Former Navy Pitcher Eyes Career With Orioles
Oliver Drake, a standout while with the Midshipmen, was recently added to the Orioles 40-man roster.
Oliver Drake, a former baseball player at the U.S. Naval Academy, got a call last month that could put him on the fast track to Camden Yards.
A minor leaguer with the Baltimore Orioles, the right-handed pitcher had just finished a workout near his home in Gardner, MA, when he got a call from Tripp Norton, the assistant director of player development for the O's.
Drake was informed he had been placed on the Orioles 40-man roster and invited to attend spring training in Sarasota, FL, starting in mid-February.
Being added to the 40-man roster meant the Orioles could protect him from being signed by another big league team. He will have a chance to make the 25-man opening day active roster in 2012, but could begin the season in the minor leagues at Class AA Bowie or Class AAA Norfolk.
"I thought there was a chance," Drake said of being added to the 40-man roster. "I was thrilled when I got the call. I just want to go to camp and compete for a spot."
"I want to learn from the [big league] coaches. I am just really excited," Drake said in a telephone interview Sunday evening. The pitcher was in his hometown, which is northwest of Worcester and south of the New Hampshire border.
Drake was not a top prospect coming out of high school. He drew interest from Division III Brandeis, near Boston, and Division II Rollins, in Florida, before heading to Navy.
"We saw him pitch his junior year [in high school]. He came to our camp and then we saw him as a senior," Navy head coach Paul Kostacopoulos, a Severna Park resident, told Patch. "He just got better and better. He has a pro body. He has a great frame. He has broad shoulders and a loose arm."
Most players at NCAA Division I schools, such as Navy, are not able to sign with pro teams until after their junior season. But since Drake turned 21 before the 2008 draft, he was eligible to be taken that year, which came after his sophomore season with the Midshipmen.
"It was a unique situation," said Dean Albany, a long-time Orioles' scout who grew up in Maryland. "He is a big, strong kid with a good arm."
Drake, who turns 25 Jan. 13, was drafted in the 43rd round by the Orioles in 2008. He signed with the team a few weeks before he would have begun his third year at Navy.
Once student begins their third year at the academy, they have a military obligation to the school upon graduation. That makes a pro baseball career challenging to pull off.
"It was a very difficult decision," Drake said. "I changed my mind a half-dozen times. It really took me some time to decide."
"I would not have signed him if I didn't think he could make the major leagues," said Albany, who graduated from Brooklyn Park High. "I grew up around here so I know it is quite an honor to be at the Naval Academy. We had to be sure this guy had a chance [to pitch in the majors].”
Drake worked his way up the minor league ladder and advanced to Class AA Bowie for the first time in 2011.
He was 3-5 with a 5.20 ERA in 12 starts with Bowie last season. He began the year with Class A Frederick, where he was named the Carolina League pitcher of the week of July 4 and was 8-3 with a 2.14 ERA in 14 appearances, 13 of them starts.
Drake also pitched one game last season for Norfolk, the Orioles’ top minor league team. He had four complete games in 2011, a rarity in the minors in the age of specialization and low-pitch counts for starters.
Drake, who is 6-foot-4, throws a fastball in the low 90s and relies on a sinker to induce batters to hit groundballs for quick outs. He will enter 2012 as one of the top minor league prospects for the Orioles.
And now, thanks to a phone call in November, he draws nearer to his major league goal.
"Being put on the 40-man roster is another step closer," he said. "I have to still work on some things and hope the dream comes true."