Previewing the First-Year Player Draft with O's scouting director Gary Rajsich

Orioles scouting director Gary Rajsich is about to make selections for his fourth draft for the organization. He selected pitcher Kevin Gausman fourth overall in 2012 and pitcher Hunter Harvey with the 22nd pick in 2013. Last year, the Orioles did not have a first-round pick. Their first selection was No. 90 overall in the third round, when the club took high school left-hander Brian Gonzalez.

The First-Year Player Draft, consisting of 40 rounds over three days, begins a week from Monday on June 8. The Orioles have the 25th pick in round one and four of the first 102 picks, as they also select 36th, 68th and 102nd.

steve-rajsich-sidebar.jpgRajsich recently held meetings with his scouts in Dallas and today he begins several more days of meetings at the Warehouse at Camden Yards as the Orioles make their final draft preparations.

In a recent phone conversation, Rajsich took time to preview this draft. Here are my questions and his answers.

Q: How does this draft look and what are its strengths and weaknesses?

A: "I think the talent pool this year is deep at the top. There are not many elite, premium-type players once you get past the first few picks. But once you get past those, you still have the chance for a quality, impact player. It is very strong toward high school players and pitching, moreso than college players and pitching. It's a younger draft.

"But I've never seen this many shortstops in the draft, for example. Some years there are only one or two, but this year there could be eight to 10. It is a different kind of draft and it's been hard to get your hands around it. But there are players that could become impact guys. I feel pretty confident we can get a good player through the top three rounds."

Q: How exciting is it to have three of the first 68 picks?

A: "It's great. Much better than last year, when we were bystanders that whole first day. This is why we do this. This draft could be good for us. I know some in our organization have commented that this is a very important draft for the Orioles, but we think all of them are important.

"As far as an importance standpoint, this is no different than any others. But the fact we have four picks in the top 102 - yeah, we have a chance to make an impact in our system here."

Q: Having those picks, has it changed the way you and your staff have gone about anything this year?

A: "No, as opposed to last year when we didn't pick until 90, I think our focus was good. We focused on those picks, third round down through seven or eight and I think we had a strong draft there. This year we are more focused on the top 100, 120 players. This is the difference from last year."

Q: Your first pick is No. 25. Have you been able to eliminate some players you know will not be available then?

A: "We've eliminated very few. There aren't those elite players out there that you say, 'No way he is getting to us.' I think this draft is in the eye of the beholder. But we may have a chance to get what we think is a top 10 player, because other teams are looking in another direction."

Q: What do you mean when you say, 'looking in another direction'?

A: "Every team has a philosophy with what they look for - high school pitcher, college hitter, what have you. I think if you stay true to what your organization believes in, there is enough variety of players this year that you can get what you are looking for when it is your turn to pick."

Q: So how do you characterize what the Orioles are looking for?

A: "We are going to stay true to our philosophy to pick the next best player. We are not going to be pitching-focused like we were last year, we are not going to be hitter-focused. We are not going to be college- or high school-focused.

"We're going to keep it wide-open and pick what we believe is the next best player. If that player is one of the top 10 on our board and falls to us, we will be overjoyed and excited."

Q: The Orioles have a much bigger budget this year , roughly $7.7 million. How do you strategize and maneuver that to your best advantage?

A: "We are going to do what is in the best interest of the Orioles and we want the best players. We are drafting to get the best players and we will worry about the finances later. It has been very rare that a player has turned us down because we didn't have enough money. I would anticipate we come close to spending all our budget."

Q: How does signability come into play?

A: "Signability is always a big factor. We have to know they are signable at where we pick."

Q: You mentioned this draft is deeper in high school players. Will that impact how you draft?

A: "No, like I said, we are going to take the next best player and it doesn't matter whether that is high school or college."

Q: Does Dan Duquette scout some players himself?

A: "Sure, he was once a scouting director. I believe he saw some college players during spring training. A lot of colleges play in Florida then."

Q: So you see every draft as critical?

A: "Yes, they all are. That is who we are. We build our big league club from organizational strength, so it is important every year. We don't take it lightly."

Q: How do you weigh in the draft that the Orioles hope to contend now every year. The sooner players go from the farm to help the big league club the better. Does that factor in when drafting?

A: "Yes and no. It is not so important how far away they are from the major leagues. Like I said, we have the philosophy to pick the next best player, and I know Dan backs us on that. I don't see that as an issue, as far as how soon they can help the big league club. We are just looking for the best player and best value for our dollar in the draft."

Between now and the draft, I'll have even more from Rajsich and check in with others to get their take on this crop of amateur talent and what we might see from the Orioles beginning June 8.

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