Jason Esposito retires, plus draft notes and more

A few notes this morning on O’s minor leaguers, some draft pick news and a few notes on the Orioles:

* The Orioles drafted third baseman Jason Esposito in the second round in 2011 out of Vanderbilt. He won a minor league Gold Glove for his defensive play at Single-A Frederick last year. But earlier this week, Esposito told club officials he is retiring from baseball.

After playing the last two seasons with Frederick, Esposito began this year with Double-A Bowie. After 47 games, he was batting .190 with three homers, 16 RBIs and an OPS of .512. So this past Tuesday when the Orioles promoted third baseman Drew Dosch from Frederick to Bowie, they sent Esposito back to Frederick. But the 24-year-old right-handed hitter never reported to the Keys and has chosen to retire.

Alejandro De Aza bats.jpg* When the Orioles traded outfielder Alejandro De Aza and cash to the Boston Red Sox June 3, they were trading a player that had already been designated for assignment. Sometimes that means the trade will not bring back too much since the player could soon be released anyway.

But, in this case, maybe the O’s did get solid value in return. They acquired 23-year-old right-hander Joe Gunkel, who is 1-0 with a 1.35 ERA in his first three starts for his new organization with Double-A Bowie.

From Hershey, Pa., Gunkel was an 18th-round draft pick by Boston in 2013 out of Division II West Chester University. He started this year at Single-A Salem, moved to Double-A Portland in mid-May and just switched Eastern League teams after the trade when he joined Bowie.

Then, ironically, his first two starts for Bowie came against his former Portland team. He pitched 13 scoreless innings.

It’s only three starts, but the early returns on Gunkel are solid for Bowie, according to Baysox manager Gary Kendall.

“He peppers the glove with strikes, and he has the ability to throw his fastball or slider for a strike early in counts and get ahead,” Kendall said. “He can locate and throws a heavy ball with sink. He is a great guy to play behind because his tempo is so good. Great guy to have on the club because you can trust him to go out there and command the ball. A really good acquistion for our system, and he has really helped us.”

Gunkel, who pitches in the low 90s with a three-quarters delivery, was ranked as Boston’s No. 26 prospect by Baseball America after the 2014 season. If he makes the majors, he’ll become the second player from Hershey High School to make the big leagues. The first was Detroit catcher Jim Price from 1967-71.

* Jim Callis of MLBPipeline.com reported Saturday that the Orioles have reached agreements with their third-round draft pick, Univeristy of Oregon left-hander Garrett Cleavinger, for $500,000, which is slightly under slot for his No. 102 overall draft position.

Callis reported also that seventh-round pick, right-hander Gray Fenter out of West Memphis (Ark.) High School, agreed with the Orioles and got a $1 million signing bonus. I’ve reported here since the draft that Fenter was going to get an overslot bonus, and he got one way over the slot of $178,300 for where he was selected with the 223rd pick. The Orioles essentially made up the difference here of over $800,000 in savings in the signings of their second first-round pick (Ryan Mountcastle), sixth-round pick (pitcher Jay Flaa) and 10th-round pick (pitcher Reid Love).

Fenter has a fastball that has touched 96 and 97 mph. The day they drafted him, O’s scouting director Gary Rajsich said this about the pitcher:

“He’s a very mature kid and is strong. Has a live, loose body, so he is going to be durable. He has a fresh arm and only has been pitching a couple of years. He pitched for Team USA last year. He’s been thrown into the kind of competition we like to see young guys go through. He’s just a baby in terms of pitching. So it’s a fresh arm, and his ceiling is high.”

While the Orioles have officially announced the signings of 28 of their 41 selections, they essential have agreements with 18 of their first 20 picks.

Expect announcements soon on both Cleavinger and Fenter along with outfielder Ryan McKenna (Round 4), outfielder Jason Heinrich (Round 5) and first baseman Seamus Curren (Round 8).

The two top picks that will take the longest to sign will be first-round pick DJ Stewart and second rounder Jonathan Hughes.

The Orioles’ great escapes: There were a lot of reasons that the Orioles beat the Blue Jays on Saturday, and it was a very big win. Two of the biggest were three escape acts by three different pitchers. Kevin Gausman fell behind 2-1 in the second inning, but then got three straight pop-ups with runners on first and third and none out.

In the eighth, Darren O’Day got out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam with three straight swinging strikeouts. Yep, he did it again. Hitters are 0-for-11 with seven strikeouts when batting against O’Day with the bases loaded.

In the ninth, Toronto scored once against Zach Britton and had two on with one out, down 5-3, when he induced Edwin Encarnacion to hit into a game-inning double play. Some real poise shown there by three Orioles pitchers. If any of the three crack there and give it up, the Orioles might not win that game.

Today, the Orioles look for the series win in Toronto and face former Orioles farmhand Scott Copeland (1-1, 2.57 ERA). Drafted by the Orioles out of Southern Mississippi in 2010, they released him in July 2012. At the time, he was 3-8 with a 6.88 ERA at Frederick.

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