A Review of Orioles Pitching Draft Picks
(July 13, 2012 – Source: Rob Carr, Getty Images)
After seeing St. Louis and Boston achieve great success in October in part thanks to homegrown pitching talent, I decided to take a look at the pitchers that the Orioles have drafted over the last few years. Good pitching is very important, particularly in short series like the playoffs. Teams are always looking for great pitchers in the draft, in trades, and on the free agent market. The Orioles have reportedly contacted St. Louis about acquiring some of their young talent. I take this to mean that the Orioles are looking in the right places and understand the gold mine that is cheap, good pitching. I don’t mean to say that this is a recent recognition; the franchise has always understood this, and their trade proposal reflects a continuation of that philosophy.
My intention was to go back as far as 2000, but the Orioles website, used to source the data, doesn’t have records for which players were signed before 2003. This is an important piece of information. My pool of data will run from 2004-2013, a full decade of Orioles draft classes. My goal is simply to describe the pitchers that the Orioles have selected and trained, determine if the team is prone to a type, and see where those players are now.
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First, an important disclaimer: I am not optimistic about the organization’s ability to train a young pitcher and consistently produce Major League talent at this particular position. I understand that there is no such this as a pitching prospect and that many young men at this position in particular flame out for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is injury. At the minor league level, the position is incredibly unpredictable. That being said, I am going into this with the unfounded opinion that the Orioles have less success than good major league teams.
Next, a few things to keep in mind:
- Baseball is unlike football in that many draft picks decline offers from the selecting franchise with the hopes of performing better, being drafted higher, and being offered more money the following year. My description of Orioles pitching prospects will focus strictly on players that the Orioles both drafted and signed, because those are the pitchers that the team has either groomed or tried to groom.
- The widespread use of the ability to decline draft offers has, in the past, caused teams to draft not only on ability and potential, but also on signability. It is possible that the Orioles thought other pitchers would be better than the players they selected, but opted not to take those better players for fear of an inability to sign them.
- Baseball is like football in that the best athletes are slotted into particular roles at the high school level, when the average talent level is low. In football, the best athletes are made quarterbacks so that they touch the ball every play. In baseball, the best athletes are often made pitchers so that, every few days, they can contribute in a more tangible way than playing a defensive position. Chris Davis pitched in high school. Draft picks listed as pitchers may be more naturally suited to another position and making a move away from the mound at the minor league level is not unheard of.
- The franchise may have used what appears to be a very high percentage of their draft picks on pitchers. If this is the case, I am going to assume that it is due to some combination of team philosophy and recognition that pitching prospects are unreliable and that finding a player that grows into a Major Leaguer requires more of a “throw it at the wall” approach.
- The success rate of developing pitchers is more than likely due in very large part to the quality of prospects an organization has to work with.
- I am not a scout, nor am I in any way qualified to engage in a discussion of player development. If the Orioles have had little success in developing young pitchers, I will only be able to describe it, not fix it.
- I will be using available pre-draft scouting reports to try to find trends in Dan Duquette’s draft picks. Their performance in the Minor Leagues will not be part of my discussion, though I welcome it as a way of looking at who is working out.
- If you really want to comb through the spreadsheet that was used for this exercise, it’s available here.
With that out of the way: The Baltimore Orioles have selected 479 players in the Major League Baseball draft since 2004. 255, or 53%, of those draft picks have been pitchers.
The way draft picks are listed has changed some over the last decade. Recently, the Orioles have denoted picks that sign with the team with the date of their signing, and unsigned picks are listed as “unsigned.” Previously, it was “signed” and “unsigned.” Even farther back, “-” is used without description. I am working under the assumption that this means that the player did not sign with the Orioles.
140 pitching draft picks selected by the Baltimore Orioles have signed with the franchise. Of this total, 46 pitchers have been southpaws and 94 have been righties. To my knowledge, no switch pitchers have been drafted by the Orioles.
Orioles pitching draft picks have a mean height of 74.135 inches, or 6-feet-2-inches and change. The median height of draft picks is 6-foot-3-inches. The mean weight of pitching prospects is 197.9 pounds; the players’ median weight is 200 pounds. Pitchers drafted by the Orioles are an average of 21 years old by both mean and median. Therefore, it is likely that most pitchers selected by the Orioles have at least some college experience. There is no correlation between age and weight of draft picks at the time of the draft, despite it being likely that the average human continues to develop and mature physically during college. This leads me to believe that high school pitchers selected by the Orioles are fairly physically developed.
So, where are these pitching draft picks now? Overwhelmingly, they’re out of baseball. For some guys, the search terms “player name baseball reference orioles” didn’t even return their Baseball-Reference profile as the top destination. One guy’s name wasn’t even spelled right on Orioles.com. I secretly hope that some of these guys have a Google alert for their name being searched and I’ve accidentally stumbled into making someone’s day.
