Top-Five Draft Classes in Orioles History
In a few weeks, the MLB Draft will take place, giving the Baltimore Orioles and baseball’s 29 other organizations a chance to stock their farm system.
Starting with the 21st-overall selection, the Orioles will look to strengthen their farm system with a solid draft class. Time will ultimately have to tell the story of how that class produces, but the Orioles have some high standards to achieve if the 2017 choices ever come close to ranking among the best in franchise history.
When searching through the club’s track record, there is, as with most franchises, a mixed bag of results. Some drafts fail to produce a high-impact player, but may still include a few choices that went on to have respectable major league careers. Others, however, stand out for the one or two busts that stand atop a class that produced little in the way of talent.
Yet, there are also the truly elite classes, ones in which the Orioles managed to strike gold with one or multiple selections. To highlight the best of the best, here are top-five Orioles’ draft classes of all-time.
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5.) 2010, The Manny Machado Draft
This class makes the list for one reason, and one reason only: Manny Machado. Machado has been among the best players in baseball in the time frame since his 2012 debut, and may be one of the most complete players the Orioles have ever drafted. Ranking this draft in the top five requires taking some significant stock in Machado’s future, as this class has not produced much beyond the star third baseman. However, with what the 24-year-old has accomplished and what he seems destined to achieve down the road, a draft class that includes Machado will certainly deserve recognition.
4.) 1990, The Orioles Find Their Ace
Much like the 2010 draft class, the 1990 class was dominated by its top pick, which in this case was Mike Mussina. Selected 20th overall, Mussina is hands down the best pitcher the Orioles have ever drafted, and his accomplishments in Baltimore—including 147 wins, a 130 ERA+, and 1,535 strike outs in a little more than 2,000 innings—back that designation. With the uptick in support he has seen in recent years, Mussina is a reasonable candidate to make the Hall of Fame in the future. While it remains to be seen if his plaque in Cooperstown will depict him as an Oriole or a Yankee, his record in Baltimore seals the status of the 1990 draft as among the Orioles’ best.
3.) 1967, The Orioles’ First Great Draft
The first two classes on this list were carried by one player, which is certainly not the case with the class of 1967. In what could truly be described as the Orioles’ first great draft, Bobby Grich was selected in the first round, followed by Don Baylor in the second. Both players were wearing other uniforms before they hit 30, but each made the most of their time in Baltimore. Grich won four Gold Glove awards and earned three All-Star appearances, while Baylor had a .274/.349/.431 triple-slash line in his 1,994 plate appearances with the team.
2.) 1973, Orioles Land Two Baltimore Icons
This draft class not only produced a future Cy Young Award winner, but also a Rookie of the Year honoree who later earned his place in the Hall of Fame. With their third-round selection, the Orioles drafted Eddie Murray out of Locke High School in Los Angeles. Debuting in 1977, Murray won Rookie of the Year and went on to have a career that ended with 504 home runs, 3,255 hits, and eight All-Star selections. In the seventh round, the Orioles selected Mike Flanagan—who won the Cy Young Award in 1979, and won 149 games in his 450 career appearances with the Orioles.
1.) 1978, Orioles Draft The Iron Man
It took until the Orioles’ third pick in the second round, but with the 48th overall chose Cal Ripken Jr., who is by far the best draft choice in franchise history. (And depending on one’s perspective, by far the best player in franchise history.) Though widely remembered for his streak of 2,632 consecutive games, Ripken won two MVPs, was named to 19 All-Star teams, and crossed both the 3,000-hit and 400-home run threshold before his career was over. This was not the only pick in the draft that stands out. In the sixth round, the Orioles drafted Mike Boddicker, who was a mainstay in the team’s rotation from his rookie 1983 season until being traded to the Red Sox during the 1988 season. That trade, by the way, netted the Orioles Curt Schilling and Brady Anderson, the latter of whom would emerge as one of the best centerfielders in the club’s history.
The pattern that emerges with this list is that I tend to value the class in which one great player was chosen more than the one that managed to land the Orioles a few good ones. If the latter were the ultimate criteria, the 1987 (Pete Harnisch, Steve Finley, an unsigned Mike Mussina, and David Segui) and 1988 drafts (Gregg Olson, Arthur Rhodes) may have had a case. I put more stock in classes that produced players that made some of their best contributions with the Orioles. Otherwise, Finley’s selection in the 1987 draft may have helped put that class on the list, along with the 2006 draft, which included Matt Wieters and Jake Arrietta.
It should also be noted that I only considered June drafts, and not the bygone January draft that took place from 1966-1986. Perhaps the most notable player to be drafted and signed by the Orioles in the regular phase of the January draft: John Shelby, who was selected in the first round of the 1977 draft and debuted with the Orioles in 1981 and remained with the club until being traded during the 1987 season.
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.