Since taking over in 2002, the Orioles' front office leadership of Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan has been cleaning house. Last year the club said sayonara to manager Mike Hargrove, and this year it's arrivederci to scouting director Tony DeMacio and minor-league director Doc Rodgers, whose expiring contracts will not be renewed after the season. Today we'll look at DeMacio's termination and his legacy.
From the Sun: “Orioles fire their scouting director”
DeMacio's canning comes as a mild surprise, but not a shock. He was the highest-ranking baseball executive in the organization remaining from the Frank Wren administration. DeMacio's reputation as a member of successful scouting regimes in Atlanta and Cleveland helped him outlast former bosses Wren and Syd Thrift, and Beattie and Flanagan thought enough of DeMacio to keep him on for two more seasons. But in the end, the results just were not there.
A look back at DeMacio's drafts
As a rule of thumb, five years need to pass to make meaningful assessments of an amateur draft class, so it's hard to pass confident judgments on DeMacio's drafting record. What one can do is assess the minor-league progress of the prospects drafted by DeMacio, and that record is not exactly sparkling. A lot of high-profile pitchers taken early in the draft by DeMacio's scouting clan have disappointed or fallen by the wayside: Mike Paradis, Richard Stahl, Josh Cenate, Beau Hale, Chris Smith, and Adam Loewen, to name some. Whether this high attrition rate is due to a lack of diligence in investigating the mileage on the pitchers' arms, imprudent minor-league oversight, or just dumb luck is hard to say. If DeMacio is to be blamed for anything, it is for drafting so many pitchers (a risky demographic) so high in the draft.
There have been some finds under the DeMacio regime, particularly from the 1999 amateur draft, DeMacio's first as scouting director. Much was expected from that draft, in which the Orioles had six of the first fifty picks by virtue of losing several Type A free agents in the previous offseason. Two everyday major-leaguers, Larry Bigbie (taken 21st overall) and Brian Roberts (50th), have come out of those original six—not an outstanding rate of return, but not bad. Taken later in that draft were Erik Bedard (sixth round), Aaron Rakers (23rd), and Willie Harris (24th). Three lower-round picks from the same draft reaching the majors is an exceptional result, and it helps make up for the first-round misses. In all, this draft merits a grade of B; it would rise if any of the picks turn into stars, a possibility that appears unlikely at the moment.
DeMacio's 2000 draft, on the other hand, has been a complete washout as far as big-leaguers go. It doesn't look like any players of consequence will emerge from that class, with the possible exception of third baseman Tripper Johnson (supplemental first round, 32nd pick overall). Give this one a D-.
The Orioles' 2001 draft had two high picks that have come up short so far as professionals, left-hander Smith from the first round and shortstop Bryan Bass, a supplemental-round choice. However, the team's other first-round pick, second baseman Mike Fontenot, looks like he will be a big-league contributor, if not a star, and third-rounder Dave Crouthers is moving along. This draft earns a C for now.
Assessing DeMacio's 2002 and 2003 drafts is a volatile exercise because not enough time has passed for concrete judgments. Neither stands out as a particularly good or bad draft yet. Loewen (first round), Val Majewski (3rd), Hayden Penn (5th), and John Maine (6th) came from the 2002 draft and are all solid prospects, notwithstanding the shoulder injuries recently suffered by Loewen and Majewski. Nick Markakis, the top pick from the 2003 draft, has made steady progress in the lower minors, and third-rounder Chris Ray has shown poise, although none of the other picks from that year is grabbing anyone's attention yet.
The 2004 draft is looking thin now that top pick Wade Townsend has fallen out of the Orioles' grasp. Townsend's non-signing should not be held against DeMacio, nor should the Orioles' lack of a second-round pick (ceded to Oakland for signing Miguel Tejada). Outfielder Jeff Fiorentino, the club's third-round pick, had a promising debut, but it's way too early to seriously evaluate him or anyone else from this draft.
If there is a pattern to DeMacio's drafting strategy, it is this: 1) an early-round predilection for pitchers, many of whom subsequently hurt their arms; 2) an inability to select star-quality position prospects; and 3) a gift for finding the odd middle- or late-round surprise. DeMacio has shown a particular weakness for power lefties like Stahl, Smith, and Loewen.
(Kerry Leibowitz of Birds in the Belfry has been doing a series on the DeMacio drafts, examining in some detail the progress of the draftees towards the big leagues. Leibowitz has made draft analysis a pet project over the last few years, and he is less than commendatory of DeMacio's work.)
