Comparing The Orioles 2019 Draft To The Astros 2012 Draft
About a month ago I took a look at the Orioles’ rebuild after the first month of the 2019 season and compared it to the team they are most closely trying to emulate — the 2012 Houston Astros.
There were some similarities between the two, but the Astros earned a slight edge in their progress thanks to a slightly better minor league system and more tradeable commodities on the big league roster. It was early though, and things could change.
So we’re checking back in here, with a potential game-changer this week – the MLB draft. The Orioles went into the draft with some nice picks – five in the first four rounds, actually, including the No. 1 overall pick the No. 42 (Round 2), No. 71 (Competitive Balance Round B), No. 79 (Round 3) and No. 108 (Round 4).
The Orioles nabbed the consensus No. 1 with Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman at the top of the draft. Rutschman can be a star offensively at a position that often lacks it. And if nothing else, scouts think he’ll be a defensive stalwart at the major league level. Other early picks included prep shortstop Gunnar Henderson (2nd round), Stanford center fielder Kyle Stowers (CBB), LSU center fielder Zach Watson (3rd) and New Mexico State shortstop Joseph Ortiz (4th).
Can Rutschman and the Orioles’ other draft picks turn the tide and gain ground on the 2012 Astros? Time will tell, but it won’t be easy, as Houston had a similar collection of early picks and did quite well. Let’s take a look:
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2012 Houston Astros early draft picks
No. 1 overall, Carlos Correa: The Puerto Rican high school shortstop was not considered the hands-down No. 1 pick, so the Astros (with current Orioles GM Mike Elias in an advisory role) got him below slot at a $4.8 million signing bonus. Three years later Correa was in the big leagues at 20 years old and he’s been there ever since, putting up a career OPS of .840.
Despite some injury issues, including a bizarre massage-related rib injury this season, it’s safe to say the Astros nailed this pick. Correa has the best career WAR (20.0) of anybody in the 2012 draft. More than Corey Seager (15.1), more than Addison Russell (12.7) and about twice that of Kevin Gausman (10.7), who the O’s nabbed at No. 4 overall.
No. 41 overall (1st round supplemental), Lance McCullers: Getting Correa at below slot allowed the Astros to convince high school pitcher McCullers to skip college and go pro instead. This was a really solid grab by the Astros, as McCullers’ career WAR of 6.3 is the 13th best mark of his draft class, ahead of other pitchers like Jose Berrios (5.3), Zach Eflin (3.8) and Lucas Giolito (1.6). McCullers, who is out this season with Tommy John surgery, reached the majors by 21 and has a 2.53 ERA across six postseason series.
No. 61 overall (2nd round), Nolan Fontana: The shortstop out of the University of Florida didn’t pan out for the Astros. Hey, you can’t win them all. The Astros pushed him aggressively – he was in AAA by 2015 – but he never showed much of a hit tool, and let’s face it, he was kind of blocked by Correa anyway. After Houston waived him in 2016, Fontana was picked up by the Angels. He’s currently in the Rangers system, hitting .169 at Nashville in the Pacific Coast League.
No. 96 overall (3rd round), Brady Rodgers: Houston nabbed the right-hander out of Arizona State and like Fontana, pushed him aggressively through the minor league system. Rodgers struggled in his first MLB taste in 2016, and didn’t see the bigs again until this year. Even that was brief – two innings, one run in one appearance before being sent back down.
No. 129 overall (4th round), Rio Ruiz: Orioles fans will recognize Ruiz, who has been a decent contributor in Baltimore this season. Long before that, he was a California prep star drafted in the fourth round by Houston. Ruiz didn’t get much of a shot with Houston, but that doesn’t mean the Astros didn’t get anything out of him, trading him to Atlanta in 2015 in a package that also included Mike Foltynewicz for James Hoyt and Evan Gattis. Hoyt was in turn shipped to Cleveland for minor league pitcher Tommy DeJuneas, and Gattis became a key member of the Astros’ powerhouse, slugging 96 homers with a 109 OPS+ in the last four seasons.
The Ruiz story is an important reminder that every draft pick doesn’t have to end up on your big league squad for it to be a success. Sometimes those players become trade fodder as you begin to recognize immediately fillable holes as your MLB roster begins to take shape.
This was true with later Astros picks as well, including Brett Phillips (6th round). Phillips was dealt to Milwaukee in 2015 along with Josh Hader and Domingo Santana for Mike Fiers and Carlos Gomez. While you could say the Astros got fleeced in that deal, it’s important to understand that was a playoff team surrendering some of its massive minor league stockpile in an effort to go for it after several miserable seasons.
Analysis: The Astros did a great job in the 2012 draft, nabbing a franchise shortstop and a steady pitcher to a system that already had George Springer in the minors and that was beginning to showcase a hot young rookie named Jose Altuve. They also drafted other prospects who they were able to swap for help at the major league level.
The Orioles had a similar set up to their draft this week. It’s almost eerie. Can Rutschman have an impact similar to Correa? Will these other players near the top of the draft also make an impact, assuming they all sign? Will the O’s progress enough over the next couple seasons to get to the point where they can dangle some of these young players for MLB-ready talent?
It will take some time before we know if this was the beginning of a turnaround for the minor league system and the major league roster, but it feels like the right people are in charge. It feels like the start of something good.
Bob Harkins is a former editor and writer for Time Warner Cable Sports in Los Angeles, where he helped cover the Dodgers and Lakers. Prior to that, he was a senior editor and writer for NBCSports.com, leading the site’s coverage of Major League Baseball for nine seasons. He always believed that Major League catcher was the toughest job in sports -- until he wrote a series on professional rodeo cowboys. Talk about tough!