In this post Pat Hickey looks at potential draft targets for the Orioles. Not only does he examine the prospects, but he uses the Orioles’ draft history and his advanced knowledge of scouting, prospecting, and the MLB Draft to narrow down who the Orioles are likely to select, and why. Check out more of Pat’s work for MLB Bonus Baby and PnR Scouting.
This is Part 9 in my series previewing the 2010 MLB draft from an Orioles perspective – The full series:
1. Series Introduction
2. Bryce Harper, C, CC of Southern Nevada
3. Jameson Taillon, RHP, The Woodlands HS (TX)
4. Drew Pomeranz, LHP, Ole Miss
5. Deck McGuire, RHP, Georgia Tech
6. Chris Sale, LHP, Florida Gulf Coast
7. Anthony Ranaudo, RHP, LSU
8. Q & A with Andy Seiler of MLB Bonus Baby
9. Examining the Orioles’ Options by Pat Hickey
10. Karsten Whitson, RHP, Chipley HS (FL)
11. Manny Machado, SS, Brito Private HS (FL)
Some Orioles fans were disappointed with the decision to take Matt Hobgood with the fifth overall pick in the 2009 Draft. However, most fans generally like Scouting Director Joe Jordan’s willingness to draft and sign guys that fell due to signability to over-slot bonuses in later rounds and pump the most talent possible in the system. For an organization that is expected to compete in 2012, and with the projected top ten picks of the 2010 Draft being extremely pitching-heavy, there is a good chance the Orioles could go with the top collegiate pitcher at number three overall. But, is that the right choice for them?
To first examine whether going after a college arm is the way to go, we’ll need to look at where the “top four” are in terms of consensus right now. Obviously, a lot can change between now and draft day on June 7. But, for hypothetical purposes, let’s say nothing does and each of the four below all tread water until then.
After LSU pitcher Anthony Ranaudo went down with renewed elbow concerns, the Ole Miss southpaw started establishing himself as the top collegiate arm in the draft. Pitching in a power conference, Drew has put up some dominating numbers this spring. He’s 6-0 with a 1.85 ERA and 104 strikeouts-to-34 walks in 68 innings pitched; all while limiting opposing hitters to a very impressive .167 average. What has moved him as the consensus top collegiate pitcher are not just these numbers alone, however. Scouts have been pleased to see that his stuff matches that performance. He has flashed two present plus pitches in his arsenal this spring – a 92-95 mph fastball and a 76-79 mph knuckle-curve. While his command may be a bit shaky at times due to an inconsistent release point in his breaking ball, there are similarities between him and the Orioles 2008 first round pick Brian Matusz. Both are tall, polished left-handers with clean arm action, strong work ethics and good track records. He is widely considered to move quickly through the minor leagues and could provide quality innings as a mid-rotation starter as soon as mid-2012.
The reigning ACC Pitcher of the Year has quietly solidified himself as a top ten pick this year. Through 11 starts, the 6’6” right-hander is 5-3 with a 2.94 ERA and 84 strikeouts-to-20 walks in 79.2 innings pitched. Part of the reason McGuire isn’t getting the acclaim he deserves is because, unlike most top collegiate arms, he hasn’t pitched in either the Cape Cod League or for Team USA in the summer. The consensus is that team that drafts McGuire is taking him more or less as a safe pick – a low-risk, moderately-high reward. He utilizes three quality big-league offerings – a low-90’s fastball with good sink and run, a high-70’s curveball-slider hybrid, as well as a low-80’s change-up. He commands all three pitches very well, and his deceptive delivery allows each pitch to play up some. The knock on McGuire is that none of his three pitches are dominating, which makes his ceiling that of a middle-to-end of the rotation pitcher. McGuire is actually very similar to Ranaudo in terms of size, stuff, and command, but is not considered to be the injury risk that Ranaudo is.