The team actually did go on a hot stretch for a few years where in which they consistently drafted pitchers that are still playing professional ball. Unfortunately, they are playing professional ball at low minor league levels or around the world. Two guys are in the Mexican League (Sean Gleason and Jose Barajas), one is in the Korean Baseball Organization (Garrett Olson), and another is in the Nippon Baseball League (Brad Bergesen). As expected, more players from the recent drafts are still in baseball. It takes time to develop as a pitcher. It also takes time to recognize, accept, and then act on the fact that you’ll never be a Major League pitcher. If history is any indication, more of the recent draft picks will experience the latter.
Only 3 pitching draft picks are firmly in the Major Leagues at the time of this writing: Brian Matusz (RP, BAL), Pedro Beato (RP, BOS), and David Hernandez (RP, ARI). Others have made brief Major League appearances and are either expected to become MLB pitchers or have bounced between AAA and the Majors: Jason Berken(RP, SF), Zachary Britton (SP, BAL), Jake Arrieta (SP, CHC), Dylan Bundy (SP, BAL), and Kevin Gausman (SP, BAL).
I would be mistaken not to credit the Orioles in the development of Major League starter and All Star Chris Tillman, who was traded to the Orioles after one year in Seattle’s farm system.
Under Dan Duquette, every pitcher selected by the Orioles is still playing professional baseball as a part of a Major League Baseball franchise. Keep in mind that Duquette has presided over only two drafts for the Orioles, since he joined the team in November of 2011. Of his pitching picks:
- 14 are with the Gulf Coast League Orioles (Rookie)
- 8 are with the Aberdeen Ironbirds (A-)
- 4 are with the Frederick Keys (A+)
- 5 are with the Delmarva Shorebirds (A)
- 0 are with the Bowie Baysox (AA)
- 1 is with the Norfolk Tides (AAA), and has made multiple Major League Appearances
Duquette has drafted and signed 12 lefties (37.5%) and 20 righties (62.5%). 9 of his picks start for their teams, 18 are primarily relief pitchers (some have made one or two starts, likely as spot starters), and 5 have split duties between starter and reliever. One, Josh Hader, was good enough to be acquired by the Houston Astros in the trade that sent Bud Norris to Baltimore.
Does Dan Duquette have a type? Well, he appears willing to draft younger pitchers: the mean age of his picks is 20.7 years old. To date, he’s taken a lower percentage of lefties, but that may be a result of quality of available players. He’s taken guys with an average height of 6’3″ and with an average weight of 196.6, slightly taller and lighter than the average pick over the last decade. If he’s taking younger players, the weight disparity may indicate that he’s picking guys with big frames that have more time to fill out through strength training and natural growth.
Scouting reports are difficult to come by, especially by guys taken in the late rounds. Piecing together what I could, it seems that Duquette has taken more pitchers that throw a curveball than a slider: 19 picks have a curve listed on their report while only 8 have a slider listed. In 2012, Duquette took a lot of hard-throwing pitchers with below-average control. Many had their average fastball listed from 91-93. In 2013, he continued to take fireballers but was able to grab guys with better-than-average control. Hunter Harvey, the first pick in 2013, was compared to Kevin Gausman, the first pick in 2012, despite having an average fastball at the time of the draft about 3.5 mph slower than Gausman’s. Since, he has apparently clocked 97 mph, which Gausman hit regularly in relief work.
Based on this very topical snapshot of Duquette picks, it appears that he’s grabbing guys with stuff and looking to teach them command of their pitches. The organization appears willing to take younger players, probably because they have more time to develop their command and fewer bad habits to break. In my opinion, it seems to be indicative of a speculative approach: take young players with good frames and great fastballs and spend a few years adding bulk and teaching command. This approach would appear to require a focus on mechanics as a means of improving command, which not everyone agrees with as a core tenant of pitcher development.
It’s too early to say that Dan Duquette needs to revamp his approach to pitcher drafting and development, but it is clear that the Orioles organization has not produced the number of Major League pitchers that the fans would have hoped for. Success in this area is defined differently by every person, but it’s striking to me that the Orioles have failed to produce a single pitcher, through the draft and development, that is currently a Major League starter in the last ten years. This includes the once-vaunted cavalry, only one of whom has become a regular starter at the highest level, and who was not drafted (but almost exclusively developed) by the Orioles.
Free agent pitching can be wildly expensive, especially for a top-of-the-line player. For the Orioles to regularly compete on a limited budget, whether it be self-imposed or not, they will need to do a better job of training young pitchers and turning them into viable Major League starters. Having young studs in arbitration like Clayton Kershaw or Clay Buchholz or in pre-arbitration like Shelby Miller is a major first step in becoming a serious competitor for the AL East crown and the World Series every year. This is not an easy task, and players like Kershaw may really come around just once in a generation. Finding a way to improve the success rate of pitching development would be moving in the right direction.