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Top three picks among Orioles' Draft signings

BALTIMORE -- The Orioles signed their first three Draft picks on Thursday, unveiling left-handed pitcher Brian Gonzalez (third round), right-handed pitcher Pat Connaughton (fourth round) and right-handed pitcher David Hess (fifth round) to the media in a news conference at Camden Yards.

Baltimore also announced the signings of eighth-round infielder Steve Wilkerson and outfielder Jay Gonzalez (10th round) earlier in the day, and both will report to short-season Aberdeen. Scouting director Gary Rajsich, on hand for Thursday's news conference, said he thought seven of the club's eight picks in the first 10 rounds would be signed easily, and he estimated that the organization would sign 30 to 32 total draftees.

"I'm really pleased with the way the Draft turned out this year," Rajsich said of an Orioles organization that forfeited its picks in the first two rounds because of free-agent signings.

All three of the pitchers will start their careers in the Gulf Coast League, with Connaughton leaving around Aug. 1 for his senior basketball season at Notre Dame. He will graduate in December and rejoin the organization when the Fighting Irish's season is done.

Gonzalez, who opted to forgo an earlier commitment to the University of Miami, went 10-0 in his senior season at Archbishop McCarthy in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He threw 69 1/3 innings with a 0.50 ERA and 129 strikeouts and was also listed as a first baseman.

"I sat down with my family; we made a decision after the Orioles picked me," Gonzalez said. "It was pretty much a great opportunity, like this doesn't come very often. It was pretty much a night talk, and in the morning I had pretty much made up my mind. I was like, 'I'm going to take this opportunity and go after it.' It's a dream come true. Pretty easy choice."

Connaughton posted just a 3.92 ERA with 36 strikeouts in 10 starts this season, but he has said some of his inconsistencies came because baseball was not always his primary focus. The Orioles think he has a lot of upside. Connaughton -- who signed at slot value for $428,100 -- will be fully committed to baseball starting next spring.

"It's an amazing experience; you walk around Camden Yards in one of if not the nicest facilities in the big leagues, and it starts to set in that you are here and you are given the pop to put yourself at the next level," he said. "And I think moving forward all three of us want to see how quickly we can move forward and develop to the best of our ability and kind of show the Baltimore Orioles fans, a new organization, why they chose us."

Hess, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound righty with four pitches, was primarily a relief pitcher until this past season. He started 16 games in 2014 and went 9-3 with a 3.24 ERA and will forgo his final season of eligibility with Tennessee Tech.

"Every kid dreams of this opportunity," said Hess, who grew up playing Little League on a team called the Orioles. "I can't explain how excited I am to be here and be a part of this organization."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli.
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