Alvarez Deal Ends Minors Speculation
The steps the Baltimore Orioles must take to improve their farm system are now clear. By signing Pedro Alvarez to fill their remaining lineup spot, the Orioles assured retention of the 27th draft choice—which they would’ve lost had they come to terms with Dexter Fowler—and likely prevented a trade that would see one or two prospects depart.
Of course, a need could arise and force a trade but, for now, the Orioles are set. For a farm system that has ranked among the game’s worst, the paths to improvement are limited, but there are some feasible options.
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Perhaps the most crucial component of farm system progress is one I’ve already outlined—better health from existing players. Having Hunter Harvey and Jomar Reyes turn in healthy 2016 seasons would be a big boost, as they would give the Orioles both a top-of-the rotation pitching prospect and a legitimate power-hitting player. There is also room for improvement from other prospects, including Chris Lee, D.J. Stewart, and Ryan Mountcastle.
Seeing gains in each of those areas would be optimal, because it would improve the farm system without a significant financial cost. However, until we get into the season and get a sense of these players based on their early returns, any expectation along those lines is probably too optimistic.
That puts additional emphasis on the 2016 draft, which might be one of the most important in recent memory. Given how low the Orioles are selecting, it is hard to project which players the club may select, especially this early in the amateur season. There is, however, a financial question that can answered with some degree of certainty.
Baseball America’s current estimates put the Orioles draft bonus pool at $7,545,800, which is about the middle of the pack. (For those who don’t follow the draft closely, bonus pools are effectively a cap on how much teams can spend on signing bonuses within the first 10 rounds). That amount is higher than last year’s $6,850,400, and by far exceeds the $2.2 million from 2014.
The bulk of the Orioles’ spending is likely to take place within the first five selections, as the team has five of the first 100 picks. Given that their farm system has question marks in just about every area—except for perhaps first base—the Orioles should leverage that opportunity to take the best player available with their first pick, and look to fill out the draft from there.
Again, most of the options in regards to draft strategy will be more apparent over the coming months, but the Orioles have a greater chance this year to obtain value from the draft than in previous years. That is probably their most realistic path, especially in comparison to one often-mentioned scenario.
When it was rumored that the Orioles might be willing to sacrifice their top two choices, many observers suggested that the club needed to up its international spending efforts. Even with just one selection—the 14th overall, which was forfeited in the Yovani Gallardo signing—off the table, there will probably still be calls for the Orioles to boost their efforts in Latin America, which have historically been anemic.
In a perfect world, the Orioles would flush the system with new prospects through both the draft and international spending. The more I have considered the latter, however, the less sold I am that the Orioles could go in this direction.
For starters, the club hasn’t shown a willingness to spend at competitive rates. High bonuses aren’t always correlated with success; the Washington Nationals, for instance, have obtained talent from the Dominican Republic without spending top dollar. However, finding value from countries like the Dominican Republic requires a commitment to scouting and development that the Orioles—outside of perhaps acquiring Jomar Reyes—haven’t shown in recent years. Even if they were to suddenly splurge, their competition will probably be tougher, as various reports have indicated that many teams are looking to spend more during the upcoming international free agency period.
While it might not yield the most upside, this year’s draft presents the Orioles with the best solution to breathe new life into their farm system. They would be smart to take advantage.
A graduate of the University of Massachusetts, and Loyola University; Spedden has previously spent time in the Washington Nationals organization as a videographer for the Hagerstown Suns. As a blogger, Spedden is an Editor / Writer for the Suns fan club. Additionally, he contributes to The Nats Blog as a prospect writer, and Ballpark Digest. For BSL, Spedden covers the Orioles Minor Leagues.