Orioles 2018 MLB Draft Q&A With Adam McInturff, 2080 Baseball
In a lost season for the Baltimore Orioles at the Major League level, full attention turns to the future. Last week the Orioles went through the June Amateur Draft, adding talent to the system.
To discuss the Draft, Baltimore Sports and Life (BSL) reached out to Adam McInturff who is the Assistant Director of Pro Scouting for 2080 Baseball.
McInturff began his career as an Amateur Scouting intern with the Texas Rangers, before progressing to Baseball Prospectus as their Senior Prospect Writer. Most recently before joining 2080; McInturff worked in the Baseball Operations / Scouting Department for the Orioles.
Thanks to Adam for his thoughts and expertise!
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
Baltimore Sports and Life: With the 11th overall selection in the 2018 Amateur Draft, the Baltimore Orioles selected Grayson Rodriguez. There seems to be consensus that he was a legitimate 1st round talent, and some surprise he went quite that early. What do you like and question about Rodriguez. If you were doing a shadow draft at that point, who would have been your selection?
McInturff: Great question here. I expect that plenty of Orioles fans are trying to figure out what made Rodriguez more attractive to Baltimore over some other “consensus” players that were expected to go off the board before him. Before I touch on what I like about Grayson as a player, I think it’s important to mention two things:
1) No fan should want the scouting director of their favorite team to be overly swayed by industry consensus.
2) Almost everything that the public thinks is the “correct” move in the draft is because of information they have been told to believe is true. It creates a confirmation bias where picks that align with the media’s opinions are celebrated, and those that go against it appear more ill advised than they often turn out to be.
In Rodriguez, the Orioles are getting a young arm who has the ingredients of a durable mid-rotation starter at the Major League level. The frame is meant to eat innings, and while there are some things he could clean up in his delivery, Grayson’s build is that of a guy who won’t have to create excess mechanical effort to generate (or hold) fastball velocity. This lends itself well to projecting on his fastball command while making it less likely his velocity goes backwards when he’s throwing on an “every fifth day” professional schedule. From a stuff perspective, he’s already scraping the 96-98 range at best with his fastball, and he’s likely to work with above-average velocity for a starter at 93-to-95 mph with the ability to reach back for more. He throws both a slider (83-85 mph) and true curveball (77-80), and while both show promise, I expect him to morph into more of a fastball/slider guy at the end of the day, with the curveball being more of a second-look wrinkle pitch. Rodriguez didn’t show his changeup much against high school hitters this spring, but that isn’t uncommon for pitchers this age. With a loose, fast arm-stroke and no significant mechanical red flags, the ability to bring about a more refined changeup is here.
For all that has been made about Baltimore never having enough arms, the amateur scouting group has quietly amassed an impressive group of pitching prospects over the last few drafts. Along with Rodriguez, guys like D.L. Hall, Keegan Akin, Brenan Hanifee, Michael Baumann, and Zac Lowther have inserted a serious jolt into a farm system that was pretty barren a few years ago.
Baltimore Sports and Life: The Orioles second selection was Oregon State SS Cadyn Grenier. Everyone seems to believe Grenier’s defense is ML caliber, and most everyone has questions about his bat. Do you think his bat will play as a professional? When the O’s selected Grenier, Cole Wilcox, Kumar Rocker, Xavier Edwards, Jeremy Eierman, and Steele Walker were still on the board. Would you have selected one of those five (or other) over Grenier?
McInturff: I’ll answer this question backwards, addressing the point about the other players on the board first. Since the slotting system was instituted in 2012, the draft has become one big math problem. Maximizing the dollars allotted in your pool—and making sure you select players whose signability matches up with your bonus plans—has become the name of the game, especially past the earliest picks. It’s tough to knock Baltimore for leaving guys like Rocker, Wilcox, or Edwards on the board given what their asking prices reportedly were. Rolling the dice on a player with first-round talent whose bonus demands drove them out of the first 30 picks could backfire badly, jeopardizing a team’s ability to sign other players from their draft class.
Scouting Director Gary Rajsich likes balance in his drafts, and Grenier was a nice “high floor” complement to the club selecting a high school pitcher in the first round. As you said, his defense at a premium position (shortstop) is the carry tool, and at the very least, there’s a good chance he fits a utility infield profile. This is where the “high floor” piece comes in, as there’s already a foreseeable pathway to him contributing in the big leagues. If he can develop enough stick to hit in the .250-.260 range with the ability to control the bat and do the little things on offense, he will be a glove-first regular at short. I don’t think he was in the #35-#40 overall range on every team’s board, but I see Grenier’s appeal to Baltimore, specifically, given what they did with their first-round selection.
Baltimore Sports and Life: Blaine Knight was the O’s 3rd round selection. The Arkansas RHP appears to have some ceiling. Are you a fan? With a relatively slight build, there are durability questions. Do you think he ultimately profiles as a reliever?
