SAN DIEGO - The Orioles’ ties to the Astros and Cubs organizations came into play again this morning in the Rule 5 draft.
The second-overall pick was used on right-hander Brandon Bailey from Houston’s Double-A affiliate in Corpus Christi. The Orioles also were active in the next round by selecting right-hander Michael Rucker, who made 34 of his 36 appearances this summer with Chicago’s Double-A affiliate in Tennessee.
The Orioles didn’t lose any players on the major league phase, but the Tigers used the first pick in the Triple-A phase to select Double-A Bowie pitcher Ruben Garcia. The Indians later chose Single-A pitcher Jhon Peluffo.
The Astros acquired Bailey from the Athletics in November 2017, one year before the Orioles hired Mike Elias as executive vice president/general manager. Chris Holt followed Elias to Baltimore as minor league pitching coordinator and has been promoted to director of pitching. Assistant Sig Mejdal was Elias’ first hire.
Their input had to be instrumental in the selection of Bailey.
“We really have deep ties with those two with a number of organizations, so it really is a team effort when we’re talking about these players,” said director of pro scouting Mike Snyder. “We make phone calls, we do digging all up and down for their history as amateurs, their history in the minor leagues, trying to talk to coaches and as many people as possible to get a better read on how they might adapt once thrust into this atmosphere in the AL East.”
Bailey, 25, was the Athletics’ sixth-round pick in 2016 out of Gonzaga. He made 22 appearances (17 starts) this summer with Corpus Christi and posted a 3.30 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and .212 average against in 92 2/3 innings. He walked 41 batters and struck out 103.
Bailey has registered a 3.07 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and .208 average against in four minor league seasons.
“Bailey has a strong track record of performance everywhere he’s been, including at the Double-A level in a starting capacity,” Snyder said. “He has a full assortment of weapons to left-handed hitters and to right-handed hitters, and we’re excited to see what he can do in the spring.”
Rucker, 25, was an 11th-round pick in 2016 out of BYU who made 34 relief appearances this summer at Tennessee and posted a 4.28 ERA and 1.30 WHIP with 89 strikeouts in 75 2/3 innings. He also made two appearances (one start) at Triple-A Iowa and allowed one run in four innings.
“Rucker pitches off a riding fastball, two plus breaking balls, and he mixes in a nice changeup as well,” Snyder said.
“We think both players have an interesting mix of strike-throwing ability as well as strong pitches to help them compete in the American League East.”
Rucker was used out of the bullpen after he made 26 starts with Tennessee in 2018 and went 9-6 with a 3.73 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in 132 2/3 innings. He has a 3.26 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 96 minor league games, including 42 starts.
“He was working this year in a piggyback capacity, so he had scheduled outings and he had been pitching as a starter in 2018 and there was an uptick in performance in 2019,” Snyder said. “So one of the more intriguing things about him is that he offers some flexibility.
“I think we’re going in with an open mind and seeing what the best role for both of these players would be.”
The Orioles’ search for starting pitching includes the Rule 5 draft and they have two more candidates in spring training. They’re trying to land a few veterans, whether on major league or minor league deals.
“It’s a difficult jump for anybody to pitch in the major leagues, no matter where you come from,” Snyder said.
“Obviously, we had both of these players - one’s from Chicago, one’s from Houston - we have some ties. We do a lot of digging on makeup on any player acquisition that we make. That applies to these players, that applies to everybody that we considered. And it certainly takes a strong individual to make that jump, no matter where you come from.
“This is a calculated risk. We like both of these players. We think they have a good shot. I don’t think there’s any more or less pressure on our standpoint. For them, it’s a great opportunity to come in and win a spot out of camp.”
The Orioles have made a selection in the Rule 5 draft every year since 2006. They kept shortstop Richie Martin on the roster for the entire 2019 season.
No other team had multiple selections today.
“It’s a strategic decision on who to protect and who not to protect, and it’s always a risk,” Snyder said. “We were hopeful, but it worked out well for us.”
“Really just looking to add depth to the system,” said director of minor league operations Kent Qualls. “Two guys that are relatively young.”
Cespedes, 21, has remained at the Rookie-league level since making his professional debut in 2015. He’s a career .261/.329/.418 hitter in 241 games, but he slashed .326/.386/.543 this summer in 48 games in the Arizona League.
Cespedes was second in the minors in average exit velocity at 96 mph, according to FanGraphs.com lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen.
Qualls said Cespedes, who’s primarily a corner outfielder, likely will be assigned to low Single-A Delmarva.
“Cristopher Cespedes had kind of a breakout season,” Qualls said. “He had a .930 OPS. Just a real interesting toolsy kid as a 21-year-old. He still has a couple years of control and we liked a lot of his batted-ball metrics and thought he was a nice addition to our system.”
Santiago, 23, is a career .305/.348/.403 hitter in 239 minor league games. He batted .310/.340/.418 this summer in 67 games at Single-A Lynchburg and went 4-for-11 at low Single-A Lake County.
Qualls indicated that Santiago could be assigned to Double-A Bowie.
“He’s always hit throughout his career,” Qualls said. “Kind of a little bit of a different profile. Hits for a high batting average, really low strikeout rate. Only about eight percent for his career. We have very few guys in that range.
“Both of these guys have good defense, but really interesting bats that our hitting coaches can work with. We’re happy to add them to the club.”
Koby Perez, the Orioles’ senior director of international scouting, attended the Winter Meetings and was a valuable resource when considering the two Dominican players.
“Definitely very helpful,” Qualls said. “Koby had recommended one of these guys initially, and we were kind of on the other and then, obviously, collectively we gather a lot of information on all these players. Not only these two we picked but a lot of others, and it kind of led us to the decision.”
The Orioles didn’t get away unscathed, losing Garcia and Peluffo in the Triple-A phase. Garcia, 23, is a 14th-round pick in 2016 out of Eastern Florida State who had 42 strikeouts this year in 29 1/3 innings at low Single-A Delmarva. Peluffo, 22, made 30 relief appearances with Delmarva and three with Single-A Frederick and posted a combined 2.49 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and .174 average against in 68 2/3 innings.
“We lost some players last year and I think that’s just an overall reflection that we’re developing a deeper farm system,” Qualls said. “Certainly hate to lose any player, but those are some of the decisions or choices we have to make as we protect these guys. Obviously, we protected well on the major league phase, but as we go forward and the farm system gets deeper, I think the reality is most clubs, as you saw today, that have deep farm systems tend to lose a few players.
“You just have to make your best decisions and kind of move forward.”