Since 1998, the Baltimore Orioles have been floundering in the depths of irrelevancy with a 987-1180 record with six games still left to be played in 2011.
Many things have lead to the downfall of this once storied franchise. You can blame it on Peter Angelos, young Jeffrey Maier, or every failed free agent signing in the last 14 years.
We all know the pitching has sucked in oh so many seasons, the hitters have struck out way to much and grounded into way too many double plays, and the defense has been, well, let’s not talk about it.
However, the failures of top prospects have been a constant for the Orioles. It’s an anomoly. How can a team with consistently high draft picks continue to push high-plus side talent up to the major league level only for them to stink it up?
Let’s look at this year-by-year:
1999: The Orioles had four first round draft picks that season, one of their own and one apiece from the Cardinals, Indians, and Rangers. They also had three supplemental picks that season. They drafted RHP Mike Paradis13th overall,
LHP Rich Stahl 18th overall, outfielder Larry Bigbie 21st overall, and outfielder Keith Reed 23rd overall in the first rounds, and grabbed LHPs Josh Cenate and Josh Rice as well as shortstop Brian Roberts in the supplemental rounds. Of those seven players, only Roberts, Bigbie, and Reed (with a whopping six plate appearances) made the major leagues. Of course, Brian Roberts is still on the team despite his chronic injuries and has been an outstanding lead-off hitter for the Orioles. Bigbie was a below-average outfielder despite his use of PEDs.
As for Mike Paradis, the 13th overall pick, he pitched six seasons in the Orioles minor league system, having only a cup of tea at the AAA level. He finished his minor league career with a 29-47 record and a 5.24 ERA.
2000: In 2000, the Orioles had less opportunities to fail, having only one pick in the first round and one supplemental pick. The O’s decided to use their 14th
overall pick on RHP Beau Hale from the University of Texas. The supplementary pick was used on another RHP, this time Tripper Johnson from Newport High School in Bellevue, WA.
Hale pitched five seasons in the Orioles’ minor leagues, never making it higher than AA. He finished with a 25-28 record and a 4.31 ERA.
One pick after Hale, the Philadelphia Phillies selected second baseman Chase Utley.
Tripper Johnson never made the majors, either.
2001: The Birds went pitching again in the first round of the 2001 draft, nabbing LHP Chris Smith 7th overall. They also drafted infielders Mike Fotenot 19th overall and Bryan Bass in the supplemental round, both compensation for losing Mike Mussina.
Chris Smith, despite going only a handful of picks behind Joe Mauer, Mark Prior, Mark Teixeira, and Gavin Floyd, also never pitched in
the majors. He lasted only four seasons in the minor leagues, never making it past A ball. Smith only pitched 89.2 innings as a professional, tapping out with a 6.12 career ERA.
Bass never made the majors either, but hung around the minor leagues for eight seasons as a .228 career hitter.
Fotenot found his way to the big leagues once he was traded to the Chicago Cubs for Sammy Sosa. In 2008 with the Cubs, Fotenot hit .305 with 22 doubles and a .909 OPS.
Oh, and remember Keith Reed from a few drafts ago? Yeah, he was selected as the team’s top prospect for 2001 by Baseball America.
2002: The fourth pick belonged to the Orioles in the 2002 draft, and they finally grabbed a pitcher who ended-up in the majors. Passing on Zack Greinke, Prince Fielder, Scott Kazmir, Nick Swisher, Cole Hamles, James Loney, Denard Span, Joe Blanton, and Matt Cain, the O’s took high school LHP Adam Loewen.
Loewen made it to the big leagues in 2006, pitching in 22 games for the O’s and starting 19. He finished that year with a 6-6 record and a 5.37 ERA. Loewen pitched in the bigs in 2007 and 2008 too, bumping his career numbers up to 8-8 with a 5.38 ERA. And, because of chronic injuries, Loewen retired as a pitcher after the 2008 season and attempted to Rick Ankiel his way back to the major leagues by being an outfielder.
As things would have it, this season, Adam Loewen hit his first major league homerun off of the Orioles’ Tommy Hunter as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays.
More from Baseball America: the O’s top prospect this year? Rich Stahl.
2003: The O’s finally got it right in 2003, drafting pitcher Nick Markakis, but quickly converting him to an outfielder.
Markakis currently sits as the Orioles’ most consistent hitter with 104 homeruns, 234 doubles, and a .295 batting average through six seasons. He also is a great defensive outfielder, recording a total of 72 outfield assists.
2003 wasn’t so bad for Baltimore prospect-wise. Baseball America selected pitcher Erik Bedard as the team’s top prospect. Now known as an injury-riddled lefty, Bedard won 15 games for Baltimore in 2006 and struck out 221 hitters in 2007. He also brought in centerfielder Adam Jones in a trade with the Mariners.
2004: The Orioles took another pitcher, Wade Townsend, 8th overall in 2004. Townsend was one of only four players in the first round of the 2004 draft to never make the major leagues.
