After having a selection between the third and fifth pick in the first round of the First-Year Player Draft for the last six years, the Orioles will not make a selection until the 22nd pick in the draft in round one this year. The draft will be held from June 6-8.
The last time the Orioles picked 22nd or lower with their first pick was in 1998 when they drafted Georgia high school outfielder Rick Elder with the 26th overall pick.
One year after selecting LSU pitcher Kevin Gausman with the fourth pick, Orioles scouting director Gary Rajsich is preparing for his second draft with the club. Starting today, he is holding meetings at Camden Yards with his top national scouts to begin final preparations for this draft.
He said it is a big change selecting 22nd overall instead of fourth.
"The main difference is you've got to look at a wider range of players and more players," Rajsich said. "You just don't know what is going to fall down to you from the upper picks. So rather than focus on six to eight guys like we did last year, we are focused on 15 to 20. I think we'll get a player at 22 that we like and that is the most important thing rather than having to settle."
Rajsich said the Orioles have that list of 15-20 players they feel could be available when they pick. He has had his area scouts get at least five in-person looks at each of those players while he and his national crosscheckers have also tried to get at least two in-person looks at the top players.
In his first mock draft May 9, Baseball America's Jim Callis listed the O's as taking high school catcher Nick Ciuffo from Lexington, S.C., with their pick. In his second mock from May 24, he listed the Orioles as selecting right-handed pitcher Alex Balog out of the University of San Francisco. Balog's older brother Nik currently plays first base for the O's Single-A Delmarva affiliate.
"It's been a difficult year of scouting in that the players were scattered around a lot more and weren't always in your typical high profile hotbeds of Florida, Texas and California," Rajsich said. "The kids were scattered all over and there were a lot of kids up north this year. Overall, a more difficult year traveling and getting players seen, but we did a pretty good job of covering the bases we needed to cover."
Rajsich certainly is not going to tip his hand to which specific players he likes the best or even if the club has any preference between taking a high school or college player. The Orioles selected a high school player first for three straight years before taking Gausman out of the college ranks last June. The Orioles have drafted a pitcher first in four of the last five years with Manny Machado being the exception to that in 2010.
Could the O's take a high school player at 22?
"Yes. If that is the prospect we feel is the best one," Rajsich said. "We have the philosophy that we will take the next best player. We have college players, junior college players and high school players in the mix (for that pick)."
The Orioles have four of the draft's first 98 picks. They also select 37th with the competitive balance pick they were awarded, a selection that even could be traded if they choose. They draft 61st overall in round two and 98th overall in round three.
"I hope we can do as well as we did last year," Rajsich said. "Of course, we are not picking fourth like we were. I'd like to do at least as well as we did last year, maybe better."
Rajsich is hopeful the club will add a mix of high school and college players over 40 rounds of the draft to help the team in the short term with college players that can reach the majors sooner and also provide some younger players that need to be developed more over the longer time period.
Rajsich said vice president Dan Duquette has even scouted some of the top players.
"He is very active. He likes to scout players and he's been out to see a few guys. He likes to have some input and it's very welcome," Rajsich said.
The Orioles will bring some players to Camden Yards, perhaps as many as 12, for a pre-draft workout.
Each organization is now assigned a total draft pool to sign players and the Orioles have been allotted $6,387,900 for their 11 top-10 round picks. The assigned value for the 22nd pick is $1,947,600 and it is $1,508,600 for the 37th selection.
In the next few days, I'll have more from Rajsich on the draft and also provide some information and comments from Callis of Baseball America.