LAS VEGAS - It will obviously be a huge moment for new Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias. But we are going to have to wait a few months for it. In June, the Orioles have the No. 1 pick in the first round of the First-Year Player Draft. For just the second time in team history, they select 1/1, the first pick in the first round. The Orioles took Ben McDonald out of LSU with that selection in 1989.
Right now, there are two players that are getting the most buzz for that pick and are ahead of the rest of the pack. They are Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman and Texas high school shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., the son of former big league pitcher Bobby Witt, who went third overall in 1985.
In an interview today at the Winter Meetings, I asked Jonathan Mayo of MLBPipeline.com: Who should the O’s take at No. 1? MLBPipeline.com just published its list of the top 50 players for the draft.
“I think you could make a case for either one of those guys,” Mayo said. “I would probably take Adley Rutschman. Only because he’s a little more advanced. And if you have a franchise player behind the plate, that can make a huge difference. I hate to make the Matt Wieters comps. They are not necessarily the same player. Rutschman might have a better bat actually. But you saw what Wieters did in solidifying the team and what he meant to the franchise. I think the same can be said for Rutschman.
“And so often college catchers, if they can field, they don’t hit. Or if they hit, they’re going to have to move from behind the plate. He’s going to stay behind the plate. He’s a really well rounded backstop that will hit for average and power at the next level.”
If it does come down to those two players for that pick, the Orioles could take a high school guy or a college player, and that difference in age and experience could factor into their choice.
“That is why I’m glad I’m not the one signing the checks,” said Mayo. “It is a tough call. I think that if, in their evaluations, they think Bobby Witt has the chance to be a generational kind of player, once-in-a-lifetime guy, then they should go that route. The big mistake you can make, especially if you are a new general manager coming in and starting over, you want to get that pick right. But you also don’t want to be safe.
“Adley Rutschman is a college player, but he’s not like the safe guy that we know will get to the big leagues and at least be OK. He has a chance to be an elite level player as a college guy. That is probably why I would pick him if I were picking 1/1 tomorrow and why we have him No. 1 on our board.
“Bobby Witt Jr., I don’t mean to give him short shrift either. He’s a very special player that has a ton of tools across the board at shortstop with plus-plus makeup. He loves to play and I think fans would love him. But it might take him a tiny bit longer because he’s a high schooler. The hit tool isn’t quite as good as say Rutschmam or (Cal first baseman Andrew) Vaughn. If you are willing to be patient, the payoff could be huge. But they have the benefit of having a really good college player to take if they want.”
I asked Mayo if the fact that a catcher may play only 125 games or so should be a factor for the Orioles with the No. 1 pick. A shortstop can start every night.
“I’m sure they’ll take that into consideration,” Mayo said. “But the impact a catcher has beyond just the games they start behind the plate can be huge. They’re going to have a young pitching staff and they might want a young catcher to shepherd those pitchers. As he gets established and becomes more of a veteran, that is going to happen more and more.
“You look at Buster Posey’s impact in San Francisco for instance. Was he catching 150 games? No. But you look at his impact on that team and it was tremendous. And in the American League, you can always get that bat in the lineup as the DH from time to time. I’m sure that gets thrown into the hopper as they try to decide between picks.
“There are plenty of high school shortstops that have gone 1/1. Some that have become great players and some that were just OK. I think there are pros and cons for any pick that high.”
And, as you will hear numerous times between now and June, there are no guarantees for the Orioles with the top pick in the draft, no matter who is selected.
“There are plenty of guys that have missed,” Mayo said. “Yes, you want to get that pick right for the optics of it, especially with new management coming in. It’s really important. But they also have a larger draft pool as a result of picking 1/1. And it’s how you use that whole pool. The Astros missed on some of their 1/1 picks. Mark Appel didn’t make it to the big leagues. Brady Aiken, they didn’t sign. But they did the year after drafting Aiken, get Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker in the same draft. They got Lance McCullers Jr. the same year they took Carlos Correa 1/1. So it’s how you use the pool as a whole because of the larger pool that is an important factor to consider.”