With stars emerging, O's restocking pipeline's depth
Machado, Gausman, Bundy give Baltimore possible difference makers at MLB level
BALTIMORE -- A year ago, the Orioles had three frontline prospects in infielder Manny Machado and pitchers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, a formidable trio opposing organizations were salivating over.
Machado, who was promoted last August, has since become a mainstay in the Orioles' lineup as the starting third baseman. Gausman, Baltimore's No. 2 prospect and MLB's No. 35 overall prospect, has four Major League starts under his belt, while Bundy (No. 1/No. 2 overall) -- cleared to start a throwing program on Monday -- has been on the disabled list since this spring.
So, what's next for an Orioles Minor League system that currently has top position player prospect Jonathan Schoop (No. 3/No. 97) and pitcher Branden Kline (No. 8) on the DL? It's time to restock and reload, a task that's considerably more challenging in a Draft that lacked some of the prior years' mega talents and saw the Orioles' first pick come at No. 22, a far cry from the Top 5 selection that had become almost commonplace.
"We have another wave of talent on the way," said executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, who pointed out the organization having a competitive Dominican Summer League for the first time in several years as a step in the right direction. "[Henry] Urrutia is playing in [Double-A] Bowie and Schoop should be back in another month, and they could certainly help our ballclub as soon as later this season. We have a number of kids who are progressing through the Minor Leagues. ... We are making good progress. We are active in a lot of markets."
Urrutia, an outfielder signed out of Cuba, figures to be the closest player to a promotion, although the 26-year-old's age and international experience excludes him from any top prospect lists. Duquette has said since the spring that he could end the season in Baltimore and Urrutia has been hitting Double-A pitching exceptionally well, batting .350/.410/.554 through 40 games, including two doubles, three homers and 12 RBIs in his last 10 games. While there is room for improvement, specifically regarding fielding and baserunning, Urrutia's bat could earn him a trip to the big leagues and Schoop could add another infield option later in the season, assuming he doesn't have any major setbacks in his rehab from a lower back injury. Both Machado and Gausman were promoted straight from Double-A, and Duquette has said several times that he believes players don't necessarily need to make a stop in Triple-A.
"I think we're building," second-year scouting director Gary Rajsich said of the state of the farm system. "We're trying to get younger, and at the same time we're trying to get better. We're trying to always add pitching, because pitching is very important. At the same time, we're addressing the short- and long-term needs of our organization as far as getting guys quickly who can help at the Major League level and also developing the young guys for the future."
Baltimore's selection of high school righty Hunter Harvey with their first-round Draft pick this year immediately added to the top, with Baseball America ranking Hunter fifth in the system behind Bundy, Gausman, Schoop and Eduardo Rodriguez. Rodriguez (No. 4), a left-handed pitcher who was the youngest player in Major League Spring Training, is 6-2 with High Class A Frederick, posting a 2.94 ERA in 11 starts and allowing one earned run or fewer in his last three games entering Monday.
Infielder Nick Delmonico (No. 5), a sixth-round pick in the 2011 Draft out of Farragut (Tenn.) High School, has a .303/.411/.651 line through 30 games with Frederick and first baseman Christian Walker (No. 17), last year's fourth-round pick out of the University of South Carolina was promoted recently to Frederick and hit .358 with three homers and 18 RBIs in his first 27 games. Pitcher Mike Wright (No. 9) is 6-0 with a 3.86 ERA through 12 starts for Bowie.
There is also the hope that the club signs a good chunk of last week's Draft selections to add to the mix as soon as possible. The Orioles hope to sign around 30 of their picks, roughly the same number as last year, with five of their first six selections out of high school, which obviously almost always involves a longer development time.
"We did draft some younger kids in the earlier rounds and the reason we did that is because we thought their talent was really strong," Duquette said. "We targeted a number of college pitchers, but drafting down in the second, third, fourth round, a lot of those pitchers we had targeted were selected by other clubs. And rather than going for a less talented, less skilled player, we selected the best player on the board.
"And I can tell you that when we took [high school outfielder Josh] Hart at the bottom of the first round [as a competitive balance pick], we had targeted some college pitchers that were off the board. Hart is capable of being an everyday Major League ballplayer and being the leadoff man and hitting with some power. So we took him rather than going for a college pitcher, because of the talent level. And we did the same thing with [Chance] Sisco [No. 61 pick] ... Gary Rajsich, to his credit, took the best player, the most talented player available."
The Orioles picked four catchers and ended up with 14 high school players and 27 college players, adding the older players primarily on the final day, particularly with college pitchers.
"Last year, we were fortunate to get a young high school shortstop [in third-rounder Adrian Marin] early in the Draft, whereas this year, there weren't very many high school middle infielders," Rajsich said. "They were few and far between and once they were gone, they were gone. You kind of adjust your strategy for what's available in that year's Draft."
The Orioles have placed an added emphasis on scouting and player development since Duquette took over, and manager Buck Showalter spent much of his pregame talks with the media this weekend talking about each pick and noting how important those three days are for the organization's future.
"The Orioles are making progress, last year we drafted fourth, and this year we drafted 22, which means we leapfrogged, what, 18 teams in the standings?" Duquette said. "So, that's a sign of good progress. Our fans are connecting with this year's club.
"We have more work to do, but I can tell you we are going in the right direction. Major League teams that are competitive, we have more depth of talent throughout the organization, our Minor League clubs are more competitive, and that's reflective of the talent pool and a little bit more depth."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.