ST. PETERSBURG -- Drafting and developing young talent. It was one of the main points of emphasis in new Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette's introductory news conference, and remains one of the organization's top priorities as Baltimore -- under Duquette and new amateur scouting director Gary Rajsich -- try to build a steady pipeline to support the big league club and establish continuity throughout the organization.
"I'm settling into this," Rajsich said of his new position, in which he relied on a team of approximately 25 scouts to help him get up to speed. "When I started in December, I didn't know the players that were out there for this year's Draft. I didn't know my staff; we've come a long way in this process the last five months. We've had good decisions made and I feel like we are prepared for this.
"We've had some workouts, some meetings, some conversations with agents [the last few days]. I feel pretty comfortable with where we are at. We've went through about 180 players, and there will be more tweaking to the list [before Monday]."
The Orioles, who are in a stretch of 14 consecutive losing seasons, find themselves in a familiar spot atop the Draft selection board and have the fourth overall pick for the second consecutive year. Baltimore does not have a sandwich pick, and its second-round pick will be 65th overall. The O's are also slotted in for the No. 99 pick (third round) and No. 132 (fourth round), with all 30 clubs continuing in that order until the Draft concludes.
Live coverage of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft begins with a one-hour preview show on Monday, at 6 p.m. ET on MLB.com and MLB Network, followed by the first round and supplemental compensation round. MLB.com will provide exclusive coverage of Day 2 and 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players.
You can also keep up to date at Draft Central and by following@MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
The O's have had a selection in the top five for the past six years, a group that has produced current Orioles Matt Wieters (2007) and Brian Matusz ('08). Their previous two first-rounders -- infielder Manny Machado ('10) and right-hander Dylan Bundy ('11) -- rank as the organization's top two prospects. There is no Bundy-like buzz surrounding any of the names linked to the Orioles, with early word on the 2012 Draft class being deeper and hard to distinguish the top five from one another.
Baltimore selected Bundy last June after Pittsburgh, Seattle and Arizona took college pitchers, and the 19-year-old went 30 innings without allowing an earned run to start his professional career before giving up a pair in his debut for Class-A Advanced Frederick.
Rajsich -- who spent the last nine years scouting on the pro side -- takes over for Joe Jordan, who left to be the Phillies' farm director, and said he's excited to be part of the process of rebuilding the Orioles' organization.
"We are focused on the best available player, but we are aware of the needs of where we are at with the Major League club," Rajsich said of his Draft philosophy. "We are approaching this for the short and long term.
"I really don't have a preference," he said. "I don't think you can pull yourself off from one segment of Draft-eligible players ... I think they are equally important. The philosophy for me is to draft players with talent, great makeup and upside and turn them over to the farm system and develop them into winners."
While Bundy and Machado are highly regarded not only as the Orioles' best but some of baseball's top young talent, the organization has struggled with depth, and there's a significant dropoff in its top prospects list. Rajsich will be tasked with getting the most out of each selection in a year where baseball's new Collective Bargaining Agreement has made significant changes to the Draft.
Here's a glance at what the Orioles have in store as the Draft approaches:
In about 50 words
The first few rounds in the 2012 Draft are crucial to rebuilding some depth in the Minor League system. The O's are widely rumored to take the best available pitcher in the first round and, as Duquette has said, they have to draft and develop better than their American League East brethren if they are going to compete.
The Orioles have three picks in the top 100, and it will be interesting to see what Rajsich does in his first Draft as scouting director. How will he strategize if the O's do take a pitcher in the first round? Will he lean toward position players later on, or simply take the best available player? There's a lot of unknown here for the O's, who are banking on an improved farm system to help stage a turnaround.
As the Draft nears, popular opinion has the Orioles selecting college arm Kevin Gausman, who is a sophomore at Louisiana State University. Drafted in the sixth round of the 2010 Draft, the right-hander elected to go to college and he's posted a 2.86 ERA with 118 strikeouts and just 23 walks over 100 2/3 innings this year to raise his stock even further.
Mark Appel, the Stanford right-hander, and Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton will probably be off the board already with the top two picks. Carlos Correa, a high school shortstop from Puerto Rico, could also be in the mix, but if the O's are leaning toward arms, Gausman appears to be the favorite over San Francisco's Kyle Zimmer.
Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team has an allotted bonus pool equal to the sum of the values of that club's selections in the first 10 rounds of the Draft. The more picks a team has, and the earlier it picks, the larger the pool. The signing bonuses for a team's selections in the first 10 rounds, plus any bonus greater than $100,000 for a player taken after the 10th round, will apply toward the bonus-pool total.
Any team going up to five percent over its allotted pool will be taxed at a 75 percent rate on the overage. A team that overspends by 5-10 percent gets a 75 percent tax plus the loss of a first-round pick. A team that goes 10-15 percent over its pool amount will be hit with a 100 percent penalty on the overage and the loss of a first- and second-round pick. Any overage of 15 percent or more gets a 100 percent tax plus the loss of first-round picks in the next two Drafts.
The Orioles won't come out and say they're drafting for need at the Major League level, but it would be surprising if they don't use a majority of their top picks on pitching. Beyond Bundy, the club's pitching corps is thin, with Parker Bridwell the O's seventh-best prospect, followed by Bobby Bundy (Dylan's older brother) and Dan Klein, who has been slowed with shoulder issues.
Duquette has said he prefers to stay away from signing free-agent arms to contracts, so there will be added emphasis on acquiring pitchers through the Draft, an opinion he shares with previous president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail. Positionally, Baltimore is particularly thin at the corner infield spots and catcher, with no true backup to Wieters on the horizon.
There aren't any trends with a new front office and Rajsich the head of his first Draft, which should make this year's Draft for the Orioles particularly interesting to watch unfold.
Orioles' recent top picks
Class A+ Frederick
Short-Season A Aberdeen
Recent Draft History Rising fast
Bundy is the obvious choice here, drawing raves and record crowds with seemingly every start. But the 19-year-old flamethrower isn't the only impressive young Orioles prospect. Xavier Avery, who was a second-round pick in '08, fared well in his first taste of the big leagues earlier this year and he could develop into a mainstay for the organization's outfield.
In The Show
Wieters and Matusz are two recent first-round success stories, with current starter Jake Arrieta also a homegrown talent. Lefty Zach Britton is expected to be activated off the disabled list in the near future, and was the organization's third-round pick in 2006.