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O’s Draft and MiL Q&A with Nick Faleris, Baseball Prospectus

To get some insight on the Orioles 2015 draft, as well as some of their minor league talent, I asked Nick Faleris for his thoughts. Faleris is well known on our board and he just finished up doing work on the draft for Perfect Game. He is also a contributor for Baseball Prospectus. We would like to thank Nick for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions for us.

(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)

1) With their first pick, the Orioles chose OFer DJ Stewart from Florida State University. The thoughts on him and where he should have been drafted are all over the map according to the Draft “experts”? One thing scouts view as a drawback is his pronounced crouch when he is up to bat and others question if he will be able to stay in the OF or if he will eventually have to move to first. What are your thoughts on him and did you feel he was a good pick for the Orioles?

I don’t have a particular issue with his stance and mechanics, and he’s certainly a corner outfielder for me. He’s an athletic player and moves pretty well and I like the way he handles himself in the field. I wouldn’t call it impact, but I haven’t seen reason to shift him off of the grass. The approach is strong and I’m a believer in the hit tool playing at the top level. The numbers embellish the power potential, thanks in large part to a very lefty-friendly home park, but I could see 20 home runs if he squares-up enough balls. Call it a 55/50 hit/power and average defense in left field. Solid major league regular.

The valuation I placed on Stewart was $1.75 million, with the profile generally one that would slot in somewhere between the late first and early second round (depending on the full composition of the draft class). As to whether Stewart would have been my specific pick, there were players I had with a higher valuation still available, and perhaps some I liked a little more if I were to try and grab a collegiate junior at an under-slot rate, so I probably would have gone a different route. That, however, is purely a product of preference – I don’t see this as a reach pick and there is a lot to like about an advanced college bat, particularly for an organization that lacks much in the way of useful position prospects.

2) With their second pick, the Orioles took HS SS Ryan Mountcastle. Based off of some of the scouting reports, his upside is high but there are questions about his position and his hit tool. How did you feel about this pick and is this a guy you feel the Orioles organization can develop or is he a guy who has weaknesses that the Orioles struggle to fix?

Taking the easy question first, success of development comes down to the work the player wants to put in and an organization’s ability to identify specific areas that can be improved upon. With Mountcastle, he’s a growing kid that is likely to always have some holes in his swing due to his long limbs, so ideally you view him as a hard worker with a strong desire to be a student of the game and soak in pro instruction. Outside of that, it comes down to how much he fills-in that big body. I do not see Mountcastle as a fast-mover, but there is potential for impact if everything falls into place.

I had him as a $725,000 valuation, which is a third-round guy. He signed for underslot, which I assume will be used to grab some of the later-drafted high schoolers, so if Baltimore likes Mountcastle as a future everyday player I have no issue with the pick. Again, I would have gone a different direction but based solely on my personal preferences. I don’t have an issue with the strategy at all, even if my execution would have varied.

3) An intriguing pick was the 7th round pick of HS pitcher Gray Fenter. The Orioles sounded as if they were surprised he was there in the 7th round and while they know he is likely going to go over-slot, they feel they can get it done. Is he a talent you feel you go over slot for?

Sure, I like Fenter enough to buy him out of a college commitment. Heavy fastball and quality slider with some feel for offspeed. The drawback for me is the frame, which isn’t my favorite for a high school righty. I am not opposed to a smaller in stature starter, but from an acquisition standpoint I prefer getting them at the collegiate level where I have a longer track record to work worth, and some data I can crunch to help me weigh starter/reliever likelihood. At the high school level, I would generally look for regular plus or better velocity, since my expectation is there will be some drop once the arm is throwing every five days over a long pro season, and Fenter at least flirts with that.

4) Were there any other picks that jumped out to you, good or bad, that the Orioles made in this draft?

I think Cleavinger is an interesting under-slot grab in the third round. Power lefty reliever with a little upside if you can firm up the physique and improve the consistency. McKenna (fourth round), Heinrich (fifth round) and Curran (eighth round) are all interesting upside bats, with Curran showing the best power, McKenna showing the best overall tools (including the hit tool) but a little undersized, and Heinrich probably the highest upside because of the blend of physicality and potential for hit and power (along with a loud showing as part of a very good FTB Chandler travel ball team – Mountcastle was his teammate, by the way).

Reid Love (10th Round) is a strike throwing senior sign that lacks impact but could be a useful lefty arm out of the pen – I’m not sure he can turn over more advanced pro lineups in a starter role, but Baltimore could give him a shot.

Outside of the top ten rounds, I like Mike Odenwaelder as performance bat (summer and spring) from a cold weather state who also comes with good physicality and tools. Does it all come together? Hard to know until we see him against better competition. But it’s an interesting lotto ticket for sure.

5) While I am not asking you for a “grade” for this draft, how would you evaluate this draft in terms of the pure talent the O’s drafted and how do you feel this draft compares with recent Orioles drafts(at the time of the draft)?

