Baseball America recently released its list of the top 100 prospects available for the First-Year Player Draft in June and Oregon State switch-hitting catcher Adley Rutschman is No. 1. Texas high school shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. is No. 2. That is the same top two that we saw on MLBPipeline.com’s list.
For just the second time in Orioles history, the club will make the overall No. 1 pick on June 3. In 1989, the Orioles selected LSU right-hander Ben McDonald 1/1, with the first pick in the first round.
Based on the current rankings it seems unlikely the Orioles would select another pitcher with that top pick. In the Baseball America ratings, the first eight players are position players. In the MLBPipeline.com top 50 ratings, the first six are position players.
In interviews over the last several weeks, J.J. Cooper of Baseball America, along with Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLBPipeline.com, all told me they felt that the Orioles should take Rutschman with the No. 1 pick. Cooper said it’s a slam dunk for him during a Winter Meetings interview.
“He’s already shown that he can hit,” added Cooper. “He’s already shown that he can play, at times, exceptional defense. His arm is exceptional and his receiving is solid. He’s worked with a really good staff, a staff that has velocity on it. And he’s been the star of a national championship team. He’s done all those things. You are talking about a guy that has the potential to be a middle-of-the-order bat.”
Rutschman hit .408/.505/.628 for Oregon State last season, leading the team to the College World Series title. He produced 22 doubles, three triples, nine homers and drove in 83 runs in 67 games with an OPS of 1.133. He walked more than he struck out, 53 times to 40. He was the Most Outstanding Player in the College World Series.
Witt is certainly a player that could go No. 1. He’s an athletic shortstop with speed, but there are some concerns about his bat, which MLBPipeline.com rates at a 45 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Cooper is pretty solid with his opinion that for now Rutschman is the guy at the top of the draft.
“You compare him to Casey Mize, who we had No. 1 for the Tigers last year. He’s a hitter versus a pitcher, so a little more security there,” Cooper said. “He’s a catcher, so you are getting offensive value at a key position you don’t usually find. Look at catchers in the AL. There are none of them that can hit right now almost.
“You put that with the fact he’s also catching a really good staff and he’s at a top-notch program (and) there is a lot of security to that. He could be one of those clear runaway No. 1 picks,” he said.
The Orioles have four of the first 80 picks and six of the top 150. They select No. 1, No. 41, No. 72 (in competitive balance round B), No. 79, No. 109 and No. 139. The slot amount for that No. 1 pick should be in the $8.4 million range. The Orioles will have 11 picks in the top 10 rounds. In recent years, clubs have signed the No. 1 overall pick for under slot and used the savings to sign others to overslot deals.
It was a strategy used by the Houston Astros and Mike Elias in the 2012 draft when they selected high school shortstop Carlos Correa with the No. 1 overall pick. It led to bigger overslot bonuses for other picks, including one now with the Orioles.
Correa signed for a bonus of $4.8 million, well under the slot value of $7.2 million that year. That helped Houston sign the No. 41 overall pick, pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. He got a bonus of $2.5 million, well over the slot of $1.259 million. In the fourth round of that draft, Houston took Rio Ruiz, a high school player from California. The slot amount at pick No. 129 was $360,200, but Ruiz got a bonus of $1.85 million.
The Orioles claimed Ruiz on waivers from Atlanta on Dec. 10. Ruiz had been traded by Houston to Atlanta in a deal in January 2015.
We could see Elias use a similar draft strategy with the top pick this year as he did with Correa in 2012. He got a top player, yet saved $2.4 million, which helped with overslot amounts to add McCullers and Ruiz.