Orioles playing waiting game with unsigned draft picks

Baltimore OriolesBaseballSportsCrimeCrime, Law and JusticeChicago White SoxJered Weaver

With fewer than four weeks remaining to sign his 2011 draft picks, Orioles director of amateur scouting Joe Jordan finds himself in a familiar position in late July.

"We're just kind of in a waiting mode on some stuff," Jordan said. "We have offers out there to pretty much all of them. We're going to sign some guys here soon or we're going to move on to other things. Obviously, I'm talking about guys down in the draft. We have priorities. We have a first- and second-rounder that are not signed, and they are our top priorities."

Jordan said he has had periodic conversations with the Orioles' top pick, Dylan Bundy, a right-hander out of Owasso High in Oklahoma, whom the club selected fourth overall. Jordan expects the dialogue to pick up ahead of the Aug. 15 signing deadline.

However, Jordan did express frustration that the club has been unable to make any progress in negotiations with its second-round selection, Jason Esposito, a third baseman from Vanderbilt.

"We were hopeful that Esposito would be out playing by now, and that's not the case," Jordan said. "We're quite a ways apart. It's just one of those things. I wish it was different. He needs to be playing, and he's not. Unless something changes, he's not going to be for a while unfortunately. We've got a big difference in opinion right now, and we're going to hang in where we're at."

The Orioles have agreed to terms with 16 of their 50 picks, including six of their top 10 selections. Because the Orioles eliminated both their Rookie-level team in Bluefield and one of their Dominican Summer League teams and no longer have as much roster space, Jordan has said the organization probably will sign only 20-25 of the players they selected last month.

A good chunk of the draft budget will go toward trying to get Bundy into the fold. The 18-year-old has said he's looking for a $30 million deal, which he certainly won't get from the Orioles.

"I've talked to him from time to time," Jordan said. "There's not a whole lot of first-rounders who have signed. It's just the nature of the beast right now. There's not much you can do about it. You just wait until the time to strike, and hopefully we'll get something done. We're communicating, but not much is going on other than trying to have a little dialogue from time to time. That's standard operating procedure, unfortunately."

As for the rest of his draft class, Jordan said it's time for some of his selections to decide where they want to play next.

"Hopefully, it's the decision that we want them to make at the terms that we want them to make it at," Jordan said. "We have priorities, and some guys are going to have to show me they want them to play or they're going to be going back to school. It's no different than any other year."

Johnson to rotation?

Manager Buck Showalter said potential plans to move reliever Jim Johnson back to the rotation will be discussed more once the club views its roster after the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline.

"I have a pretty good grip on where we are going," Showalter said. "But let's see what happens between now and the end of this month. Things could change that, so I'll keep an open mind on it."

Showalter said he has discussed the possibility with Johnson, who has started 127 games in the minors but only one in the majors — a spot start in 2006. Johnson has established himself as one of the league's better setup relievers, but with a wide arsenal he can throw for strikes, the belief is he can be an effective starter.

"I don't think you close the door on anything with a guy with his makeup," Showalter said.

Johnson, 28, allowed eight runs in three innings in that lone start against the Chicago White Sox, but that was nearly five years ago.

"There are so many times that guys do a certain thing when they first emerge on the big league scene and people make the mistake of pigeon-holing them, and if they don't do particularly well there, they say, 'He's not going to be able to do that,'" Showalter said. "And guys change."

Taking Johnson, who is 5-3 with a 2.64 ERA and one save in 43 games, out of a relief role would certainly weaken the Orioles' bullpen. And so the club might wait to make sure Koji Uehara or other relievers aren't dealt at the end of the month before converting Johnson.

But the Orioles will need someone to start in September when Zach Britton is most likely shut down to conserve his innings total. Showalter wants Johnson to make some starts in 2011 — even if he has to be stretched out incrementally — if that will be his role in 2012.

"I don't think it is something that is just, whenever the season is over, you go, 'All right Jimmy, here it is, be ready for this.' I think he could use some valuable experience if that is where you go," Showalter said. "I think he needs to know when he leaves here. It may be indicative by what happens in late September."

Britton pitches in Bowie

Making his second start for Double-A Bowie after being demoted July 9, Britton allowed two runs on four hits and two walks in four innings Wednesday against Harrisburg, the Washington Nationals' Double-A affiliate.

Britton struck out four while throwing 65 pitches, 40 for strikes, in the Baysox's 6-2 win. He also hit a batter, threw a wild pitch and committed a balk. The organization is limiting Britton's innings in the minors so that he can pitch deeper into the major league season when he returns to the Orioles. He likely will make at least one more minor league start but could pitch for the Orioles by July 30.

Around the horn

Designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero (broken bone in right hand) has not picked up a bat since going on the disabled list Sunday. … According to Showalter, righty Justin Duchscherer is expected to have surgery on his left hip, which would officially end his season before he threw a pitch in an affiliated game. … Showalter said no other starter has an inning restriction at this point, including righty Jake Arrieta, whom Showalter would like to pitch 200 innings. … Arrieta recorded a strange double play in the sixth Wednesday when he struck out Carl Crawford, who stepped toward the plate and into the path of catcher Craig Tatum, who was attempting to throw to second on Josh Reddick's steal attempt. Crawford was called for interference, Reddick was ruled out on the attempted steal and Arrieta was awarded both putouts. … The Orioles will not have to face the Los Angeles Angels' pair of aces, Jered Weaver and Dan Haren, this weekend. They'll get Ervin Santana on Friday, Joel Piniero on Saturday and promising rookie Tyler Chatwood on Sunday.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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