14 June 2018

Thoughts on the Orioles 2018 Draft

Baseball drafts tend to be difficult to assess because we tend to completely ignore amateur baseball and it is a challenge to project how a player will develop over the years it takes for them to be prepared for Major League level performance.  Often, people who follow one of the other sports, like football or baseball, get irritated when one makes this observation, but baseball is a sport that requires a rather prolonged developmental period.  You can find immediate contributors in those other sports, but, outside of the rare college pitcher with two plus plus pitches, no baseball draftee is ready to step into a big league box.

So post-draft, you get a swell of draft report cards and evaluations that mean very little.  Taking Grayson Rodriguez with the first pick, even though he was pretty far down the rankings devised by baseball scouting media sites, means very little.  Those rankings are created through a mix of writers knowing a few scouts and what they think plus their own direct and indirect observations.  Those rankings do not reflect any organization rankings and you see quite a difference between those and the real thing.  Some think that by showing the variance between the scouting site rankings will indicate the actual variance in the real scouting world.  It doesn't.  In the media world, you have an echo chamber effect, which increases likelihood of inadvertent copying, and you have the reality that the variance of averages is not the same as the variance of the actual data.

So, if your argument is ranking based, then you probably have a fairly weak argument.  Slightly stronger than that, we have more of a philosophical argument in terms of team approaches to drafts.  Before Dan Duquette and Gary Rajsich came on board, the Orioles under Andy MacPhail and Joe Jordan mainly were on the lookout for athletic players with great makeup as well as injured players.  That perspective has changed.  The club now tends to look at pitchers with a good fastball and slider mix and a professional ("quick to plate") approach to pitching.  Positional players tend to be evaluated bat first, except for middle infield college gloves.  An aspect of their strategy with college gloves at shortstop is to find players who can defensively keep the rhythm of the game.  Keep the flow, which helps prevent innings that implode from deflating defense.

 The club pretty much kept with that concept in 2018.  The went for pitchers with intriguing fastballs that moved as well as established or promising sliders.  Folks were surprised by Grayson Rodriguez.  He was considered a second day pick last Spring, but improved his conditioning and overall training.  That resulted him rocketing up the boards.  He wound up around mid-20s at the beginning of May, but then trended backwards.  Typically, it seems that players with helium tend to move backwards before publications issue their last ranking list as evaluators begin to focus on negative aspects of these kind of players a bit more.  Anyway, Rodriguez made sense where he was selected and was certainly a name some were actually pegging a few selections earlier than the Orioles.

Blaine Knight is another player who fits the mold.  He was knocked a bit for his thin body type.  There are concerns about his long term health and his college program insisted that he not play summer ball and instead work on developed size.  He did not develop any size.  Regardless, he has a great two pitch mix and could emerge as an elite backend bullpen arm.  J.J. Montgomery, Ryan Conroy, Kevin McGee, and Dallas Litscher to a lesser degree fit with this bucket.

On the pitchers with upside, you have lefty Drew Rom.  Some expected him to go to the college ranks and mature, but for the Orioles to select him here, you would think they full well intend to sign him.  He lives in the 90s, but has a good feel with his secondary pitches.  He flashes some mid-90s heat (rarely) and has some room for projection with the hope that the velocity emerges.  Yeancarlos Lleras is another player who has flashed mid-90s heat and is thought to have more projection.  The organization claims he has a secondary pitch, but my sources indicate that he really only has used his fastball without any need to explore other pitches.

Cadyn Grenier, in the second, and Cody Roberts, in the eleventh, are typical Orioles solid defense up the middle selections.  Grenier is an excellent college shortstop whose swing needs to be reconfigured, which is not exactly something the Orioles seem to do well.  Their batting perspective tends to be to encourage guys to be aggressive as opposed to a significant mechanical overhaul.  I am told those sort of things wind up on the player themselves to figure out.  Anyway, he will at the very least settle down the infields he appears on and help pitchers focus on their own development.  He may well arrive in the Majors as a cup of coffee defensive replacement in a few years.  Meanwhile, Roberts, is an excellent catcher who should provide stopping power at the plate, defensively.  Offensively, it will be a struggle to see him get any significant time above Delmarva.  We shall see.

Robert Neustrom was a selection in the fifth round, which was a bat first selection.  He has power and he showed off his bat on the Cape, so that certainly helps.  His defense is suspect and so is his arm, so he probably slots into left field as opposed to his announced right field.  Anyway, it seems the take with him will be to push him like they did with Austin Hays.  Tell him to go out there and dominate, be aggressive.  It kind of worked for Hays, for a bit.  Maybe it will work with Neustrom.

