The Baltimore Orioles will have the second pick in Thursday’s Rule 5 draft. Who will they take? How about stealing away a Washington Nationals prospect.
Are you excited about Thursday’s Rule 5 draft? If you’re a fan of the Baltimore Orioles, you should be. Since 2006, the Orioles have made at least one selection every year, including a whopping three picks in 2018 (Nestor Cortes Jr. Pedro Araujo, and Jose Mesa Jr.. The process has become a December staple for the Orioles, with 2019 surely set to continue the trend.
The odds of a Rule 5 pick sticking around and contributing at the major league level are slim, but there’s always that chance of success and it could be the most action Orioles fans get at the Winter Meetings. At 9 am PST, the Orioles will have the second pick of the draft, the closing event of the Winter Meetings before teams fly back home for the holiday season.
There are plenty of directions a team can go in when it comes to the Rule 5 draft. An expanded 26-man roster set to go in effect for the 2020 season could change the strategy for some teams and possibly even make this year’s draft a busier event.
Do you go after a raw, toolsy player with a high upside or a more polished player with a lower ceiling who has the potential to contribute immediately with a few tweaks (all of these players were left off their respective teams’ 40-man rosters, after all)? Or do you pass altogether?
With three open spots on the 40-man roster, the Baltimore Orioles aren’t going to pass. They will make at least one selection on Thursday morning, but who it will be?
Without any idea of what type of player Mike Elias is targeting, let’s throw out our thoughts about some intriguing names. How about starting with a personal favorite of mine in Washington Nationals minor league RHP Sterling Sharp.
A 24-year-old righty who currently ranks as the 13th-best prospect in the National system, Sharp was originally a 22nd round pick in the 2016 MLB draft and is well on his way to becoming one of the bigger steals of the draft.
Used predominately as a starter since debuting in the Gulf Coast League back in 2016, Sharp has found success at each level of minor league baseball, working his way up to Double-A ball where he’s spent much of the last two seasons. An oblique injury forced him to miss most of 2019, minus a few rehab starts in the lower minors and nine starts with the Double-A Harrisburg Senators.
In those nine starts, Sharp was 5-3 with a 3.99 ERA (2.59 FIP), a 1.41 WHIP, and .284 average against. He struck out 45, walked 14, and allowed just one home run in 49.2 total innings in the Eastern League. Overall, he’s 25-21 with a 3.71 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 75 total minor league appearances (69 starts).
Sharp throws a fastball with extreme sink (upper-80s, low-90s), a changeup, and a slider, with most scouting reports describing a major league quality changeup. He doesn’t have a defined strikeout pitch (averaging well under a 20% strikeout rate at most stops along his journey), but his 6’4″ wiry frame and pure, elite athleticism give his pitches a little more.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of watching him pitch yet, you can get a sense of his style in the video below, courtesy of 2080baseball.com. Careful, I spent my Sunday watching three of his starts from last season and it turned out to be a pleasant Sunday after having not watched him pitch since the end of the 2017 season.
His heavy-sink fastball helps to produce one of the highest groundball rates in all of minor league baseball. In Sharp’s limited action in 2019, he produced a 63% groundball rate and has yet to see his groundball rate dip below 52% at any level where’s logged at least 40 innings.
If Sterling Sharp is still available with the second pick, he’s certainly worth a long, hard look. Extremely high groundball rates, superior athleticism, continuing to work on his deception with his delivery, and just enough strikeouts to keep you honest are all characteristics that would play well at the major league level. In fact, it’s pretty rare to find a report out there that either wasn’t sure Sharp would be protected ahead of the draft or doesn’t believe he will develop into a reliable major league arm.
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One of the bigger questions with Sharp is whether or not he becomes a starter. With more than 100 Double-A innings under his belt, Sharp isn’t some Single-A lottery ticket who is sure to struggle significantly while making the jump to the big leagues. He still has some developing ahead of him and will hit his fair share of bumps in the road in the big leagues, but he can find early success in the big leagues in short stints as he serves out his major league roster requirement.
If selected and the Orioles think they still have someone worthy of a shot at a rotation spot in 2021, get him on a starter’s offseason program and let’s see what he has. But his delivery, ability to limit home runs and produce an extreme amount of groundballs lead me to believe he can be even more valuable out of the bullpen, and the Orioles need all the bullpen help they can get.
Sharp is coming off a very solid Arizona Fall League, where he joined forces with Baltimore Orioles prospects on the Surprise Saguaros. He tied for the team lead in innings pitched with 24, going 2-1 with a 1.50 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, and a .143 average against. He also struck out 24 hitters and didn’t allow a single home run.
Stay tuned as we continue to highlight additional intriguing Rule 5 draft possibilities for the Baltimore Orioles throughout the week, leading up to Thursday’s event.