LAS VEGAS - The Orioles are a bit short on middle infielders and they added two today via the Rule 5 draft at the Winter Meetings. They selected Oakland shortstop Richie Martin with the No. 1 pick in the draft. After the draft, it was announced they had acquired infielder Drew Jackson, who been selected by Philadelphia from the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Orioles sent international bonus money to the Phillies for Jackson.
In the Triple-A phase of the draft, the Orioles selected right-handed pitcher Taylor Grover from the Cincinnati Reds. Grover touched 100 mph last year while pitching in independent ball.
The 23-year-old Martin hit .300/.368/.439 last season at Double-A with 68 runs and 25 steals, but he’s not going to provide much pop with 15 career homers. He’s currently ranked as Oakland’s No. 12 prospect by MLBPipeline.com. He was ranked by Baseball America as the A’s No. 5 at the end of 2015, No. 9 at the end of 2016 and No. 23 after 2017.
He’s considered a good defender with a strong arm. Drafted in round one (No. 20 overall) out of the University of Florida in 2015, Martin signed with the A’s for $1.95 million.
Jackson, 25, hit .251/.356/.447 this year at Double-A Tulsa, with 20 doubles, a triple, 15 homers and 46 RBIs. Drafted in round five by Seattle in 2015, he is a career .269/.340/.399 minor league hitter. He stole 22 bases last year and 47 in his first season in rookie ball.
“Obviously, shortstop is a hole for us right now with (Tim) Beckham being non-tendered,” said director of baseball operations Tripp Norton, who announced Martin’s selection. “Plus, we have Jonathan Villar, who can also play shortstop. Acquiring both Richie and Drew gives us options to look at in spring training and see what we can do with our shortstop situation. All three can also play second base, too.
“With Richie, we saw him as an above-average defender with plus range and a plus arm at short, somebody that can also move over and play second. He had a resurgence offensively this year in Double-A, so we think that the bat is trending up.
“Drew is a very versatile infielder, similar to Ryan Flaherty. He’s kind of a long, lean guy. He played a lot of short and a lot of second in the minor leagues and he also posted an .800 OPS, too. We feel that offensively they’re similar players. They both can provide above-average defense and that’s what we’re looking to do.”
Norton was asked about Martin stepping up his offensive game this season as his OPS rose from .643 in 2017 to .807.
“I think he just had a better approach at the plate,” he said. “Looked like he tightened up his swing. Obviously, he repeated that league, so second time around there was a little more familiarity. And I think, judging by our reports, he is someone that can play defensively at the major league level.”
So the Orioles did not make two Rule 5 picks today, but they did in the end wind up with two Rule 5 players. They made a total of five Rule 5 picks over the last two years. The Orioles’ 40-man roster now holds a full 40 players.
The 27-year-old Grover pitched for two different independent teams in 2018, going a combined 1-2 with a 2.55 ERA and 14 saves. Over 53 innings, he walked 22 and fanned 70. For Boston’s Double-A team in 2017, he went 3-5 with a 5.16 ERA. He was drafted in round 10 by the Red Sox in 2013.
“Taylor Grover has improved his performance,” said Orioles director of minor league operations Kent Qualls. “He pitched independent ball last year, but struck out 12 per nine. He’s got an above-average fastball, 95-98 (mph) and hit 100 numerous times last year. What his manager described to me as a wipeout slider, and our analytics, TrackMan data, kind of backed that up. He’s a guy that had increased performance last year, and our pitching people are excited to bring him to the organization and see where we can take him.”
What level will Grover play at next year?
“Honestly, we’ll take him to spring training (and see). The highest level he’s pitched at so far is Double-A, but that will be determined in spring training,” Qualls said.
The Orioles did not lose any players in the major league phase of the Rule 5. But they did lose four players in the minor league phase. Right-handed pitcher Jeffesen Medina, just recently signed by the Orioles to a minor league deal, was selected by Texas. Outfielder Randolph Gassaway was taken by Pittsburgh. Infielder Corban Joseph was drafted by Oakland and first baseman Wilson Garcia was selected by Cleveland.