LAS VEGAS - The Orioles left the Winter Meetings today with two Rule 5 picks and a full 40-man roster.
Executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias used the first overall selection to take shortstop Richie Martin from the Athletics organization and the Orioles later acquired infielder Drew Jackson from the Phillies, who had plucked him from the Dodgers system earlier in the morning.
Jackson, 25, was a fifth-round selection by the Mariners in 2015 out of Stanford University. He’s a career .269/.360/.399 hitter in five minor league seasons and has stolen 106 bases in 384 games, including 47 in 51 attempts at short-season Single-A Everett in 2015.
The activity at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino illustrated how the middle infield, and especially shortstop, became a priority for the Orioles.
“Obviously, shortstop is a hole for us right now with Beckham being non-tendered,” said director of baseball operations Tripp Norton, who announced Martin’s selection and the trade. “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, so we have versatility in addition to different options at shortstop.
“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 base. He had a resurgence offensively this year in Double-A. He hit .300, he posted an .807 OPS, so we think that the bat is trending up. He might be an option for us at the shortstop position coming into spring training and we’ll see what he can do.”
Martin was deemed as the likely pick within the industry as the Rule 5 draft approached. Right-hander Riley Ferrell in the Astros system was also a strong consideration and the Marlins took him with the fourth selection.
“There was a lot of discussion on it,” Norton said. “It wasn’t a slam dunk. We spent a few days talking about it and certainly looking at all of our options. But at the end we kept coming back to Richie.”
The Orioles are sending international signing bonus slot money and cash considerations to the Phillies in exchange for Jackson, who has played shortstop, second base, third base and center field as a professional.
“Drew is a very versatile infielder, similar to Ryan Flaherty,” Norton said. “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.
“I think these selections really strike what Mike’s been talking about all year about increasing the overall value of the organization and getting better and getting more depth.”
Martin and Jackson must remain on the active roster for the entire season or be offered back to their original organizations after clearing waivers.
The Orioles passed in the second round of the major league phase.
“We had a list of about four or five guys and obviously we were on the right guys since they were taken early on,” Norton said. “It’s disappointing that some guys aren’t there that you hoped, but at least you know you were on the right guys.”
“You’re always happy you didn’t lose anyone in the major league phase, but we lost some guys in the minor league phase,” Norton said. “We figured we would lose some. Little more than what we thought.”
In the Triple-A Rule 5 draft, the Orioles selected right-hander Taylor Grover from the Reds organization and lost pitcher Jeffeson Medina to the Rangers, outfielder Randolph Gassaway to the Pirates, infielder Corban Joseph to the Athletics and first baseman Wilson Garcia to the Indians.
Grover, 27, played independent ball this summer in the American Association and Atlantic League and his fastball touched 100 mph. He also had what his manager described to director of minor league operations Kent Qualls as “a wipeout slider,” which contributed to an average of 12 strikeouts per nine innings.
The former 10th-round pick of the Red Sox is 9-22 with a 4.10 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 141 minor league games, including eight starts. He pitched at Double-A Portland in 2017 and was 3-5 with a 5.16 ERA, 1.47 WHIP and 82 strikeouts in 75 innings.
“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,” Qualls said.
Where the Orioles assign Grover will be determined after spring training.
The Orioles announced on Nov. 21 that they signed Medina to a minor league contract. Gassaway has gone away after hitting .272/.348/.396 in 103 games at Single-A Frederick. Garcia hit 23 home runs at Frederick.
Joseph, the younger brother of free agent catcher Caleb Joseph, appeared in 14 games with the Orioles this season and went 4-for-18. He batted .312/.381/.497 in 122 games at Double-A Bowie.
Losing four minor leaguers “speaks to the depth of our system,” Qualls said.
“Obviously, you hate to lose anybody, but certainly if you leave somebody protected at Double-A, you know that’s a possibility. We’ve lost a good number of players the last two years, but I think that does speak to the depth of our system.
“I’m not surprised Corban was selected. When you leave somebody on the Double-A roster or they’re protected there, you know that’s certainly a possibility. His performance last year, his on-base capability, I’m sure that’s something that attracted Oakland to Corban.”