How a shortened, or canceled, MLB season impacts the Orioles’ farm system

Andrew Gillis
NBC Sports Washington

Every team has something to lose with the MLB season in flux. 

Some teams atop MLB's hierarchy are losing valuable time in their contention window, while others are missing out on crucial development for their players in the minor and major leagues. The Orioles fall into the second group. 

With two horrid seasons back-to-back, resulting in first and second overall picks, respectively, the Orioles were set to enter the second year of a multi-year rebuild under general manager Mike Elias. Now, there's no set course of action for what the Orioles' development plan for the 2020 season will look like, as no one knows what the season itself will be.

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"It's not ideal," Elias said Monday on a conference call with reporters. "But I think that every team across baseball is getting hurt by this, on a number of levels. If you're a team that's not rebuilding, your window might be closing and you're missing out on your players maximizing their playing time during this competitive window. But for a team that's rebuilding like ours, yeah, the repetitions at the minor and major league level for a young player, that's development that's not occurring. The only consolation is that every team is in the same boat."

The Orioles' first draft under the new regime netted the team catcher Adley Rutschman first overall, as well as a handful of day two pitchers Elias is excited about.

Now, even though the Orioles have the second, 30th and 39th picks in the draft, their last pick will come 133rd. They'll have only six picks in a draft shortned to five rounds, as opposed to dozens of players selected in a typical draft.

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"I've tried to keep a glass-half-full attitude about the draft," Elias said. "I'm happy that we have our high picks, that we're getting our top five rounds in, but it's not fun that we can't continue to add players to the system beyond the fifth round. We feel like we're good at picking late and last year, we took a lot of really good pitchers on the second day of the draft and really bolstered our system. We're just not getting all that."

Meaning after the fifth round of the draft, which concludes with the Astros and the 160th pick, there will be a two-day waiting period before teams can sign undrafted players. Then, it's open season. 

"We're going to try and sign as many kids as we can after the draft," Elias said. "I don't know what that number is going to be, I don't know how these kids are going to make their decisions, nobody really knows how that's going to go. That process won't start until two days after the draft is over. We're content with the fact that we're getting our five rounds in and we're going to do the best we can."

Optimistically, the Orioles could find some hidden gems that perhaps otherwise wouldn't be available to them in the later rounds. With three in the first 39 selections, paired with a few hits in free agency, the Orioles could find themselves nicely set up despite the circumstances. 

The counterargument, however, relies upon the thought process that everything is still so wide open and various players may decide not to sign due to the uncertainty of it all. If that happens, the Orioles might be left with just a handful of young players to work with in the second year of a rebuild. That would only add more time to the Orioles' rebuilding clock.

"We think that this is a terrific place to come sign if you're an undrafted free agent for a number of reasons," Elias began. "We're on the cutting edge of player development, we have a lot of track record and success with player development, we saw a big step forward last year with our players using these results, we've got more on the horizon in terms of things we're introducing. Maybe even beyond that, we're rebuilding and this is a rebuild that's focused on homegrown players and a homegrown pipeline and a strategy that will be reliant on internally grown players."

If that sales pitch is enticing enough to attract some hidden talent to Maryland, the Orioles might be able to have themselves a draft that propels them into contention sooner than expected. If not, they might be stuck with just a handful of players instead of a whole new crop.

"The opportunity to not only get better, but actually play for the major league team and graduate to the big leagues and play for the Orioles is much greater here than it would be at a club that's not undergoing that strategy, or just generally speaking that relies on a big free agent operating model," Elias said. "This is a place to be and the club like us is a place to be if you're a player that wants to make the big leagues."

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How a shortened, or canceled, MLB season impacts the Orioles farm system originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

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