A change by degrees
The educational level attained by the typical Oriole draftee has moved upward under DeMacio, following a league-wide trend. In DeMacio's first few drafts, he spent the majority of the Orioles' picks on high school players, a strategy that that his former team, the Atlanta Braves, has used with some success. From 1999 to 2001, roughly 55% of Baltimore's selections came straight out of high school. But beginning around 2002, there was a marked shift toward college prospects, particularly in the early rounds, as the following graphs indicate.
The 2002-2004 drafts break down into 53% from four-year colleges and 32% from high schools—a near reversal of the 1999-2001 numbers—with junior colleges holding relatively steady at 15%.
The jump in college-seasoned prospects was in part spurred by the addition of the Aberdeen low-A affiliate to the farm system in 2002. Because of age limits in the New York-Penn League, the Ironbirds immediately needed young prospects who could step in and compete. So to fill the need, the Orioles took far more college players than they had in previous years. This pattern continued in 2003 and 2004.
DeMacio and the Orioles also probably recognized that college players collectively have a better chance of major-league success than younger prospects and adjusted their draft emphasis accordingly. The rest of the league had been catching on to this tendency even before the Athletics' collegian-centric 2002 draft was documented in the popular book Moneyball.
The second halves of DeMacio's drafts have been reserved for more raw, youthful talent. Rounds 26 to 50 of the Orioles' drafts have been dominated by high school and junior college prospects, although in 2002 and 2003 the team increased its intake of college prospects in those rounds.
Most of the lower-round picks went unsigned—many of them were held in low regard, and those who were not were usually bound for college or junior college and were seen as draft-and-follow candidates. Consequently, there's not much use in analyzing the back half of the draft.
Adrift abroad, but deft at dumpster-diving
Of course, there are other realms of scouting besides the draft. One is the surveillance and training of foreign players; another is the evaluation of other organizations' talent. In contrast to the tidy accounting of the amateur draft, the other scouting disciplines are harder to evaluate from an outsider's standpoint. But here's an attempt to rate DeMacio's record in the areas of foreign and professional scouting.
The available evidence indicates that the Orioles are faring poorly in the international arena. The Birds' Dominican baseball school, led by Carlos Bernhardt, has produced but a trickle of usable talent in the last five years. How many of DeMacio's international signees are major-league-caliber prospects? After Daniel Cabrera and Eddy Rodríguez (both signed in 1999) the roster looks mighty thin. In the 1990s, the Orioles were able to snare quality talent from unlikely sources such as Aruba and Australia, but not anymore. Not only that, but the Orioles have no significant Asian scouting presence, no pipeline to the baseball lodes of Venezuela, no forays across the Atlantic—in short, no discernible scouting advantages outside of North America. As it batted for a low average in the amateur draft, the organization needed to supplement its talent through international scouting. But it failed to make tangible overseas progress under DeMacio.
DeMacio's ability to raid the bargain bin of pro ball—i.e., the Rule 5 draft, the waiver wire, the minor-league free agent market—produced some hits. Taking Jay Gibbons in the 2000 Rule 5 draft was a good move. Snaring David Newhan as a minor-league free agent this year turned out to be a steal. Other acquisitions from the scrap heap such as Tony Batista, Rodrigo López, Willis Roberts, and José Mercedes have provided real (if transitory) value to the big-league club. If DeMacio's record has a highlight, this area is it. But one cannot hope to build a contender picking through other teams' castoffs.
A case of expectations unmet
DeMacio did a passable job as Baltimore's scouting director. Baltimore's prospect pipeline was running dry when DeMacio arrived, and it is just barely flowing now thanks in part to his efforts. His department was fairly adept at fetching overlooked talent in the professional and amateur ranks. DeMacio arguably did a better job of recognizing talent than his predecessors.
However, DeMacio's regime fell short of the high expectations that came with his hiring. His drafts have not produced stars, and the club's international scouting arm was not fruitful under his oversight. Five years may not be long enough for amateurs to fully develop as ballplayers, but it is certainly long enough to produce a significant improvement in an organization's overall talent level. In that regard, the Orioles still rank in the bottom half of the league, essentially where they were when DeMacio replaced Gary Nickels as scouting director in the fall of 1998.
Missing from this analysis, of course, is the effect of minor-league instruction and coaching on the development of talent. This was Rodgers's purview—more on him later.