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O's stockpile arms in Draft to overhaul rotation

Baltimore uses 22 of 40 picks on pitchers, highlighted by Rodriguez in Round 1
MLB.com

With a staff ERA of 4.85 -- the fifth worst in the Majors -- through 60 games in 2018, perhaps it should be no surprise that the Orioles went heavy on pitching on the first two days of the 2018 Draft. Eight of the O's first 10 picks were pitchers -- six righties, two lefties -- before the organization shifted their focus to the field and batter's box.

Whereas Baltimore spent the first 10 rounds of the Draft stockpiling its farm system with arms, Day 3 featured a more balanced approach. Position players accounted for 16 of the 30 picks, headlined by catcher/first baseman Cody Roberts out of the University of North Carolina.

With a staff ERA of 4.85 -- the fifth worst in the Majors -- through 60 games in 2018, perhaps it should be no surprise that the Orioles went heavy on pitching on the first two days of the 2018 Draft. Eight of the O's first 10 picks were pitchers -- six righties, two lefties -- before the organization shifted their focus to the field and batter's box.

Whereas Baltimore spent the first 10 rounds of the Draft stockpiling its farm system with arms, Day 3 featured a more balanced approach. Position players accounted for 16 of the 30 picks, headlined by catcher/first baseman Cody Roberts out of the University of North Carolina.

Draft Tracker: Every Orioles Draft pick

:: 2018 Draft coverage ::

"I strive for a balance in my Drafts," said Orioles scouting director Gary Rajsich. "There just weren't as many high school players available to us, especially [on Day 3]. … I usually like to take 18-20 [from high school] or something like that. It was a little bit of an imbalance that way and this was more of a college Draft for us. Unintentionally, of course.

"We were still happy with the players we were able to get. We tried to target guys in the middle of the field -- shortstops, centerfielders and catchers -- and good arms on our pitchers with good deliveries."

Of the Orioles' 40 picks in the 2018 Draft, 29 came from the college ranks and 11 directly out of high school. Of the 22 pitchers, 15 are righties and seven lefties.

For the second straight year, the O's took a high school arm in the first round and a shortstop in the second, perhaps driven by the impending free agency of franchise cornerstone Manny Machado.

This year, the Orioles' first-round pick was Grayson Rodriguez, a 6-foot-5 righty out of Central Heights High School in Texas. Rodriguez's fastball hovers in the 92-94 mph range and can top out at 97-98 mph. The organization is incredibly excited that he was available at the 11th overall pick.

"He was a consensus pick for us in the first round," Rajsich said Monday. "We all loved him, just thrilled he was there for us at pick 11."

MLB Pipeline has Rodriguez ranked No. 22. The suggested slot value for the 11th pick is $4.4 million.

The first position player taken by the Orioles was second-round pick Cadyn Grenier from Oregon State. Hailing from the same high school as Rangers slugger Joey Gallo and current O's outfielder Joey Rickard, Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, Grenier has been lauded more for his defensive prowess during his three-year college stint.

Grenier was ranked No. 68 by MLB Pipeline, and the suggested slot value for the 37th pick is $1.9 million.

"We think he's ready defensively," Rajsich said. "The bat has to come. We've been watching this kid since high school. We've seen him for five years. He hit in high school, he didn't hit so much his first two years in college, but like you said, his bat is coming along nicely as we thought it would. This kid was one of our favorite kids going into the Draft. We didn't think he'd be there for us, so we feel like we were very lucky he was there and we were able to swing him."

Video: Draft 2018: Orioles draft SS Cadyn Grenier No. 37

The Orioles' first "steal" of the Draft came in the next round. Baltimore took Blaine Knight, MLB Pipeline's 48th-best prospect, with the 87th overall pick. The pitcher has a smaller frame, but Knight features a fastball that peaks at 97 mph. He was drafted in the 29th round by the Rangers in 2017 Draft, but he decided to return to Arkansas for his sophomore year, where he has become the ace of the staff.

"Blaine Knight should not have been there at pick 87," Rajsich said. "Look at his record this year. He beat six pitchers that went ahead of him in the Draft, including [Casey] Mize, [Brady] Singer and [Jackson] Kowar.

"He's very competitive, he knows how to pitch, he gets the most out of his delivery, and his timing is wonderful," Rajsich continued. "That's why we are not worried about his size. We are looking forward to getting him into our organization and seeing what he can do for the Orioles."

Video: Draft 2018: Orioles draft RHP Blaine Knight No. 87

Fourth-round pick Drew Rom still has playoff games to play in as he looks to cap off his high school career with a championship ring. He has already confimred his intentions to forego college and sign with the Orioles. Rom hopes to improve on his velocity and sharpen his mechanics, and his current coach at Highlands (Ky.) High School , Jeremy Baioni, knows he's capable.

"He's a physical guy. He has the body type where he can put on a little bit more muscle, put on a little bit more weight," Baioni said of Rom, who is listed at 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds. "He's a lot closer than I would say most 18-year-olds are when they get out of high school."

And the mental aspect of the jump?

"He's an extremely intelligent kid," Baioni continued. "32 ACT, great student, was going to go into computer science or neurology at Michigan. … He's going to be able to retain a lot of information."

Roberts' selection to start Day 3 began a string of four straight position players taken by the Orioles, to go along with Grenier and reigning All-Big Ten First-Team outfielder Robert Neustrom in the fifth round.

Two of Baltimore's selections on Day 3 were home-bred boys. The team's 18th round pick was right-handed pitcher Jake Zebron from Colonel Richardson High School in Federalsburg, Md. In the 35th round, the Orioles selected pitcher Conor Grammes, who can also bat. Grammes played for Virginia's McLean High School before spending two seasons at Xavier.

One of the last picks for the O's was perhaps the most intriguing. Baltimore spent its 38th round pick on Slade Cecconi, a right-handed pitcher -- who was ranked as the 63rd-best prospect by MLB Pipeline -- who can hit 96-97 mpph without too much strain. Though it seems unlikely that he will forego joining the University of Miami in the fall, he's turned the heads of many scouts.

"We call those contingency Draft [picks], to have guys down there who are unsignable right now, but if something happens in your Draft pool up top where you have -- all of a sudden -- a certain amount of money you can spend down lower in the Draft, then Slade would be a target for us down there," Rajsich explained. "As it stands right now, we do not plan to sign him. That could change, and he could change his mind as well."

Zachary Sliver is a reporter for MLB.com.

Baltimore Orioles