As the Cape Cod League’s Most Outstanding Pitcher this past summer, Sale possesses the rare combination of a college arm with good present stuff and one that has yet to fully scratch the surface of what his ceiling is. Standing at 6-foot-6, Sale has very good stuff – a low-to-mid-90’s fastball with outstanding sinking action that produces a lot of ground balls, a plus change-up with very good deception and movement, and a slider with good two-plane tilt, albeit inconsistent. The angle in which Sale comes at hitters is very similar to Randy Johnson, resulting in tremendous deception and extra movement of all three pitches. There is a ton of projection left in Sale, as he only weighs 180 pounds. He already has the advanced stuff and a mature approach to pitching that makes him an elite talent. Unlike McGuire, however, Sale is not without the risk. Combine his rail-thin frame and herky-jerky delivery, nobody is quite sure of how long he’s going to last unless he adds some serious weight. Due to his arm action, which is long in the back, there are some questions surrounding his command. He has good control, but his pitches are usually scattered through the zone. He’s getting away with it right now because of inferior competition and his advanced stuff, but it’ll have to improve when he gets into the higher levels. Sale is battling McGuire for the consensus second collegiate arm to be taken.
Coming into the 2010 college baseball season, LSU right-handed pitcher Anthony Ranaudo was the consensus pick for the top collegiate player to be taken in the upcoming draft. In 2009, Ranaudo went 12-3 with a 3.04 ERA and 159 strikeouts in 124 innings pitched, leading his team to its sixth College World Series title. However, a stress reaction in his elbow back in March sidelined him for a month. Since coming back from the injury, Ranaudo has gone 2-2 with an ERA of 8.69, and opposing hitters are hitting .290 off him. Something is clearly wrong, be it health or otherwise. The elbow injury can be traced back to his freshman year in 2008, when he was out nearly two months with elbow tendonitis. This type of performance will undoubtedly hurt his draft stock, but just how much? Considering his track record, the three above-average pitches with good command, and just the overall package of Ranaudo, he will still be a top ten pick. But, he also has Scott Boras as his advisor, so there’s no telling what his asking price is going to be.
With that out of the way, I think it’s important to look at some tendencies in Joe Jordan’s draft philosophy since taking over in 2005. Thanks to Andy Seiler’s 2010 Orioles Draft Preview on MLB Bonus Baby (highly-recommended, by the way), we are able to see some patterns that could possibly help us decide who the Orioles could be leaning towards on day one. Seiler identified five tendencies altogether:
- Jordan loves speed from his hitters beyond the first round, but likes more polished prep hitters than raw and toolsy ones.
- Jordan prefers prep hitters over collegiate ones.
- Jordan’s willingness to go with either one big-name player at the top or to mix and match with over-slot guys like he did in 2009.
- Jordan’s affinity for the big three states – Florida, Texas, and California.
- Jordan likes projectability in his pitchers, even if they are college prospects.
I would actually like to add a sixth one to this list. The past three years, Jordan has gone with safer and more polished players with the first pick. Picking in the top five overall each of the last three years, I agree with this strategy. For this year’s draft class, I believe Jordan will more than likely do the same. With that said, I think you can safely rule Sale and Ranaudo out of the picture.
That leaves Pomeranz and McGuire. However, is there a chance the Orioles decide to go with someone other than these two? As Seiler pointed out, Jordan likes projectability in his pitchers and polished high school hitters. Two names immediately come to mind: Texas prep RHP Jameson Taillon and Florida prep shortstop Manny Machado, both of whom are considered consensus top ten picks at this point, with Taillon settling in comfortably at number two. Below are brief scouting reports on the two, courtesy of Perfect Game Crosschecker.
Jameson Taillon, RHP, The Woodlands HS (Tex.)
6’7”, 230 lb. frame. Extra large athletic build, plus strong, very well coordinated actions. Well paced 3/4’s cross body release, long extended arm action, repeats + well. Maintained 95 mph FB from stretch, outstanding angle to RHH’s. Present plus true CB at times, hard and late with big break, commands CB plus well. Only 1 change this outing, has flashed plus change in past. No doubt #1 guy in class, special talent. Very good student, early draft prospect, verbal to Rice. Aflac All-American.
Manny Machado, SS, Brito Private HS (Fla.)
6’2”, 180 lb. frame. Athletic frame, projects large. Smooth footwork at SS, quick hands, showed good arm strength, athletic actions on all plays, solid body control. Starts his swing with wrapped bat but catches up to 90+ FB just fine, has leverage and hit balls hard in games, gets good extension, swing looked better against higher velocity. Pitched from 3/4 arm slot, good easy arm action, 90 mph FB has good movement, showed some good CB spin as well. Scouts need to keep a close eye on this talented player. Good student, verbal to Florida International.
