Just a quick topic here as I was in class today thinking back to the Orioles draft of 2008, I know what you’re thinking but it was a terribly boring class. I actually watched the draft coverage that year because I was really interested in the Orioles’ selection in hopes that they might choose a savior to lead them into the next decade and hopefully competitive seasons. One might ask why anybody would watch the MLB draft, especially considering many of the players are high schoolers whom no one has probably heard mention of before, and the answer my friends is a simple one, I really love the Orioles that much. I strive to find any bit of good news in order to placate my desire for a winning baseball team and since the product on the field has been horrendous for over a decade I have to look to the future.
I find it incredibly interesting that they chose Brian Matusz that year. Yes I think we can all agree that the Orioles have lacked a decent pitching staff since the Mike Mussina and Scott Erickson days or even before then, but Matusz is a younger version of Jamie Moyer. And as birds fans know Jamie Moyer was a baseball nomad until he mastered the art of pitching, which he finally was able to do only after years of getting knocked around the ballpark like a piñata. Like Moyer, Matusz is a left-handed pitcher with a high 80’s (occasionally low 90’s) fastball who has to rely on painting the corners and mixing pitches in order to be effective. Unlike Moyer, Matusz has no big league experience and is 22 as compared to 46. I am not saying that Matusz is a bad pitcher I am merely pointing out that the Orioles’ first round draft pick has the potential to be at best a number three guy in a decent rotation. His draft status was further helped by the fact that the 2008 draft was devoid of prime pitching talent thus making him the most polished and highest rated pitcher of the bunch.
The problem however is that the 2008 MLB draft was a like cornucopia of hitting prospects, something which the Orioles also desperately needed at the time. I was quite upset that the Orioles did not select Justin Smoak, which is the reason for my post today. Smoak happened to go to the Texas Rangers with the 11th pick that year, and Texas as you know is a ball club that effectively evaluates offensive players. Tim Kurkjian currently has an interesting article up about the Rangers’ offensive prowess over the years (http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/columns/story?columnist=kurkjian_tim&id=4117980) but if you don’t feel like reading an article on them just try to think back to the Aug. 22, 2007 beat down of the birds by a final score of 30 to 3. I know we have all repressed that memory but it did actually occur. If MLB was not so bereft of catching talent Smoak would have surely went higher in the draft that year because he is a switch hitting first baseman with adequate defensive skills who will hit for lots of power and a high average.
Just as a comparison Smoak is currently in AA playing for the Frisco RoughRiders where he is raking to the tune of .351 with 4 HR and 13 RBI with .467 OBP, .568 SLG, 1.035 OPS, while the soft-tossing Matusz is in single A playing for the Frederick Keys where he has a 2-1 record with a 3.32 ERA. The reason for this article is not to disparage Brian Matusz because like all O’s fans I am hoping that he will develop quickly into a major league caliber pitcher, but rather to point out the mistake of not drafting Smoak. The Orioles have a long history of selecting first round players who have never even sniffed the big leagues, players they poorly scouted whom they shouldn’t have selected, and others who were abject failures when they did make it such as Beau Hale, Chris Smith, and Wade Townsend to name a few from this decade.
If we had drafted Smoak then instead of Matusz we would be able to move Aubrey Huff at the deadline possibly for some decent prospects, as it stands we have no one in the organization ready or capable of supplanting Huff in the near future. Smoak has a chance to be a fixture in the middle of the lineup for years to come providing 30-40 hr/year power, and while Matusz could be good we have guys like Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta who have loads more upside that will be ready in the next few years. I suppose it all comes down to the fact that you can’t really teach someone to pitch left-handed, but if given the chance I think Andy MacPhail could swing a great deal involving someone like Huff and bring back some left-handed prospects. Plus I am still holding out hope that Troy Patton will recover and pitch like the number one prospect he was anointed to be during his time in Houston.