The amateur draft begins in eight days. The trade deadline doesn’t arrive until next month. However, there’s no way to avoid having them intersect with the Orioles.
The upcoming selections won’t influence deals made, but media available with executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias earlier today guaranteed that both subjects would collide.
Elias isn’t going to show his hand, whether it’s about the first overall selection or how moves could short circuit the positive energy flowing inside the clubhouse.
On the latter topic, the Orioles have multiple trade chips and don’t intend to stray from the intended rebuild plan. They won’t mortgage the future in 2022. It’s obvious, however Elias responds.
“First of all, with this late draft, it slows down the industry’s attention on the trade deadline,” he said. “But I think that in this job, everything that I do or that we do has tradeoffs, and all I can say is, we do everything from a very global, a very thoughtful perspective about what is the right thing to do for the health of the Orioles’ franchise. And all that’s being taken into consideration for the draft, but also the trade deadline coming up.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’m saying we’re taking a look at everything as we make these decisions and we’ll see what happens.”
Which takes us back to the elephant in the clubhouse.
The Orioles are rolling like never before since tearing down the roster. Just four games back in the wild card. A chance today to win seven in a row and get within two of .500. The national media suddenly has started to notice and praise, putting away the knives.
Surrendering key players with a continuing eye toward the future won’t be met favorably by the team or its fans. But it’s all part of doing business.
“We take everything into account,” Elias said. “There’s always tradeoffs with things that you do or you don’t do, and I take the super vision of our baseball operations very seriously and very deliberately, and we have to ultimately do things or don’t do things, and there’s a lot that gets poured into the ultimate decisions that we make.”
Asked whether he’s surprised by how well the Orioles are playing, Elias replied, “I don’t get surprised about baseball.”
“I’m very happy, I’ve very encouraged by it,” he said. “I’m very proud of our players, and I credit them and the major league coaches, not with the results of these games, but the style of play and the effort level that I think we’re all seeing. It is hard to do on a night in, night out basis at the major league level, and I think this group deserves a lot of credit for that.
“There’s half a season left. We’ll see what happens. I’m sure we’ve got rough patches in store for us. But I am very, globally speaking in my appraisal, I think this organization is in a very healthy spot, and a lot of that is the players and the way that they’re playing up here at the major league level now. Obviously, having an excellent group of minor league prospects behind them, and then also, just what I see with how our front office and scouting groups and player development groups are going about things.
“I think that we’re in store for a lot of good stuff in the next few years, and I’m very happy that it’s kind of reflected right now during this stretch of play so plainly for our fans.”
The organization has the same five players on its draft board – names not revealed by assumed to include Druw Jones, Elijah Green, Termarr Johnson and Jackson Holliday. No pitchers, no changes, no hints at the pick.
“I’m being very frank about it that the short list that we have, that’s five players long, I feel like we’re going carry that for the next week, up until the draft day, because I don’t expect there’s going to be a broad consensus in every corner of the organization of who to take,” Elias said. “And also, there is always late information the week of the draft, so you just have to be prepared for alternatives in case there’s something that moves the needle. So, I don’t think we’re going to really get much closer to narrowing things until the day of the draft.”
The list was shorter in 2019, the last time that the Orioles held the first selection and used it on catcher Adley Rutschman. They also considered infielder Bobby Witt Jr. and first baseman Andrew Vaughn.
The Orioles are going again with the best player available through the early portion of the draft.
“We don’t have a crystal ball, but at the time of the draft, using all of the info that we can, (it’s) picking the player that we want to take from a talent standpoint regardless of position.” Elias said. “And there’s no pitcher in consideration for the No. 1 pick. The whole industry sees it that way. But at the 33rd pick, could very well be a pitcher, I just don’t know.”
Going underslot always is a possibility, even with the first pick. Again, Elias isn’t offering much.
