The Orioles announced the signings of their top two draft picks over the past two days and they still have more work to get done.
Executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said negotiations continue with the remaining unsigned players, who include LSU outfielder Zach Watson (third round), Stanford first baseman Andrew Daschback (11th) and University of Pittsburgh right-hander Dan Hammer (13th). Ten of the 41 selections haven’t agreed to terms.
Asked about a few of the higher-round picks, Elias said, “I think we’re in good shape. Until the entire signing process is complete you never know, but I feel very optimistic about those players.”
The late-round high school players are more likely to attend college and go back into the draft.
“With how late they were taken and how late we get into the summer, it can make it a little more of an uphill battle,” Elias said. “But we’re certainly not going to quit on those guys.”
Elias estimated that he watched second-rounder Gunnar Henderson, the Alabama prep shortstop, about 30 times while working in the Astros front office. Henderson received a $2.3 million bonus this week.
“It worked out great,” Elias said. “This is somebody that was viewed as a talent that could have gone a little higher than he did in the draft, and we had to pay over slot to sign him but we were able to make it work and fit in our pool without compromising too much talent, so I think it was a really good outcome.
“I think if you look at the publications it wasn’t until this spring that he kind of cemented himself as, like, a top 40 pick, but those of us who saw him all summer, you look at the athleticism, the youth, the fact that he’s an infield, the fact that he comes from a small school and a small state, and you could say, ‘OK, this kid really might pop in the spring,’ and he did.
“He had a good summer. He’s a really good athlete. He was an all-state basketball player in Alabama, he runs well, he can throw and he’s got some power and he’s a left-handed hitter. So as I said, he’s from a small background and there might be some development ahead, but the ceiling’s really high here.”
Elias probably felt as though he were walking on air after securing Henderson and first-overall pick Adley Rutschman, the Oregon State catcher who signed Monday.
“It is a relief,” Elias said. “With the new bonus pool system now, every year that I’ve been doing this since 2012 there’s always a little suspense because not signing one player can affect the other players in your pool. That’s just the way the system is now. Until you have everyone in the fold - physicals passed, sign on the dotted line - you have to protect against the scenario that some of these guys might not sign. And so knocking out our first two picks here puts us in really good shape, and we’ve still got some players left to sign in this class, some high picks and potentially some a little later down, and we’re working on that right now.”
New players also enable Elias to put his own stamp on a franchise he joined in December.
“I think it’s a good start,” he said. “We’re looking to add talent to the organization. I think we’ve done that with this draft. As I said yesterday and as I remind myself, we’re not the only team that gets to draft players, so we’re going to see how our guys stack up over the years. But I think this was a really good draft for us, a lot of different type of players and it’s going to improve our system.”
Henderson fielded ground balls today while his parents and two brothers stood near the backstop. He was named Alabama Sports Writers Association Mr. Baseball for 2019 and Alabama Gatorade State Player of the Year after batting .559/.641/1.225 with 17 doubles, nine triples, 11 home runs, 75 RBIs, 69 runs and 28 stolen bases in 32 games for John T. Morgan Academy.
Henderson committed to Auburn University, where he could have joined brother Jackson, but leaned on family and faith while choosing the Orioles. He’ll spend most if not all of the summer in the Gulf Coast League.
“As soon as the draft night ended I just started praying for a clear path,” he said. “Prayed with my family and talked with them. My older brother, he told me he was going to be proud of me whichever way I went, and that just made it a little bit easier.
“I had some friends and they were supportive in my decision, and God just gave me a clear path and I felt like it was the right decision.”
Elias isn’t ignoring the international market. He’s still multi-tasking and expressed joy again today at the batch of signings that will be announced beginning next week.
“Most of the prep work happens before July 2,” he said. “We all know that. But we still have to get the kids signed, physicals, get their visas processed and it’s a lot of work, and our people have been doing that behind the scenes.
“I just think it’s going to be a very fun day for this organization to have an infusion of Dominican and Venezuelan and even guys from the Bahamas, there’s going to be a lot of international talent coming in and it’s going to be inspiring.”
Many of the players are 16 years old and headed to the Dominican academy for training that can last a couple of years or more.
“And the ones that are good enough to graduate to the Gulf Coast League, we’ll see them there in a couple years,” Elias said.
“We’re playing catch up a little bit, but we’ll get caught up.”
The trade deadline arrives on July 31 and will occupy much more of Elias’ attention.
“I think it’s going to slowly take up more and more of our front office’s time,” he said. “Now that the draft is over, we can really devote more front-office and scouting resources to that, but I can’t say that the trade season has picked up into full swing from what I’m able to glean.”
Minor trades and claims are made on a regular basis, with the Orioles selecting pitcher Tayler Scott off waivers yesterday from the Mariners and assigning him to Triple-A Norfolk. They acquired infielder Patrick Dorrian earlier today from the Pirates as the player to be named later in the Yefry Ramirez deal and sent him to Single-A Frederick.
Scott walked the bases loaded in two-thirds of an inning against the Orioles in Thursday’s start and was charged with two runs. He walked six batters in 7 2/3 innings this season.
“He’s got good stuff,” Elias said. “The control has been sort of the question mark over the years, but we’re in a position where we need arms, and this is a guy with minor league options that’s shown some potential, some stuff. Good strikeout rates and we just want to get him in the mix and see if we can help him and he can click.
“Some of these guys ... you look at Shawn Armstrong. He had been struggling, gets a change of scenery, comes over here, throws really well. It’s the kind of moves you make when you’re in the situation that we’re in. We process these guys and see if we can help them.”
The Orioles are scrambling for reinforcements. For anyone who might improve their level of play or depth.
They head into today’s game having lost 12 of their last 13 and 16 of 19 to leave their record at 22-57. The number of mental and physical mistakes are testing the patience of an entire organization.
They can’t be excused simply because the team is rebuilding.
“I don’t feel great about it,” Elias said. “This has probably been the worst two-week stretch that we’ve had, not only in terms of the losses but the play has been rougher. The pitching’s barely making it through games, we’re having more lapses than we had in the early part of the year. I think some of that is just the ebb and flow of the season, but we’re in a difficult spot in terms of roster depth and talent.
“I do see these guys continuing to grind and play hard, running out every ball and pour their heart and soul in each game every night, and that’s important, but we knew this was going to be a tough season. But it’s still tough to go through it on a day-to-day basis and navigate it and deal with the injuries and the roster ups and downs and everything.”
Update II: Greg Garcia hit a two-run homer off Dylan Bundy on an 0-2 pitch to give San Diego a 2-1 lead in the second. Eric Hosmer’s RBI grounder later in the inning upped the lead to 3-1.
Update III: Franmil Reyes homered off Bundy in the third for a 4-1 lead.
Update IV: Jonathan Villar’s two-run homer in the fourth reduced the lead to 4-3.
Update V: Reyes’ two-run homer off Shawn Armstrong in the fifth gave the Padres a 6-3 lead. Bundy is charged with five runs.
Update VI: Hosmer’s two-run homer off Armstrong in the sixth gave San Diego an 8-3 lead.
Update VIII: Hosmer’s RBI single off Richard Bleier in the eighth gave the Padres a 10-4 lead.
Update IX: Núñez came home in the eighth on a bases-loaded walk to Stevie Wilkerson. That made it 10-5.