Much to like about Hader

The Orioles hold the 22nd pick in the first round of tonight's First-Year Player Draft, which makes it a heck of a lot harder to project their selection than back in the days when they chose third or fourth.

They like South Carolina high school catcher Nick Ciuffo, but they usually lean toward pitching, and University of San Francisco right-hander Alex Balog has been linked to them in some mock drafts.

That's as deep as I'll venture into this guessing game. But check back with MASNsports.com later tonight for constant updates.

The Orioles also have the 37th pick in the competitive balance round, which they can trade if they're so inclined.

The best drafts are the ones where talent is mined in the later rounds. For example, the Orioles used their 19th-round pick last year on Old Mill High left-hander Josh Hader, who was named this week to the South Atlantic League All-Star team. He's 1-2 with a 2.28 ERA in nine starts for Single-A Delmarva, with 34 hits allowed, 25 walks and 44 strikeouts in 47 1/3 innings.

Hader, 19, is the youngest player on the Delmarva roster, and he's become more than just a nice little local story.

"He's done real well," said Dean Albany, the Orioles scout who signed Hader. "Some people compare him to a younger Chris Sale. Who knows? Chris had a chance to win the Cy Young last year. I'm not putting those things on Josh. But in high school, he was 85-88 mph, really athletic, moved around, held runners, paid attention to a lot of things that Buck (Showalter) and Rick (Adair) preach at the big league level. Good time to home plate, holds runners and could spin the breaking ball.

"He's exceeded the expectations I had for him in his first few years of pro ball, without a doubt. Our system has done a good job with him. His delivery is good and everything is going well. I just hope he keeps progressing."

Hader has added 10-15 pounds to his frame, and his fastball has topped out at 95 mph this season.

"It's a combination of getting into a structured throwing program, playing long toss, and better nutrition," Albany said. "Brady Anderson and (strength and conditioning coach) Joe Hogarty did a great job with him. Josh was there three days a week all winter, working on his strength and agility. Brady set it up and it really helped him. He's getting bigger and stronger. He's gained weight. He looks mature.

"He was a mature kid anyway. He doesn't believe he's any better than anybody else. He has a lot of humility to him. He's a good kid. He cares about his teammates and the team. He wants to win. That's what I really like about him. He wants to win, and you don't see a lot of that."

Showalter took his first look at Hader last summer during the Brooks Robinson All-Star Game at Camden Yards. Hader already had been drafted, but Albany asked Showalter and Adair to come back to the dugout and take a look.

"He asked me if he could pitch in the game," Albany recalled. "I went to Dan (Duquette) and talked to him. I said, 'The kid really wants to play at Camden Yards and I think it will help us sign him if he does.' "

Albany warned Showalter and Adair that "the kid's not going to wow you, but he's got good angle and deception to his delivery.

"They said, 'We like him, we really like him.' They agreed about his angle and deception. His fastball wouldn't have jumped out at you. He was 86-88 last year."

Now he's in the low-to-mid 90s and impressing the organization every time he takes the mound. Showalter often brings up his name.

"Just throwing a baseball every day helps your arm," Hader said. "I wasn't used to that in high school. I wasn't throwing every day. I've been on a long toss program. All that stuff builds up your arm, and the velocity came.

"Weight-wise, the strength and conditioning program here is very good. I feel bigger, stronger and faster as an athlete, and that's helped me out on the mound.

"Throwing that hard from the left side is kind of overwhelming, but it's not like I'm just throwing fast and not commanding. Having command of the fastball definitely feels great."

Hader could be taking that fastball to a higher level of the system after the break.

"I haven't really heard anything about that," he said. "It's definitely something I'm looking for, but right now I'm focused on commanding all my pitches. I'm working on a changeup right now, trying to make that a great pitch and get better command on pretty much all my pitches."

Note: During his postgame interview on MASN2 last night, Showalter indicated that the Orioles wouldn't need to make a roster move to add another pitcher following an 11-7 loss to the Astros. However, Steve Johnson came out of the game after 2 1/3 innings because of discomfort in his left oblique, which raised the possibility that he could land on the disabled list.

Johnson, who began the season on the DL with a back injury, felt some discomfort last night while warming up, but he wanted to spare the bullpen from further use and attempted to pitch with it. He gave up two home runs.

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