The Orioles have really learned how to work the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft over the past few years. Since hiring Joe Jordan as director of scouting in November 2004 the Orioles have drafted players like Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold, and Brian Matusz. With the presence of Jordan and Andy MacPhail the Orioles farm system has gone from one of the worst in baseball at the beginning of the decade to being ranked #10 by ESPN baseball insider Keith Law.
The Orioles have loaded up on pitching talent over the last few years. They have a ton of depth on the mound but still have three glaring holes in the infield at first and third base as well as shortstop. Andy MacPhail is a big proponent of taking pitching with your first round pick and with a draft where only one position player may go in the top ten it looks like we will have another young arm coming out of this draft.
Tomorrow the Orioles will have a tough decision to make with the fifth pick; do they add more pitching talent to an already stacked farm system or do they reach for a much needed position player? I don’t think there is any chance that Dustin Ackley, the best hitter in the draft will fall to us so I am going on the presumption he is already off the board.
I have seen many different sites that have the Orioles selecting right handed starter Tanner Scheppers who pitched for the St. Paul Saints of the independent league last off-season. The Orioles actually drafted him in 29th round of the 2005 draft when he was a shortstop prospect coming out of high school. Last year Scheppers was drafted by Pittsburgh in the second round but chose not to sign and reenter the draft this year. Scheppers is coming off of a stress fracture in his shoulder, although all reports have stated he is healthy. Scheppers has a very live arm with a fastball that touches 98 and usually sits around 95. I am nervous about drafting a pitcher who has already had shoulder surgery but I have heard great things about Scheppers and have heard from more than one scout he has the potential to be a dominant front end of the rotation starter.
MLB.com has the Orioles taking Zack Wheeler, a high school pitcher out of Georgia with the fifth pick. While Scheppers is much closer to being major league ready at twenty-two years old with a developed 6-4 200 pound frame, Wheeler is considered to be the most “projectable” player in the entire draft. At just 19 years of age and a long, lanky body at 6-4 170 pounds scouts love his height and the possibility of Wheeler filling out his frame. Wheeler has a fastball that sits between 90-93 with a lot of life and good sink. Scouts are a little worried about inconsistencies in both Wheeler’s command and delivery. There is a ton of upside with this kid but taking a high school pitcher so high in the draft scares me…..Adam Loewen anyone?
The player that intrigues me more than any other player who may be available when the Orioles are ready to make their selection is Tyler Matzek. The 6-3 185 pound left hander out of Capistrano Valley High School in California is widely considered the best high school pitching prospect in the draft. Matzek is a rarity in that he is a high school pitcher that already has four solid pitches in his repertoire. Another intriguing nugget is that even though Matzek is a high school pitcher some scouting reports say he may have the best command of any pitcher in the draft. He can reportedly place the ball anywhere and do so effortlessly. As I said earlier with Wheeler I am not a huge fan of taking high school pitchers high in the draft but Matzek may be the exception. It would be interesting to pair Matzek with last years first round pick Brian Matusz; another left hander with a eerily similar last name. I think as of right now from what I have read and saw Matzek would be my pick on Tuesday; but his name isn’t coming up as much as I figured it would in connection to the Orioles and the fifth pick.
Grant Green was a player that both fellow WNST blogger Chris Stoner and I had pegged as the best possible pick for the Orioles as recently as a few weeks ago. Since then it seems like the shortstop out of USC’s stock has dropped quickly and he is being projected as a middle of the first round pick now. There is no denying that Green would fill one of the glaring holes in the Orioles system as they are really void of any shortstop prospects at any level of the organization. Green had a good junior season for the Trojans in 2009 hitting .374 with 19 doubles, five triples, four homers, and 32 RBI. Green also led USC with sixteen stolen bases, a .435 on-base percentage, and twenty-six multi hit games. The twenty-one year old right hander has the ability to be a five tool player and has drawn comparisons to Stephen Drew of the Arizona Diamondbacks(a player the Orioles reported passed on when Peter Angelos gripped they already had a shortstop in Miguel Tejada). I am still fairly high on Green but I am admittedly scared away by the fact his stock has fallen so precipitately in the past month.
The final player that has been linked to the Orioles is right hander Aaron Crow. Crow was taken by the Nationals with the ninth pick in last year’s draft but didn’t sign after the two sides couldn’t overcome a $700K difference in contract talks. Crow pitched for the Fort Worth Cats of the independent league and has reportedly improved his stock going into this year’s draft. Crow possesses a fastball that sits in the 91-92 mph range and has outstanding sink when he is throwing well. Crow’s out pitch is his tremendous slider that projects at as a plus pitch in the big leagues. He has struggled with his command at times and has a tendency to try and nibble the plate. I am not super high on Crow but many mock drafts have him going as high as third in the draft so he may not even be an option for the Orioles at five.
After looking at a lot of mock drafts and reading a ton of scouting reports I feel that Tyler Matzek would be the best player for the Orioles to take tomorrow. Dustin Ackley falling to the fifth pick would be a dream scenario for the Orioles and a great stroke of luck for a team that had Matt Wieters fall to them with the fifth pick two years ago. Overall this is a pitching heavy draft and more than likely that is the route MacPhail and Jordan will go. Much like Ozzie with the Ravens I have begun to trust the Orioles front office and I look forward to seeing what decision they make Tuesday.