With Bryce Harper almost certainly being a lock to be taken first overall, Taillon would only be available if the Pirates decide to pass up on him at number two, which is quite possible. Some have said they’re leaning towards Pomeranz due to concerns that Taillon might require a record-setting bonus for a prep arm. That bonus was given to Rick Porcello in 2007, a four-year major league contract worth $7.28 million.
Machado would probably be a bit of an overdraft at number three. Many believe he is the top all-around prep position player in the draft, but the general consensus is that he’ll be taken anywhere between the second five of the top ten picks.
If indeed the Pirates take Pomeranz, I think the most obvious decision to make is to take Taillon, for two reasons. For one, after the number three pick, the Orioles don’t pick again until number 85 due to losing their second round pick by signing Type-B free agent Mike Gonzalez. So, chances are Jordan will not be afraid to go over-slot with that first pick. Secondly, the Orioles have always invested a lot of money in the draft. In fact, they have spent an average of $6.64 million per year under Jordan, the fifth most on average amongst all teams’ current scouting directors. There’s no reason to expect differently this June.
Taillon is an elite talent. If it were not for Bryce Harper getting his GED and making himself eligible for this year’s draft, we could very well be talking about Taillon being the first prep right-handed pitcher to ever be selected first overall and the third high school pitcher since the inception of the draft in 1965.
A recent Baseball America article had the following excerpts about Taillon:
“Scouting directors also voted Taillon as having the best fastball in the class, the best breaking ball in the class, the best secondary pitch and being closest to the major leagues.”
Some look at his 230 pound frame and don’t think there’s room left for growth. At least one scout disagrees:
“He’s pretty physically impressive,” an American League area scout said. “He has a real projectable frame, could be a real big kid when he physically matures. I think he’s probably tapped out, height wise, but when that frame fills in, he’ll be a real big kid.”
High school arms are a tremendous risk. Overall, the number of high school pitchers that reach the major leagues is significantly lower than collegiate arms. From 1996-2006 amongst prep arms that were taken in the top ten overall, 43-percent of them reached the major leagues. So, just how big of a risk is Taillon?
“With the combination of the arm strength and the body size, he’s a pretty safe bet. His arm action is good, his mechanics are good . . . if you’re looking for a pretty sure bet and a good product, he’s got both of those things going for him. He’s handled the exposure well and all the attention. He’s pretty business-like in his approach before the game with his preparation and everything.”
Recently, I asked Jim Callis at Baseball America who he liked more – Taillon now or Porcello in 2007. He likes Porcello overall because he had more polish, but that Taillon gets the edge in terms of pure stuff. Taillon does not have Boras as his advisor, and while I think he’ll require a well above-average bonus, you’re probably looking at ~$6M at a major-league deal to sign him. This is fine because the bonus would obviously be split over multiple years. It would also allow whoever decides to sign him the opportunity to sign their other draftees to above-slot bonuses as well without putting all your eggs in one basket.
Last year, as you recall, the Pirates made an unprecedented move by selecting Boston College backstop Tony Sanchez, seen as a late-first rounder in terms of talent, at the fourth overall pick. They did so obviously because they did not see a legitimate can’t-miss prospect at that position, so they decided to go with Sanchez, who signed for slot-money, and take more chances on players that fell due to signability further down in the draft – similar to Hobgood and the Orioles, but less severe. The past two years, the Pirates have spent an average of $9.4 million a year on the draft. Taillon is that can’t-miss prospect this year. Pittsburg Scouting Director Greg Smith was not afraid to pull the trigger on Pedro Alvarez in 2008 and sign him to a $6 million major-league deal. Contrary to those reports I mentioned early about them leaning towards Pomeranz, if Smith believes Taillon is worth it, there’s no evidence to believe they’ll go with the cheaper option.
I think when it comes down to it, Pomeranz and Taillon are going to go 2-3, one way or the other – again baring how the season ends. McGuire just isn’t the prospect Pomeranz is – he profiles as an end-of-the-rotation arm. In fact, I’ve heard some people in the industry compare him to 2002 first overall pick Bryan Bullington – who was a bust. Whichever one of Pomeranz and Taillon falls to the Orioles is the most logical choice. Both are good bets to advance through the system fairly quickly relative to their respective classes. I think Pomeranz makes the most sense for a team like the Orioles since he’ll get to the major leagues quicker and he’s obviously less of a risk than a prep arm. But, if the Pirates take him, I just think Taillon is too good to pass up, especially considering that the top three collegiate arms after Pomeranz are not without their risks as well.