I liked the plan. I would have preferred a second college bat if Baltimore wanted to go position player/position player, since I think there was a sweet spot there in second/third round college position player talent that would have signed under slot at 36th overall. There were some interesting arms available at a couple different spots, but I don’t blame the organization from shying away from more costly investments on that front given the need for positional prospects. Overall it was nice to see an identifiable plan that looks to have been executed effectively.

6) How do you feel the rest of the AL East did in this draft?

The Yankees went sturdy grabbing a number of solid high floor collegians while going upside with a combination of advanced feel and projectability in high school righty Drew Finley (who I had as an early second round valuation). If they can sign him, Isaiah Gilliam is a really interesting JuCo power bat in the 20th round.

Boston grabbed the highest overall talent of the AL East teams in Andrew Benintendi, who could be an impact player across his game. That’s the benefit of being horrible the previous year and drafting in the top ten. The rest of the draft was typical Boston, going for skill position players, power arms and hit tools. Marc Brakeman is the potentially signable impact talent outside the top ten rounds that jumps out. He was great on the Cape and NorCal scouts still seemed to like him despite the down spring.

Tampa played the board and I really liked the couple places they went cheaper and the couple places they were more aggressive. Whitley had backers as a top 10 talent; Chris Betts has a first round bat with some questions surrounding health this spring; Brandon Lowe is primarily a hit tool, but it could be a good one; Koch has one of the most entertaining sliders in the class and is an interesting relief arm; I liked McCarthy as a first rounder with an impact bat and above-average profile in right field had he stayed healthy this spring. Outside of the top ten rounds Gibault has durability concerns but could be another hard thrower for the dev staff to sculpt.

The Blue Jays got a top ten overall talent in Jon Harris, who may be the class’ best bet for a collegiate arm developing into an impact front-end starter, and they got him 29th overall. Singer and Maese were helium arms from Florida and Texas, respectively, with the physicality to project continued growth. Wise is a savvy fourth round pick, with potential for impact power and room to grow into a solid defender at third with instruction. He just turned 20 despite being a college junior.

7) Turning our focus to the Orioles minor league system now, I would like to hear you thoughts on how Bundy has come along and what your expectations are for him, both the rest of this year and the long term? Have your expectations been lowered? How does him being out of options after this season effect how you view his value?

It would sure be nice to see him last a couple months throwing five or six innings a start on regular rest. He needs to get on the mound and log innings, including this fall in the AFL. If there is a rebuilding team willing to pay 75 cents on the dollar to take on the risk, I’d certainly be willing to move him to help shore up the major league club with a multi-year solution at a position of need (or improvement). He’s talented enough to step onto the 25-man roster next year and hold his own, but the more conservative approach would be to count on him as little more than a righty arm out of the pen who will hopefully start some games and build up his innings load. Baltimore doesn’t really find itself in an enviable position at this point.

8) You have been higher on Kevin Gausman, from Day 1, than a lot of people. What are your thoughts on how the Orioles have handled him from the day he came into the organization up until this point?

He appears to be a casualty of the front office’s creative 40-man roster management, as well as some of the fringy talent the Orioles have locked themselves into along the way the last couple of seasons. Given how he performed last year I thought it was a shame that he didn’t get the opportunity to start the year in the rotation and continue to develop at the major league level. He should be back in Baltimore soon and I am still a big believer in him as a future front-end arm.

9) Is Hunter Harvey destined for surgery?

Who knows? It’s been about ten months since we’ve been able to see him throw in a meaningful game. The last time I saw him up close (the Futures Game) he was unimpressive, and the arm action was worse than I had seen in the past. Hopefully the team figures out the health issues so he can get back to figuring out things on the developmental side.

10) Jomar Reyes, at the age of 18, is holding his own in Delmarva and he is doing it vs competition that us generally older than he is. His 767 OPS (as of June 20) is supported by a solid 343 OBP and he has 20 extra base hits in 198 at bats. How good of a prospect is Reyes and is he a guy we could see get into some top 100 lists for 2016?

Reyes looks great as an 18 year old in Low A, and there’s a strong case for him being the best bat in the system at this point. The low minors are currently packed with potential impact talent, so his status as a top 100 prospect will come down to full body of his 2015 performance and his showings in fall instructs. He’d certainly be in the discussion today, particularly if you put more weight on offense than other aspects of a player’s profile.

11) Are there any Orioles MiL’s that are opening your eyes more than you thought before this season started?

Mychal Givens is the easy choice, considering his performance at Bowie. It’s a future seventh inning profile with high-leverage upside. Josh Hart continues to be slightly undervalued nationally considering age, level, and the impact he can have with the glove and on the bases. It’s great to see Ollie Drake continue to click in his new role. He was one of my favorite under the radar arms for a while and seems to have found his niche out of the pen. Jonah Heim remains my preferred in-system “catcher of the future”, but it will likely be a slow grow with the bat. It’s not an overly exciting system at present, and the organization is going to have to start putting a little more emphasis on acquiring and developing talent if it hopes to build a sustainable competitor long term.

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