Remembering last time the O’s lost two in the Rule 5

When the Orioles lost two players in the major league phase of Thursday’s Rule 5 draft, it was a good news/bad news situation. On the one hand, for the first time since 2015 the O’s lost a player in the Rule 5. And only five Major League Baseball clubs lost two or more players in this draft. On the other hand, the Orioles may have lost two players for good.

Players often get sent back to their original teams in this draft, but it’s not a given, obviously. The O’s never sent Richie Martin back. Or Anthony Santander, Ryan Flaherty, TJ McFarland or Joey Rickard, to name a few. But maybe it shows the improvement of the O’s farm - now rated No. 8 by - that they lost multiple talents.

Zach-Pop-Sidebar.jpgThe O’s lost pitcher Zach Pop to Arizona, and he was later traded to Miami. They lost pitcher Gray Fenter to the Chicago Cubs. Pop was probably the player that most O’s fans thought might be lost, and he was indeed the guy. Fenter was available in this draft last year and was not taken. Pop was part of the O’s return from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the July 2018 Manny Machado trade.

Players lost in the MLB phase by organization:

3 - New York Yankees
2 - Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota, Cleveland
1 - New York Mets, Los Angeles Angels, Cincinnati, Houston, Detroit, Tampa Bay, Toronto
0 - 18 other teams

In a Zoom press conference, O’s director of pro scouting Mike Snyder talked about losing the pitchers.

“We talked about (protecting) both of them, we talked about others,” he said. “You know this is really a testament to having a deep system. We added six prospects in the offseason. Had a seventh at the end of the regular-season in Bruce Zimmermann. Ultimately, you can’t protect them all. It’s a positive that we are making strides, that this is a relevant topic of conversation now. We’ll be rooting for them, but also cross our fingers and hope the teams that selected them are not able to carry them all season and we’ll get them back at some point.”

The Orioles last had two players selected in 2010, when the Milwaukee Brewers took right-handed reliever Pat Egan and the New York Mets took right-hander Pedro Beato. The Orioles drafted Egan twice and signed him after they took him in round 36 of the 2006 draft out of Quinnipiac University. A 36th-round pick becoming a Rule 5 selection is a nice compliment to the player, but Egan never made the majors and in spring training was sent back to the Orioles. He had thrown 6 1/3 scoreless innings in spring games for the Brewers, but they chose not to keep him. In the 2010 season on the O’s farm before that draft he had gone 7-2 with a 3.44 ERA between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk.

For a real trip down memory lane, check out this story from Dec. 9, 2010 when I interviewed Egan after he got picked in the Rule 5. In the previous season he had thrown 46 2/3 innings for Bowie and 37 for Norfolk. He posted a 1.18 WHIP and had allowed just three homers in the combined 83 2/3.

“I’m still trying to piece it all together,” Egan said by phone that day. “It’s kind of surreal right now. I’ve been getting a lot of calls and texts and I’m just trying to get a grip on it right now. I knew it was a possibility, but there is a whole different feeling when you are taken. It is starting to sink in that I have the chance to make a major league roster. It’s a great opportunity and I am real excited.”

Egan was sent back that March to the Orioles, and to bring his Rule 5 story full circle, I also interviewed him for this story when the Brewers sent him back. As I remember, he was quite a classy kid and was happy to rejoin the O’s that day, holding no ill will toward the club that had left him exposed the previous December.

“I have no resentment whatsoever for (the Orioles) not protecting me. Baseball is just as much a business as anything else,” he said. “They had decisions to make, and that’s fine with me. I didn’t do enough to get put on the roster and there’s no one else to blame but myself.”

The second player the Orioles lost that December did not come back. Beato was drafted by his hometown New York Mets in 2005 but they could not sign him. The next June the O’s drafted him No. 32 overall with their second pick. Yep, that was the year they made Billy Rowell the No. 9 overall selection. So Rowell was their first pick, Beato second and Zack Britton was their fourth that year.

Beato went 2-1 with a 4.30 ERA in 60 games for the 2011 Mets. He was later traded to Boston and even at one point re-signed with the Orioles, but never pitched a game as an Oriole. He last pitched in the majors for the 2017 Phillies.

When Beato made his much-anticipated pro debut for then short-season Aberdeen in the summer of 2006, I was the IronBirds’ radio broadcaster. I remember Beato had boasted to me that he threw eight or 10 different pitches, counting several versions of his fastball. In his first pro inning he seemed to use most of them.

That was not by design.

The late Andy Etchebarren, the former O’s catcher who was then the IronBirds’ manager, told me an emphatic “no” when I asked if he intended for Beato to use so many pitches in his first pro inning. Etchebarren would have preferred that Beato use his fastball, but he would let his young players make in-game mistakes, as Beato had that day, to learn from them.

Hey kid, save some pitches for the later innings! Don’t let them see all you’ve got before you’ve thrown 20 pitches!

In losing Fenter, as least for now, the O’s lose a pitcher they signed to a well-over-slot bonus when they took him in round seven of the First-Year Player Draft in 2015. Fenter got a $1 million bonus from the Orioles when the slot amount for his pick was $178,300. They loved his potential, but then he had Tommy John surgery in April 2016. It set his career back a few years and he finally was his old self in 2019 at Single-A Delmarva at age 23. He went 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA for the Shorebirds. It was last December when I was thinking Fenter could be gone in this draft. But yesterday it happened.

In Salisbury early in 2019 for this story, Fenter provided me some interesting insights about undergoing the Tommy John procedure. He said it made him a more relaxed and patient pitcher.

“I would say I pay a lot more attention to the game and what hitters do before I face them,” he said that day. “And I let things go. Short memory. I used to remember everything that happened in a game and it held me back. Like remembering that double I gave up in the first and it was the fourth inning. Things would linger.”

So while he is making a big jump from low Single-A ball and trying to make the majors with the Cubs, Fenter is quite mature and, in my opinion, we should not discount or dismiss his chances.

No doubt Pop could make it with the Marlins. After his trade to the Orioles in 2018, he went 1-0 with an ERA of 0.84 in eight games with Bowie. He has a career 3-3 mark and 1.34 ERA in 57 games. But like Tyler Wells, the pitcher the O’s added from the Twins yesterday, Pop also had Tommy John surgery in May 2019. He has said he will be a full go in the spring.

So this time the O’s lost as many players in the Rule 5 MLB phase as they added, two of each. As we discuss them today, Mac Sceroler and Wells are Orioles, Fenter is a Cub and Pop a Marlin. Will all that still be true at the beginning and end of the 2021 season?

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