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Orioles Pick Richie Martin With Top Pick In 2018 Rule 5 Draft

Image credit: Richie Martin (Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images)

From the day he was left unprotected, Richie Martin stood out as one of the best prospects available in the 2018 Rule 5 draft.

He had first-round pedigree as the A’s top pick in 2015. He had been seen by everyone during his successful career at Florida. While his pro career had had plenty of ups and downs, he was coming off a season when he hit .300/.368/.439 at Double-A Midland.

And Baltimore, the team who was picking first, is extremely thin in the middle infield. So there was little drama and little surprise when the Orioles made Martin the first pick in the draft. They will have to keep him on their roster all season without sending him back to the minors or they will have to offer him back to the A’s. But for a rebuilding O’s team that won only 47 games last season, that should not be a problem.

“Richie Martin was considered broadly as the top available talent in this draft both by us and third-party publications,” Orioles GM Mike Elias said. “It’s an area of need for us. We need guys who can play shortstop. We believe he is a true shortstop. We like the fact that he controls the strike zone well. He draws walks.”

Elias said that Martin will be given a chance to compete for the starting shortstop job in spring training, but it is likely the club will add a more veteran shortstop at some point this offseason. Martin has played second base as well. With a glove that is ahead of his bat, he fits the profile of a utility infielder who can potentially play himself into a larger role later.

“If it is a bench role, we need that,” Elias said. “He has the versatility and speed you look for in that player.”

Martin topped a relatively straightforward if brief Rule 5 draft. Fourteen players were taken in the Major League phase, which is the fewest since 14 were taken in 2014. There were 18 players taken in each of the past two seasons. The Royals, Orioles and Giants were the three teams that each selected two players.

The Orioles doubled up on their middle infield picks, acquiring Drew Jackson in a trade after he was picked by the Phillies. Jackson has plenty of versatility, having played shortstop, second base and center field. He has more power than Martin but with less hitting and contact ability. He’s also a plus runner.

The Royals are looking to come close to equaling the success they had in last year’s Rule 5 draft when they landed Brad Keller (as well as Burch Smith) and watched Keller establish himself as one of the team’s best starting pitchers.

No one is ready to proclaim that righthander Sam McWilliams or righthander Chris Ellis will match Keller’s production, but McWilliams was considered the top available pitcher by many teams while Ellis was seen by many as a useful, versatile and still young arm.

“McWilliams was at the top of our board,” Royals assistant GM J.J. Picollo said. “In talking to other teams, you hear that (some) teams are tight against the roster limit. You intentionally target teams who you know will have roster decisions. McWilliams, in our data and scouting reports, they all said he should be the guy.

“He’s more of a guy who is a true upside, projection, scouting-type of guy,” Picollo said. “We think he has some power to be a starter. You look at the peripherals. You want some more swing and miss and the walks to come down, but he still has room to grow.”

“With Ellis, it’s a heavy fastball and the velocity is plus and he has a breaking ball. That’s the separator for us,” Picollo said. “We liked to start him, but if he goes to the (bullpen), the velocity may spike and he has an out-pitch.”

For every team taking a player, there is a team losing him, which is part of the calculus that goes into protections. For teams like the Rays, who headed to the Rule 5 protection deadline with more players to protect than spots to protect, a cold calculus has to take place. When the Rays left McWilliams unprotected, they knew he was almost assured of being picked. But the players they protected had a better chance to stick if they were picked.

The Astros, Blue Jays and Dodgers each lost two players in the Major League phase. As Astros special assistant to the GM Kevin Goldstein explained, when a team has a deep roster, it makes for some difficult calls.

“They are really tough (decisions). We poll a pretty wide-ranging group about who we want to protect. If we’re to protect everyone who got at least one vote to protect we’d protect 50. We have some tough choices. We have a big league roster which is designed to compete for a championship.”

In the minor league phase, the Yankees and Angels each lost four players. Three teams (Orioles, Mariners and Indians) each lost three players.

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