The Orioles didn’t select a pitcher in the 2019 First-Year Player Draft until the College of Charleston’s Griffin McLarty in the eighth round. They kept bypassing the top-rated arms this week and choose Carter Baumler from Dowling Catholic High in Iowa in the fifth and final round.
Are the Orioles duplicating the approach used by the Astros to build a World Series champion?
They just did a better job with them.
Right-hander Mark Appel was the first overall pick in 2013 out of Stanford University. Left-hander Brady Aiken was the first-overall selection the following year out of Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego.
Appel never pitched in the majors. Aiken didn’t sign.
Right-hander Forrest Whitley was the 17th overall pick in 2016 out of Alamo Heights High School in San Antonio. University of North Carolina right-hander J.B. Bukauskas was 15th the following year.
Whitley reached Triple-A last summer. Bukauskas was packaged in a July 2019 trade for the Diamondbacks’ Zack Greinke.
There’s some logic in stocking up on young hitters and being able to move a few later in exchange for pitching. A common move among contenders. And the Orioles certainly trust the people put in charge of developing the pitching that’s already in their system.
The Astros went under-slot with shortstop Carlos Correa, chosen first overall in 2012. But Elias stressed again earlier this week that Correa also sat atop their board.
Did the Orioles go under-slot by making University of Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad the second overall pick? It sure appears that way. But he also made a hasty climb up their board and Elias called him the best left-handed hitter in the country.
“We liked him as a bat coming out of high school,” said Brad Ciolek, supervisor of domestic scouting operations. “At Arkansas he added significant amounts of strength to his frame and that was conducive to hitting a lot of extra-base hits and home runs. We saw him with Team USA and scouted him heavily there over the summer. He was one of the more consistent hitters with Team USA. So we had a lot of healthy follow grades on him and scouted him heavily in the spring.
“We saw him at the Shriner’s Classic at Minute Maid Park, where he hit a home run about 430 feet to dead center. Showed off a plus arm and moved well for a bigger guy. We were intrigued by the bat potential, the power and high contact in the strike zone with Heston. This year, more than in the past, with pitches in the zone, there wasn’t a whole lot of swing and miss. We also looked at his exit velocities and how the ball jumped off his bat across the field. And our scouts also had plus raw power grades on him.
“So essentially it was a blend of old-school scouting and advanced analytics that made him an extremely attractive fit.”
* A scout from outside the organization liked the Kjerstad selection.
“Can’t argue with the first pick,” he said. “He strikes out a little bit, maybe too much, and the other thing is I heard he’s very fringe-y defensively and may eventually move to first base. As if it isn’t crowded enough there with the Orioles. But he’s got serious power, left-handed power, and that’s a tough commodity to find. He can make enough contact.
“That’s not a bad draft. You have to look at some of the other guys (Elias) might have taken, but I don’t have any problem with (Kjerstad) over the kid (Austin Martin) from Vanderbilt or anyone else.”
* The latest proposal from ownership reportedly calls for a 72-game season that runs from July 14-Sept. 27, with players receiving 70 percent of prorated salaries and 80 percent if the playoffs are held. The offer sits on the table until Sunday night.
ESPN’s Jeff Passan tweeted that rosters would expand to 30 players for the first two weeks, 28 for the next two weeks and 26 for the remainder of the season. Each team would keep a group of 60 players to use through the season, with the majority housed on taxi squads.
The Major League Baseball Players Association will reject it. But perhaps the sides are inching closer to an agreement.
Otherwise, commissioner Rob Manfred is going to set the schedule at around 50 games and there will be a lot of unhappy players.
* Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper reported that every team was told to find a site for taxi squad workouts within 100 miles of its home stadium.
This is a simple task for the Orioles with their four Maryland affiliates.
Aberdeen would seem to make the most sense, based on its spacious setup, but the Orioles could go in many directions to satisfy the order.