Building an elite talent pipeline is about to kick into higher gear

One of the most exciting days of the 2019 baseball season is approaching for Orioles fans. It is a day where their team won't even play a game. But fans are clearly getting excited about the club's No. 1 draft pick that will be made Monday night.

With the Orioles currently contending to pick No. 1 again next year, selling hope for the future might truly be the best marketing tool the Orioles have right now.

But beyond marketing, this draft and the start of the July 2 international amateur signing period provide executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias with his first real significant chance to add his own group of talent to build what he wants to be that elite talent pipeline.

Mountcastle-Swing-White-sidebar.jpgIt is probably not too far-fetched to think that at this time next year, the Orioles could have a top 10-rated farm system. Right now the Orioles have four players in the updated Baseball America top 100 prospects list. DL Hall is No. 46, Yusniel Diaz is No. 62, Ryan Mountcastle is No. 83 and Grayson Rodriguez is No. 92. The player selected No. 1 Monday should have a great shot to make that list and Austin Hays could re-enter the next top 100 if he remains healthy and productive, as expected. Maybe a Blaine Knight, Adam Hall or Zac Lowther could push for the back end of a top 100 or someone else could emerge.

The organizational rankings - which rank a club's entire farm system - are driven to a large degree by the star power and top 100 players at the top of your system.

As the Orioles build up their international program, this will help greatly in those rankings. Up until now, the Orioles have been rated without many international prospects in their system. That was absolutely going to impact such ratings and it put more pressure on their drafting and player development system to do more with less than most teams. Hopefully, those days are over forever.

Elias recently said: "Now we are pushing out as a full-fledged international scouting operation. It takes some time. And the way the market works down there, some of the behind-scenes advance work that goes on has been done for two years now or more (leading to this July 2). So we don't have a full slate of players available to us. But that said, July 2 is coming up and the international signing period will open.

"It will be the largest international signing period, July 2, that the Orioles have ever had. We are doing a lot of work, Koby Perez (hired Jan. 2 as senior director of international scouting) and I and his group. His group is growing. They're doing a lot of work right now, and it's only going to increase."

Along with that no doubt fans have noticed much of the success of some of the young pitchers on the farm. At Double-A Bowie, Lowther has an ERA of 1.68 with Alex Wells at 1.72 and Bruce Zimmermann 2.94. Singe-A Frederick has seven pitchers throwing starter innings - DL Hall, Knight, Cody Sedlock, Brenan Hanifee, Cameron Bishop, Michael Baumann and David Lebron. That group features four O's picks in the third round or higher. The strong staff at Single-A Delmarva is led by Rodriguez at a 1.47 ERA, with Drew Rom at 1.49 and Ofelky Peralta at 1.51. Peralta is an O's international signing and soon he should have a lot more company.

Back in March, I had a one-on-one interview with Elias (click here for that) discussing his regime bringing advanced data and analytics to the O's farm system and how it could specifically work for pitchers. We may already be seeing some of that pay off.

"This is a topic that is always a little difficult to go into because I don't want to divulge the specifics of what we do," Elias told me during the March interview. "Other clubs are doing their thing and watching. And this is an area I do believe where the Houston Astros, where we are coming from, were significantly ahead of the pack in pitcher development.

"But really the process is that we have proprietary information about what pitches play the best at the major league level against different types of hitters. And very simply, we try to coach the pitchers toward throwing those pitches and throwing them at the right time and improving their pitches with some objective benchmarks of how to make the pitch better."

This jives with how Sedlock answered a question this week when he was at Camden Yards. He was asked about some of the new philosophies and teachings this year on the farm.

"I guess just knowing exactly what each individual pitcher works for them and exploiting that to every hitter," said Sedlock. "And knowing what works well to left-handed hitters and what works to right-handed hitters. And just going about maximizing every single pitch to the best of our ability. And making it the best major league weapon that we can do as a pitcher."

In that March interview, Elias said he was truly looking forward to this coming draft to add pitchers that can really thrive with such methods.

"The thing I'm really excited to do that we haven't done yet, is pair this up with the draft," he said. "So, eventually, we will be acquiring guys with an idea of what we will then do with them in player development. And once you get that cooperation going, I think that's when you really get a (farm) system humming."

Sedlock also spoke of the starting pitching depth on his Frederick team right now.

"We've got seven starters and most of the time two of us will piggyback and then the rest will have normal starts," he said. "But it's been spread out and everyone's innings are down a bit this year because of that. But you know, it's great to see the talent. Everyone is performing well and everyone is taking into account all the new pitching philosophies that we're doing."

I'd say Elias and company are doing fine in their initial efforts to build the talent pipeline. The farm pitching has been mostly solid, especially at Bowie and below. And now the process really kicks into gear with a No. 1 pick Monday and 40 rounds of the draft coming followed by the international signing period starting in July.

If it's hope and the sense of a better future that Orioles fans seek, June and July should be for you.

Bases loaded, intentional walk: Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman, who will possibly be the first draft pick by the Orioles on Monday night, got some major respect last night in an NCAA regional playoff game. Cincinnati was leading Oregon State 5-2 in the last of the seventh with no outs, the bases loaded and Rutschman coming up. And they would not pitch to him and issued an intentional walk to force in one run.

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