McInturff: I do mostly pro scouting for our group at 2080 Baseball, but Knight was one of the handful of college prospects I saw for us early this season. I might not have liked this pick in the first round, but I think Knight presents a nice blend of upside and safety compared to many third-round selections. I agree with the questions about his durability—he has struggled to add muscle mass in college, and there are some mechanical components that leave me wondering whether his shoulder and elbow get exposed through the delivery. That said, it’s a polished pitch mix and he could move fairly quickly through the lower parts of the system, similar to what we have seen from Lowther and Baumann in their first full pro seasons.
Baltimore will give Knight every chance to prove he’s a starter, but yes, I can see his most impactful utilization down the road coming from the bullpen. The stuff might back up pitching on a pro schedule, and I think the fastball and slider have more swing-and-miss potential only facing lineups once.
Baltimore Sports and Life: The 5th rounder was Iowa OF Robert Neustrom. An advanced college bat, who had success in 2017 in the Cape Cod League. Where would you start him off? Defensively, is he going to be limited to LF?
McIntruff: In terms of where he starts this summer, Aberdeen is the most logical destination. The O’s don’t have a track record for pushing players aggressively, especially early in their pro careers. For a point of reference, D.J. Stewart was the team’s first-round pick in 2015, also a college hitter. The questions about Stewart at the time surrounded his ceiling—not his polish or pro readiness—and even he spent his entire first summer with the IronBirds.
I wouldn’t rule out Neustrom being able to play a passable right field, but I agree that left field is the better long-term fit at the big league level. He’s a corner outfielder with arm-strength and range that are more playable than plus, and if you look across the Major Leagues, most guys who lineup in right field every night have a true plus defensive tool, if not two. Neustrom’s pro-ready frame (a muscular 6’2’’ and 210 pounds) and left-handed power potential lead to his selection in the top five rounds, and those attributes will need to carry him as a bat-first player who projects at a corner position.
Baltimore Sports and Life: The O’s took lots of arms in their initial Top 10 picks, including Drew Rom (4th), Yeancarlos Lleras (6th), JJ Montgomery (7th), Ryan Conroy (8th), Kevin Magee (9th), and Dallas Litscher (10th). Who in this group jumps out to you?
McInturff: The Orioles understand that developing homegrown pitching needs to be more of a priority. 2018 is the third straight year where at least six of the team’s picks in the top 10 rounds were pitchers. I’m eager to see Montgomery, Conroy, Magee, and (likely) Litscher in Aberdeen this summer, so I’ll focus on the two high schoolers of the group: Rom and Lleras.
Drew Rom was the team’s fourth-rounder from a Northern Kentucky high school. His 6’2’’ and 170-pound frame is more muscular and athletic than his listed height/weight suggests, and that athleticism is apparent in his delivery. He has a good amount to clean up mechanically, but that’s fairly common for prep pitchers (especially from non-hotbed states) and he has the body control to make adjustments. It’s all about projection for the lefty, who shows a lively tailing fastball and good feel for spinning a tight three-quarters breaking ball. Like 2016’s fourth-rounder Brenan Hanifee, don’t be surprised if Rom needs two years before reaching Delmarva, but he could intrigue once he’s there.
Yeancarlos Lleras is a righty from Puerto Rico. He’s undersized at 6’0’’ and 150-some pounds, but like Rom, there’s more muscle and twitch athleticism than the listing reads on paper. His arm works extra fast through a three-quarters slot. As he grows into his frame, I can see Lleras adding significant velocity to his fastball given his core strength and handspeed.
Baltimore Sports and Life: Most sites had the O’s system relatively middle of the pack entering ’18. After a couple of Months of play, and this Draft; where does the system fall for you?
McIntruff: Like you said, I think that it’s middle of the pack. Even so, that’s a real improvement from where the farm was a few years ago. If there was a real slam dunk top-30 prospect in the game to headline the system, there’s enough depth for this to start entering into the conversation of a top ten system in baseball. Sisco, Hays, and Mountcastle have everyday ceilings and are on the north side of Double-A, with Hays and Sisco already having big league time. D.L. Hall has mid-rotation upside, and while Hunter Harvey is more a reliever than starter to me long-term, I think he could be an impactful bullpen piece. Guys like Keegan Akin, Cedric Mullins, Zac Lowther, Ryan McKenna, and D.J. Stewart provide the depth I mentioned, with pitching prospects like Brenan Hanifee, Alex Wells, and Branden Kline all making some noise in A-Ball. David Hess and Austin Wynns have shown that there are guys in this system who provide big league value even without being “big name” guys.
The best time to re-evaluate the state of the system will come after the July deadline. Baltimore’s record makes them more of a no-doubt “seller” this July than they have been in years past, and the return for pieces like Machado, Givens, or Brach could be enough to push this system over the hump. The fact that the O’s could wind up with a top-five selection in next year’s Draft also leaves some room to add a primer prospect to what’s already a solid crop.