Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias returned late last night from the draft combine in San Diego with the same group of names on his board, which will be carried into upcoming meetings intended to whittle the list down to one.
The Orioles hold the first overall pick for the second time in four years.
“The combine was a great event. I’m very glad that we have that event now as a league,” Elias said today during a dugout session with the local media.
“Obviously, we are working with a group of five, maybe six, but probably five players at this point. … There’s a lot of information that comes in late leading up to the draft, and so it’s not responsible to pare the list down until you get all that. And also, I think we’re going to have advocates in our scouting department and in our front office for each of those players. So, we’re going to have a nice, lively debate.”
A position player is going to be chosen. No pitchers are deemed worthy of the pick.
Baseball America’s latest mock draft has the Orioles selecting Oklahoma prep shortstop Jackson Holliday, son of former major league outfielder Matt Holliday. Other possibilities for the board include outfielders Druw Jones and Elijah Green, and shortstops Termarr Johnson and Brooks Lee.
“It’s a very good group of players,” Elias said. “I’m very excited about the candidate pool for the draft this year, but that does not make the decision any easier. In fact, it makes it harder. It’s always a high-stakes decision, a lot of unknowns and luck involved, and it’s a tough thing, but it’s a huge opportunity for us and I think we’re going to do well.”
Elias thinks the level of talent is “above average” this year for a No. 1 selection, which will be announced on July 17.
“There’s not a slam-dunk A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez), Bryce Harper kind of thing, but beyond that, it’s a really good crop,” he said. “I would equate it to probably what we faced in 2019 when there were three players (Adley Rutschman, Bobby Witt Jr., Andrew Vaughn) that I think in any given year you would have taken No. 1 and been very happy that they were there. We had to choose amongst those guys. It feels similar to that.”
The Orioles won’t draft for need. That’s never a real consideration.
“It’s sort of what the draft makes available to you, and you want to do as well as possible,” Elias said. “I think there’s a draft pool system now that’s been in place for 10 years. I’ve probably been part of a top five pick like seven or eight times in those 10 years, believe it or not, and that comes into play. We look at maximizing our entire draft, but ultimately we’re looking for the right player for us and kind of picking a favorite player that we want to take home, and you only get one of them. You can’t take more than one, and it’s just always a tough decision, but I’m excited that the draft is coming around, and the group that we have to choose from and the group of people that we have working on the draft, very confident about where it’s at.”
Pitching hasn’t been a priority in the draft under Elias, partly due to the picks he inherited, including 2017 first-rounder DL Hall and 2018 first-rounder Grayson Rodriguez.
“We were within the point the last few years of really trying to lay down a strong farm system, and we were doing so without an active international pipeline,” Elias said. “Usually, the international pipeline provides you with a lot of position players and a lot of infielders in particular, and so the Orioles didn’t have that. And also, I’ve said this before, but (former executive) Dan Duquette and his guys very well spent some high picks on pitchers in years prior, so it put us in a position to take a lot of position players and come away with what we hope are some core players from those picks.
“Right now, I look back and think, fingers crossed, we got a few and I’m excited about that. But pitching’s got more inherent risk with the injury rates and the variability, and want to do as well as we can with these draft picks because they’re very important for the Orioles. We’ll just see. We’re not going to reach for pitching, but we’re not going to shy away from it if there are ones that fit for us with those high picks.
“There aren’t any pitchers that you would take with the No. 1 pick this year, so I feel pretty safe ruling that out, but we pick again at 33 and that could very well be an arm.”
Elias indicated that Bruce Zimmermann’s demotion Thursday to Triple-A Norfolk won’t impact Hall’s timeline for making his major league debut. Hall has made eight starts with the Tides and posted a 3.82 ERA 1.337 WHIP with 54 strikeouts in 30 2/3 innings.
Hall hasn’t been ruled out as the starter on June 25 when Zimmermann’s turn comes up, but it seems unlikely. Spenser Watkins and Denyi Reyes are the prime candidates to be recalled.
“DL is making great progress in Norfolk,” Elias said. “You see his outings getting longer, the pitch counts are going up. He’s had an outing when he’s covered five innings, a couple where he’s run out of bullets in the fourth, but the stats are getting better and better. I think that the efficiency is getting better. He’s really on a good path and doing what we want to see him doing.
“On the other hand, this is a kid that, because of injury and pandemic, has really not thrown that many minor league innings since signing. He’s still learning a lot there. But every excited about where he’s at coming off the injury last year, what we’re seeing from him in Norfolk. I think where his head’s at is good, and it’s at the point where obviously we’re watching his outings very carefully, but doing so not just from a player development standpoint but from major league relevancy standpoint, and we’re going to be looking for the right time to possibly see what we’ve got there.”
Rodriguez, on the Triple-A injured list with a Grade 2 lat strain, has had some active rehab days in Sarasota. Nothing related to baseball. Movements and physical therapy.
“It seems like everything’s going well, but no further clarity to the exact timeline yet,” Elias said. “We’ll do some reimaging at some point in the next few weeks and I think we’ll have a better sense there of where in the timeframe he’s probably going to land.”
Matt Harvey’s 60-game suspension, backdated to April 29, won’t prevent him from pitching for a lower-level affiliate, perhaps as early as next week. He has a simulated game today and will slot next month in Norfolk’s rotation.
Elias assured the media that the ongoing legal dispute between brothers John and Louis Angelos won’t impact how the Orioles conduct business in baseball operations and other departments.
Louis Angelos filed a lawsuit last week accusing John of taking control of the team against the wishes of their father, managing partner Peter Angelos, who’s been in declining health.
“It’s unfortunate and definitely not something you like to see, but this is a tough business, there’s always kind of crazy stuff going on in this business,” Elias said. “We’ve had our challenges the last few years. We’re going to stay focused on the task at hand, work diligently, work smartly, and keep doing the right thing for the Orioles, and I don’t think this is going to have any impact on the play on the field or the team that you see.
“I obviously can’t talk a lot about a legal situation, but I think I’ve been very consistent about the stuff that I’ve said since being hired in 2018, dating back to that press conference. The support and relationship that the baseball ops department has had with the ownership group, and John leading the team and leading the ownership group, has been phenomenal. It's been nothing but constructive and it will continue to be so, and we’re set up with a very talented and stable management team, both in terms of the baseball ops department and the business side.
“John’s added a lot of depth to the organization. We’ve had to make a lot of tough changes and necessary changes to the way that the Orioles have done business, and it’s been a difficult few years and it’s been a difficult process. I continue to have nothing but good things to say about the way he’s been running the company since taking the helm. I’ve got very high standards in this regard, having worked for the Cardinals with Bill DeWitt, and Jim Crane with the Astros, and when I came here I had other options, and John was a big part of why I came.
“I think that we’ve got things moving in the right direction. It’s been a tough couple of years. We had a lot to navigate, there have been a lot of unique challenges to the Orioles, and we’ve still got a lot of challenges ahead of us, but I look at the shape that we’re in in terms of being set up for the future, and I still continue to feel very bullish about that. I’m excited about the way that this team is playing and what’s going on in the farm system and what’s going on in the warehouse. We’re just going to power through this as you do in this industry for a lot of different stuff.”Oriol