Each year, I follow the Orioles selections and come up with my own picks.  I often have one or two selections that the Orioles also make, but they went well off the established lists by the main scouting media services.  That meant that when I developed my own lists and asked questions about players, I simply did not think about asking about those guys.  I am unsure whether I would have drafted them, but my philosophy is similar to what the Orioles do.

However, I tend to go more toward low variance production up top and also utilize predictive models.  That led me to someone like Brady Singer who seems like his ceiling is less of that of Rodriguez, but is more of a certainty is producing MLB value.  Jake McCarthy, a college true center fielder, is an up the middle player whose bat seems far more accessible with wooden bats than what Grenier has to offer.  Beyond those guys, I went with middle infield and power arms.  Nico Decalati was a deviation, but I was surprised to see someone like that available in the sixth with such a loud bat.  Anyway, here were my preferences.

Shadow Draft
1. Brady Singer, RHP
Singer is a more baked version of Rodriguez, but with less upside.  Signer looks to be a strong mid-rotation ceiling arm with a fastball/slider mix.  Rodriguez may have better mechanics and upside to his pitches, but Singer already has a useful changeup which cements him as a more certain starting pitching prospect.

1s. Jake McCarthy, CF
Great range and a good enough arm for centerfield.  Plus speed, a good approach at the plate, and hard contact in wood leagues.  His stock dropped a bit with injuries, but I think his long term outlook is very solid.

3. Mike Siani, CF
William Penn Charter (HS)
Siani has fringe plus speed, some power, and a strong arm.  He fits more of the Adam Jones style of center fielder.  It may seem strange to see me draft two centerfielders in a row, but they should have different developmental time frames (i.e., high school versus college) and Siani's issues with contact make for a potentially slower development.  One positive as a floor for Siani is that he has shown some aptitude as a southpaw, so he could be tried out as a lefty bullpen arm if it all fell apart.

4. Nick Dunn, 2B
Dunn is a contact oriented bat with good gap power.  He has shown aptitude in wood bat leagues, which makes his offensive performance in college look a tad bit better. The concern is whether he can stay at second base because his profile looks a lot less interesting away from there.

5. Matt Mercer, RHP
Mercer has a good fastball that sometimes gets up into the high 90s.  However, as a starter it looks to be more of a low 90s pitch.  He also has established secondaries, but none of them look to be all that great at a MLB level.  I see him as a hard throwing reliever, but would let him start until that path looks done.

6. Niko Decalati, 3B
Loyola Marymount
Decalati has outstanding light tower power.  He gets a lot of hard contact.  However, he does not get much contact and the concern on him is that a shift to a more contact oriented approach would undermine his power.  That said, he is athletic and looks to be able to play third base professionally or right field, if needed.

7. Joey Gerber, RHP
Gerber shows a mid-to-high 90s fastball and whispers of a decent slider.  That looks good to me in the seventh round.

8. Bryce Montes de Oca, RHP
Montes de Oca can throw 100 mph and has a decent slider that should play as average.  He also was used sparingly the last half of the college season which provides concern when paired with several arm surgeries from his past.  That said, 100 mph.

9. Hunter Feduccia, C
Lefty catcher, which may have some platoon value.  Strong footwork behind the plate and a good approach at the plate. No power to speak of.

10. Jason Bilous, RHP
Coastal Carolina
Bilous wound up not going until past the 10th round, which probably means he is going back to school.  Last summer, he glanced 100 mph and has a solid slider.  He has also shown feel for a changeup.  That all said, it sounds better than it is as he has had terrible trouble with control and command.


Pip said...

If I understand correctly you are married with a family and a complicated full-time job as a doctor. I am very impressed and grateful that you took so much time to prepare this information. Thank you.

Jon Shepherd said...

Yeah, toxicologist, but I do not see patients. More on the research and policy side of things. That said, thanks, I appreciate it. Time is tight and certainly someday I figure this all might end. We have been doing this for 11 or 12 years. The age of blogs ended awhile ago and we are more or less a lonely stalwart. But, for now, we are here and at the very least will be here through the season.

Unknown said...

Fantastic job pulling this together, this is the best insight I have seen into the draft.

Unknown said...

I wasnt a huge fan of there draft. Honestly felt singer or libatore were better floor and high end talents then the guy they took. With the Grenier pick they seemed to pass on multiple players that Just seemed safer and potentially better as well.

All the other picks just seemed like extremely safe low floor players. Much prefer your draft its a good mix of safe and risky talents.