When the First-Year Player Draft began on Monday night, Orioles scouting director Gary Rajsich did not expect the first round to end with high school left-handed pitcher DL Hall being selected by the Orioles.
He expected Hall to be gone by the time the Orioles selected at No. 21. But Hall wasn’t gone and the Orioles gladly pulled the trigger on a pitcher that they clearly had very highly ranked and were delighted to get.
Rajsich explained how it all went down.
“We targeted pitching and shortstops and middle-of-the-field players like we always do,” he said of his pre-draft strategy. “Premium position players like catchers, center fielders, shortstops and also pitching. We targeted left-handed pitching. And we did not expect Hall to be there with our first pick. So that kind of changed things right away, but we maintained course pretty well.
“But when Hall was there for us, we couldn’t pass up the talent. We liked some players drafted behind us, (shortstop Logan) Warmoth and those guys. But to pass up Hall would have been a mistake. He was possibly the top prep left-hander in the draft. We liked the two others (high school lefties) that went ahead of him, but Hall wasn’t very far behind those two. It was too good to pass up.”
Hall pitched to an ERA of 1.36 this season at Valdosta (Ga.) High School with 105 strikeouts over 51 1/3 innings. He was ranked as the No. 8 prospect in the draft by ESPN’s Keith Law, No. 14 by MLBPipeline.com and No. 18 by Baseball America. Hall’s build and arm have led to comparisons to big league southpaw Scott Kazmir. Hall has a college commitment to Florida State, which provides him some leverage in contract negotations and a college fallback plan.
The night of the draft, MLBPipeline.com’s Jim Callis said Hall was “the steal of the draft for the Orioles.” J.J. Cooper of Baseball America wrote: “Hall could end up being the best pitcher to come out of this year’s draft if he reaches his lofty ceiling.”
So why was Hall still on the board at pick No. 21? Already some rumors circulated that maybe Hall fell in the draft due to attitude or makeup concerns.
“According to our area scout that knows him very well and his family very well, those are unfounded. We know him better than most,” Rajsich said.
That area scout is Arthur McConnehead, who scouts the talent-rich Georgia and north Florida region for the Orioles.
“We had more information about DL Hall than anyone,” Rajsich added. “Arthur is from Valdosta and his family still lives there. His family knew their family and we had a pretty complete background on this kid.”
Baseball America wrote that “Hall’s performance at the 2016 East Coast Pro Showcase was the stuff of legend.” The youngster, who will turn 19 on Sept. 19, blew away some of the top draft-eligible hitters. His fastball sits from 92-95 mph, touching 96 mph. His curveball is considered his clear second-best offering and analysts rate it a plus pitch.
“He has a good arm and a good delivery,” Rajsich said. “He’s very athletic. He throws strikes with all his pitches. His command is good for a high school kid. He pitched against some of the very best hitters that were in this draft and was dominating - even against the best hitters. He has an advanced feel for pitching.”
After the fastball and curve, Rajsich rates Hall’s changeup as his third-best pitch, followed by his slider.
“I like his size and athleticism,” Rajsich said. “He is very aggressive and he has everything you are looking for in a high school pitcher. He has mound presence and composure. He is a very confident kid and is a leader. Everything you are looking for when you go to a high school and look at a left-handed pitcher, you are going to see with this one.”
Now comes the potentially hard part: signing Hall, who is represented by agent Scott Boras. The slot bonus amount for the No. 21 pick is $2,892,400. Some speculate it will take every bit of that and potentially more to get the deal done, but Rajsich is confident that will happen.
The Orioles already appear to be close to agreements with 18 to 20 of their draft picks and a large group of signings could be coming next week.
The Orioles drafted five college seniors in rounds six through 10. That was a strategic move. These players will sign for small bonuses as players with no bargaining leverage of going back to school. Then the dollars saved there from their allotted bonus pool amounts can then be used to sign their top six picks through round five.
The Orioles then could potentially have extra dollars to chase two very likely tough players to sign taken later in the draft. They are high school pitcher Logan Allen from Florida, taken in round 16, and high school shortstop Greg Jones from North Carolina, taken in round 17. Jones was ranked as high as No. 65 for this draft by ESPN. But he fell big due to signability concerns by several teams. The O’s 26th-round pick, lefty pitcher Cameron Bishop from Cal-Irvine, also could be difficult to sign.
Players taken in rounds 11 through 40 can get a bonus for as much as $125,000. They can sign for more, but anything over $125,000 would come out of the total draft pool for the top 10 picks. The O’s draft pool is $6,846,700.
The Orioles made 41 selections in the draft, including 21 pitchers (nine left-handers, 12 right-handers) and 20 position players. They selected eight infielders, seven outfielders, four catchers and one utility player. They drafted 29 players from colleges, but four of their first six selections and nine of the top 21 were high school players.
In the coming days, I’ll have more on the Orioles 2017 draft.
IronBirds to unveil stadium upgrades tonight: The short-season Single-A Aberdeen IronBirds are inviting fans out for a “Night Under the Lights” tonight to experience more than $2 million in facility upgrades and watch the team practice free of charge at Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium. This past offseason, the IronBirds worked with the City of Aberdeen and Ripken Baseball, owner of the IronBirds, to complete numerous improvements to the 15-year-old facility.
Upgrades to the facility include new handrails and concrete to enhance fan safety throughout the stadium concourse, extended state-of-the-art backstop netting to protect fans covering an additional eight seating sections (787 additional seats), and installation of a new high-definition 1,500-square foot video board and left field line score board.
Additionally, the IronBirds are introducing new food concepts and locations throughout the stadium, additional beer options, and improved buffet and cafe menus.
Gates for a “Night Under the Lights” open at 6 p.m. this evening and the team will take the field at 7 p.m. for practice. Following the team’s workout, IronBirds players will be available for autographs.
Aberdeen’s season opener is set for Monday night at 7:05 p.m when the IronBirds begin another season in the New York-Penn League by hosting Hudson Valley. For more information to go ironbirdsbaseball.com.