Orioles manager Brandon Hyde explained the handling of some young pitchers earlier today by breaking it down to its simplest form.
Nothing complicated about the formula.
“I think if you’re pitching well, it’s pretty easy to stay here right now,” he said. “If you come in and you show you can pitch well and can compete here, you’re going to have the opportunity to go back out. Just like (Spenser) Watkins did his last start.
“We’re looking for pitching. There’s no doubt about it. And looking for guys to be able to navigate through American League East lineups, which is not easy to do.”
The Orioles get the Kansas City Royals, last in the AL Central, and the Rays, second in the East, coming out of the break. Hyde isn’t ready to share his rotation plans beyond how Matt Harvey won’t start right away and John Means likely will be activated for the fourth or fifth game.
“Right now it’s not set in stone, so I don’t want to announce anything, but it’s going to be however we line these guys up,” Hyde said. “I’m going to give Harvey some time off. Probably won’t pitch in that first series or maybe at the end of the first series, but we’re talking our way through that right now.”
Keegan Akin is available out of the bullpen against the White Sox after last night’s postponement. He could hop back into the rotation after the break.
Hyde is focusing on his current players more than draft candidates. Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias, assistant Sig Mejdal, director of player development Matt Blood, scouts and others are preoccupied with the draft. Hyde has his hands full with the major league club.
“I pretty much let them do their thing,” he said. “I don’t know the amateur game much at all right now. Mike has asked me on occasion the past couple years about maybe taking a look at some video on guys, but there’s a lot of guys putting in a ton of hours on the draft.
“I have so much respect for amateur scouts and the scouting department on how hard they work. There are a lot of people who really invest a ton of time into drafting players and scouting, so it’s going on right now and I’m looking forward to seeing who we take on Sunday.”
As a manager league manager, Hyde could be excused if pushing for a college player with a shorter timeline to debut.
“Honestly, I just want as much talent in here as possible, so if that’s a college guy, great, if not, if it’s a high school guy, whatever,” Hyde said.
“I have full confidence in Mike, and Mike’s got an unbelievable draft track record, that he’s going to select some talented guys.”
Elias spent 15 minutes in the dugout this afternoon talking about the draft, sharing as much information as he could without giving away too much. He’s got the fifth pick and so much hinges on selections made prior to his turn.
“We’re having some exciting meetings and some good debates and the heartbeat’s starting to go,” Elias said. “We’re getting close. I don’t know what’s going to happen ahead of us. I could probably take a guess but you just never know. I think we came into this with 12 or so players under serious discussion and we’ve definitely narrowed that down, but it’s just sort of a tradition and the way these things go that you don’t really decide until right before the pick.”
The Orioles are considering a pitcher at No. 5 and they’re intrigued by the batch of elite high school shortstops. There’s no set course with two days remaining.
“We definitely have some candidates for five this year that are pitchers, even in our narrowed-down group,” Elias said. “Doesn’t mean that we’re going to take them, doesn’t mean they’re going to be there. Pitching is a complicated thing, there’s a lot of injury risk along the way. It’s not easy to project from the amateur level all the way to the major league level, but you look at the big aces around the big leagues and they tend to be early first-round picks, and so you’re mindful of that.
“We want as much pitching as possible. I think that the organization did a great job in the 2017 and 2018 drafts with the first-round picks, those high school players (DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez), but they’re not there yet, either. We’ve already had some injury bumps there and that’s just the nature of pitching. But those guys are doing really well and that’s exciting, and we’ve brought in a lot of really good pitchers via trades - Kyle Bradish, Kevin Smith, those kinds of guys are doing well. And we’re going to need as many of those guys as possible just because of the nature of pitching and being in this ballpark and this division, we’re going to need a lot of good pitching coming internally, so we’re mindful of that. But we’re not going to force it in the amateur draft if the draft doesn’t give it to us.
“The last couple years, obviously, we’ve taken a lot of position players early. I think part of that has been that the Orioles took a lot of pitchers early several years into that that kind of liberated us to take the position players, but also that was just the way the drafts stacked up. You just look at the top of the 2019 draft, it was hitters, the top of the 2020 draft was hitters, and it just so happened that our comp, second- and third-round picks were hitters. So we’ll just see how it falls. We’re definitely going to have some pitchers on the board for all those picks.”
That board includes Vanderbilt’s Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker, who had been ranked one and two, in whatever order, until the last few batches of mock drafts.
“I would bet that the odds are that one of them is on the board, just the odds of it, and we’re considering both of them very strongly,” Elias said.
Elias also said there are four high school shortstops that the club is debating and who define this draft class, which likely references Marcelo Mayer, Jordan Lawlar, Kahlil Watson and Brady House. Baseball America’s latest mock today has Mayer and Lawlar going one and two, with the Orioles selecting Watson and passing on Rocker and Louisville catcher Henry Davis.
“It’s a talented group, there’s pros and cons to all of them, there’s risk-rewards to all of them, but anytime you have four of them in the same draft class and they should all go in the top 10 picks, that’s pretty rare,” Elias said.
Elias is confident that the Orioles will get an impact player at No. 5 after selecting first or second in his previous drafts. He expects the choices to be narrowed to five.
“I think we feel good about it this year,” he said. “I think there are some years where you’re on the outside looking in at the talent at five. I think it’s pretty good where we’re at. I can’t complain about the feel of whether we’re getting our full value at the five pick. It feels like a good group at five.
“You look historically, statistically at the draft, you’d be surprised how disappointing a high pick is over time, but we feel that we should be getting an impact player with this pick. That is our goal. I think if that doesn’t happen, we’ll feel like we failed with the pick.”
The Orioles went underslot last year with University of Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad and there’s plenty of speculation within the industry that they’ll do the same Sunday and pass along the savings in later rounds.
Elias isn’t showing his hand.
“I think a big part of being successful with that is being a little cagey about what our strategy is, exactly, in public and keeping the agents and industry on their toes, and we have demonstrated a history here and in Houston with, at times, pursuing that strategy and at times not,” Elias said.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do, right? And if I did, it wouldn’t be something we talk about, but obviously it’s something that we do when we feel that it makes sense for the pick, and that may or may not be the case this year.”
Drafted players could join affiliates over the summer despite the draft being held a month later than usual and the elimination of the short-season team in Aberdeen. The Florida Complex League could be a popular destination, with low Single-A Delmarva also an option.
College hitters might go to the FCL to get their feet wet before heading to Delmarva.