft or not.

Jon Shepherd blogs about the Orioles at Camden Depot. Follow him on Twitter: @CamdenDepot. His thoughts on the O's appear here as part of MASNsports.com's continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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