The Orioles finalized their 40-man roster yesterday by promoting five of their own while fostering questions over the omission of one of their most highly regarded prospects.
After releasing veteran outfielder Brady Anderson, outrighting utility player Mike Kinkade and allowing relievers Ryan Kohlmeier and Chad Paronto to be claimed through waivers, the Orioles replaced them on the major-league roster with pitchers Erik Bedard, John Stephens, Mike Paradis and Steve Bechler along with prize shortstop Ed Rogers. The moves protect the group from selection in the Dec. 13 major-league draft while exposing a former first-round draft pick, outfielder Keith Reed.
Named the organization's top prospect by Baseball America in 2000, Reed was considered a pillar of the club's commitment to player development last spring. The Orioles took him with the 23rd overall pick of the 1999 draft, signed him for a $1 million bonus, then watched the Providence alum hit 19 home runs with 90 RBIs in 2000, when he was named to the Single-A South Atlantic League All-Star team.
Exposing Reed represents a gamble by Orioles vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift that no club will guarantee Reed a spot on its major-league roster for the entire 2002 season.
Under terms of the major-league draft - also known as the Rule 5 draft - players with three years or more of professional experience not included on a 40-man roster may be selected in return for $50,000. The player must remain in the major leagues with the drafting club for an entire season or be offered back to the player's original team for $25,000. The Orioles acquired outfielder Jay Gibbons through last December's major-league draft.
Reed wasn't the only former first-rounder left off the 40-man roster. Outfielder Darnell McDonald, considered the most gifted high school player in the 1997 draft when the Orioles awarded him a then-record $1.95 million signing bonus, was excluded.
Outfielder Ntema Ndungidi, a former sandwich pick, also was exposed to the draft. The 36th overall selection of the 1997 draft languished at Bowie last season (.212) after confronting medical problems the previous winter.
"We did a lot of soul-searching about these young men. I guess you pick those names out because they were first-round picks and they have talent," Thrift told WBAL Radio's Steve Melewski last night. "You have to make a calculated guess. If someone does take them in the Rule 5 draft, can they afford to carry them all year? That's the risk you take."
Reed played at Single-A Frederick, Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Rochester last season when not hindered by a hand injury that contributed to his hitting only 11 home runs with 48 RBIs in 110 games. Reed batted .270 at Frederick, .254 at Bowie and .311 in 20 games at Rochester.
Thrift bent over backward to retain young pitching.
Bechler, 22, climbed from Frederick to Rochester last season, going 9-7 in 26 combined starts. A left-hander, Bedard, also 22, was 9-2 with a 2.15 ERA before being sidelined after 17 starts at Frederick. Paradis, 23, became the Orioles' first pick and the 13th overall selection of the 1999 draft and constructed an 8-13 record and 4.71 ERA at Bowie last season. His first professional season was limited to two starts after he hyperextended his right elbow.
Stephens, 22, is an Australian who signed with the Orioles at 16 and has since produced dazzling strikeout-walk ratios at every stop. After spending three seasons at Single-A, Stephens split last season between Bowie and Rochester, going 13-9 with 191 strikeouts vs. 40 walks in 190 innings.
The Orioles also made room for veteran reliever John Wasdin - signed last season as a minor-league free agent - and 27-year-old John Bale, who struggled with forearm pain for much of last season before recently undergoing surgery on his left arm.
In all, the Orioles had 22 pitchers, three catchers and 15 other position players on a list submitted yesterday to the commissioner's office.
The process, complicated by the activation of injured outfielder Albert Belle (for insurance payment reasons) and rehabilitating starting pitcher Pat Hentgen, cost the Orioles three-time All-Star Anderson, Paronto, Kohlmeier and probably Kinkade.
The Orioles released Anderson last Friday even though he has one season and $4 million remaining on the five-year, $31 million contract he signed in December 1997. As presently constituted, the Orioles' major-league roster includes 23 of 40 names present at the outset of last spring training. Four of the holdovers - Belle, right-handed pitchers Scott Erickson and Luis Rivera and left-hander Matt Riley - did not play in 2001.
Yesterday's promotions have little to do with the Orioles' makeup for next season but suggest where the organization's hope lies for 2003 and beyond.