When you hear the names Richard Stahl, Larry Bigbie, Keith Reed, Josh Cenate, Scott Rice and Brian Roberts over the next 10 or 20 years at Oriole Park, think of Eric Davis, Rafael Palmeiro and Roberto Alomar.
In time, we may even want to say, "Thanks."
Every summer the fans of rich teams with high payrolls and lousy records scream, "Break 'em up." Please, they beg, make some flashy mid-season trades. Dump the stars in the final years of their contracts before it's too late to "get something for them."
That's the conventional wisdom. While it's certainly conventional, it's seldom wise. What you get in such desperate deals usually is somebody else's expendables. What you almost never get for your star is . . . another star.
Last summer, perhaps by accident, the Orioles did not trade Alomar, Palmeiro and Davis, their three best hitters, although their season was a lost cause. As a result, they now have an opportunity to reshape their future.
This week, the Orioles got the payoff for their uncharacteristic patience. Baltimore became the first team in the 35-year history of the baseball draft to have seven picks in the top 50 and also the first club to have four first-round picks. How did such a talent bonanza fall upon them?
The Orioles received extra draft picks as compensation for Davis (18th and 44th), Palmeiro (21st and 50th) and Alomar (23rd and 34th). Only one of those seven choices was originally the Orioles' own pick (the 13th overall).
On Wednesday, the Orioles' first pick was Clemson's Mike Paradis. "He's a power sinkerballer who throws in the low nineties with a sharp slider," said General Manager Frank Wren.
The Orioles would've had Paradis no matter what. It's the rest of their draft -- all those extra compensation picks -- that makes them think they're in paradise. "We've got a shot at signing all of them," Wren said yesterday. "I don't want to be too cocky and say, `seven for seven.' " Considering the Orioles have lots of money and lots of needs, bet on 7 for 7.
Wren and scouting director Tony DeMacio were told to go for players with spectacular potential. Who cares if a couple of bullets miss the target? Look how much ammo you've got! "We went for The Profile," said Wren. "Big strong athletes and big strong pitchers with sound deliveries."
Stahl is a 6-foot-7 lefty who went 11-0 with 146 strikeouts in 79 innings in high school. The fantasy: Big Unit II. "He already has very imposing stuff -- throws 94 miles per hour," Wren says. The Orioles' competition: Georgia Tech.
Baseball America rated the top 100 players in the draft by athletic ability. Reed was No. 1 and Bigbie No. 3. Both were outfielders, at Providence and Ball State, respectively. Both are 6-4, 215 pounds. Why, that's Murray-Ripken size. Both hit 17 homers this season, though the lefty Bigbie batted .419 to the righty Reed's .398. Reed was also rated as the second-fastest base runner and having the third-best arm in the entire draft.
And so it goes. Cenate and Rice are strapping high school left-handers with the usual ridiculous statistics for players taken so high. Shortstop Roberts, son of a college coach, was rated the top defensive player in college by Baseball America.
How fast can these players help? Sooner than many think -- especially the four from college. Scott Erickson, a fourth-round pick in '89, was a 20-game winner pitching in the World Series by '91. Ben McDonald, Gregg Olson and Mussina -- all No. 1 picks -- were on the Orioles' staff for good within 12 months of the draft. Paradis could be up next summer. Who's going to keep him down? Juan Guzman, who can't remember to cover first?
Highly tabbed college hitters move fast, too, if they're for real. Will Clark was in the Giants lineup to stay within nine months of being drafted. Surhoff needed 18 months and Belle 24 months. Bigbie may well be the Orioles' center fielder by this time next year, with Reed not far behind.
"They'll tell us how fast they move up," said Wren. "But I don't see why any of [the college players] need to stay anywhere [in the minors] for more than a couple of months. We won't be holding them back, that's for sure."
For the first time in memory, the Orioles are on the verge of having prospects at every position: 6-5 Jayson Werth (catcher), 284-pound Calvin Pickering (first base), Jerry Hairston (second base), Roberts (shortstop), 6-7 Ryan Minor (third base) and, in the outfield, Reed, Bigbie and '97 No. 1 pick Darnell McDonald.
As for pitching, Mussina can start to dream that help is on the way. Sidney Ponson, 22, Paradis and four teenage southpaws -- Matt Riley (Class AA Bowie), Stahl, Cenate and Rice -- hold the key to the future.
Yes, the future. The Orioles, surprising as it might seem, may have one.
Isn't this the shortsighted organization notorious for its barren farm system -- producing not one homegrown everyday player since Ripken? Doesn't it take several drafts to change such a state of affairs? Old news, friends. That was yesterday. Okay, day before yesterday. Times change when you get three or four seasons' worth of prime talent in a few hours.
If the Orioles can sign their picks, if they aren't a bunch of stiffs, if the draft of '99 turns out to be a turning point for a franchise that's been adrift for much of the past 15 years, then thank Palmeiro, Alomar and Davis. It was sad to see them leave. But, in the long run, perhaps not all to the bad.