Of course, the O’s were unable to sign Townsend, therefore, he re-entered the draft in 2005 and was taken by the Tampa Bay Rays 8th overall.
The Baseball America top prospect for the Orioles? That Adam Loewen guy.
2005: With two picks, the 13th overall and a supplementary pick for being unable to sign Towsend, the O’s took catcher Brandon Snyder and pitcher Garrett Olson.
Snyder was quickly moved to the corner infield positions early in his minor league career. Still active in 2011, Snyder is an efficient AAA hitter, a career .275 minor league hitter with 72 homeruns and 167 doubles through seven seasons.
Snyder has also played 16 games in two seasons as an emergency call-up for the Orioles.
Olson pitched two seasons for the Orioles, finishing with a 10-13 record and a 6.87 ERA before being traded to the Cubs for Felix Pie.
Baseball American ranked pitcher Hayden Penn as the second best O’s prospect for 2005, behind Nick Markakis. Penn only pitched 14 games for the Orioles, amassing a 9.51 ERA. Hey, at least he was traded for Robert Andino.
2006: Billy Rowell was the second third baseman drafted in the 2006 MLB draft, taken 9th overall by the Orioles. The first was Evan Longoria, selected 3rd overall by the Rays. Do I even need to go there?
Guess where Rowell is right now? Still in AA. He is a career .261 minor league hitter with only 40 homeruns through six seasons.
And as if it wasn’t already a slap in the face, Rowell was taken one pick before Tim Lincecum. Why didn’t the Orioles decide to go pitcher in THIS draft?
2007: The 2007 selection for the Orioles, fifth overall, carried tons of hype. The O’s took catcher Matt Wieters, advertised as a switch-hitting Joe Mauer with power.
Wieters broke into the league in 2009 to much anticipation. The 23-year old received a standing ovation before even seeing a pitch at the major-league level. He hit .288 in his debut season. He made his first All-Star game in 2011 as he gathered his first 20 homerun season.
Along with solid offensive numbers for a catcher, Wieters also is widely considered one of the best (if not the best) defensive catchers in the league.
With Wieters still developing, he could finish as the best pick in the losing era.
In the fifth round, the O’s took pitcher Jake Arrieta who surprised many as he worked his way through the minors. Arrieta was a much anticipated arm for the Orioles but has also struggled in the majors. His 4.88 ERA and 1.493 WHIP are way higher than what the Orioles expect from him.
Shoot back to Baseball America where Billy Rowell is the O’s top prospect of 2007.
2008: The O’s went pitcher once again in 2008, taking left hander Brian Matusz fourth overall. Matusz gained some hype as being one the more talented selections the Orioles have made in the drafts of the decade.
Matusz made his MLB debut straight from AA in 2009. He has pitched a 16-22 record through three seasons.
However, in 2011, a season that was supposed to be his breakout, Matusz struggled with a 1-8 record and a 10.68 ERA. He saw minor league demotions to try to fix his issues. Matusz, obviously, is not the only one struggling.
Right handed pitcher Chris Tillman, acquired in the Erik Bedard trade, also made his debut in 2009. Tillman was said to have a devastating curveball. Tillman’s offspeed stuff was barely thrown effectively at the major league level. He is still working on it, pitching in AAA for most of 2011. Tillman has had success at the AAA level, pitching a no hitter last season.
2009: ’09 spelled another pitcher for the Orioles, high schooler Matt Hobgood, the Gatorade Athlete of the Year. With a very small sample size considering his young age, Hobgood has struggled with staying healthy and his control in the minor leagues. Hobgood has a 1.554 WHIP and 33 wild pitches through three seasons.
2010: As the decade changes, hopefully as does the Orioles’ luck. With the number four pick, the Birds went with Manny Machado, a shortstop from Brito Miami Private School in Miami, Florida.
Machado, because of his stature and his skills, is being compared to Alex Rodriguez.
Many scouts have Machado down as one of the best prospects in all of baseball, but why should we believe that? Look at all the other failures from the past seasons.
Third baseman Josh Bell broke into the majors in 2010 with a lot of struggle. Bell, the result of trading George Sherrill, played poor defense, most notably on his throws to first, and failed to make contact with the ball at the plate, striking out 53 times in 159 at bats in 2010.
2011: Once again the O’s go pitcher. This time they take Dylan Bundy, Gatorade’s Athlete of the Year from Owasso High School in Owasso, Oklahoma.
Bundy baffled high school hitters with his fastball that reached 100 miles per hour and his command that kept his walk totals in the single digits.
Another highly touted pitching prospect, Zach Britton, made his debut in the majors in 2011 when Brian Matusz was unable to make his first start. Britton, who had a 2.70 ERA between AA and AAA in 2010, is currently 11-10 for the O’s with a 4.44 ERA. Even though his rookie campaign has been better than the others, the O’s are still looking for more from the talented Britton.
So what do you think? Bad luck? Poor development? A little of both? Neither?