“I’ve happened to be a part of a lot of top five picks because of being in the Orioles’ rebuild and the Astros’ rebuild, and this has also coincided with the 2012 CBA where they created the draft pool system,” he said. “We’ve done well, but we haven’t always hit the picks perfectly. But one thing that we have done is not give much of an indication of what we’re going to do, and with the way the system is set up, that’s beneficial.
“I’m being as plain as I can be about that. But part of it is we don’t know what we’re going to do yet. Our field scouts are trickling in. We don’t have the whole group here. As I said, until you get into the draft room and just get it all together, get it up on the screen, let’s pull this video out, let’s run the numbers on this, we’re not there yet, so I don’t know.
“We do have a gigantic draft pool. I believe it’s the No. 2 draft pool in major league history, it’s like $18 or $19 million. The No. 1 one was the 2015 Astros draft that we were a part of where we took (Alex) Bregman and Kyle Tucker. So, this is an enormous opportunity, it’s a big financial commitment. We’re going to have a lot of possibilities because of the picks that we have and the finances and the way the system works with the overage tax.
“I just don’t know that, but we’re going to try to extract the maximum possible value from this entire draft.”
They’ll remain open to taking high school hitters. Elias said he “loves” doing it. But there’s a point where getting agreements on contracts becomes less likely and players stick to their college commitments.
“We don’t do it left and right, willy-nilly,” Elias said, “but I think that if you look back on the drafts that Sig (Mejdal) and I have been parts of here or with the Astros, it’s a pretty good group of high school hitters. We’ve got some in the mix at the top. I’m sure there’ll be some in the 33-42 range is that we’ll like and we’ll see if they get there.
“Beyond that, a couple years ago, we took Darell Hernaiz in the fifth round, but they start becoming less signable as the draft goes along. They kind of fall off the board just because they end up going to college with the money dwindling as the draft goes along. So, it’s usually your first couple of picks when it happens.”
A consensus on the first selection would be nice among the think tank, but it isn’t realistic.
“It's rare to have every single person that has a voice in it agree on who a player should be,” Elias said. “I’m trying to think of if I’ve ever seen that in a room that I’ve been in. But we’ll have somebody that everyone’s happy with, I think. I think there’s enough consensus around how good these players are that I can’t imagine there will be too many frowns about it in our scouting department or our analytics department or whatever when we make the pick.
“It is a heck of a thing, picking one-one. I don’t really like doing it for a couple of reasons. It’s very different than being even the No. 2 pick of the draft for the player. It’s a different experience for the player. I think that gets lost sometimes. And it’s just a big, weighty decision.”
Elias provided some minor league health updates, including Double-A Bowie third baseman Coby Mayo, who’s going on the injured list with recurring back spasms.
“It’s just muscular, nothing structural,” Elias said. “I don’t think that should be too concerning.”
Carter Baumler, who recovered from 2020 Tommy John surgery to begin his professional career this year, is on Single-A Delmarva’s injured list with right shoulder inflammation.
“His shoulder’s barking right now and he’s missing time, but we don’t at this point in time know the length of that or that there will be any intervention beyond rest,” Elias said. “It’s still something that we’re looking at and getting different opinions and voices on.”
Grayson Rodriguez remains in Sarasota while recovering from a Grade 2 lat strain. He underwent a standard follow-up reimaging a few days ago that, as expected, came back clean. “As good as it could have,” Elias said.
Rodriguez isn’t doing baseball activities and there’s no timetable for a possible return later this year. The club isn’t at a checkpoint where it can start scripting it out.
“It’s still kind of indoors, so to speak, rehab, weight room, training room stuff,” Elias said. “Things are trending well, but we still have stuff to go.”
Outfielder Heston Kjerstad is batting .468/.558/.649 with eight doubles, two home runs and 16 RBIs in 21 games with Single-A Delmarva, and he isn’t going to stay much longer before reporting to High-A Aberdeen. There’s a buzz that it could happen next week.
Elias didn’t confirm any plans for the 2020 first-rounder, whose career was delayed by a myocarditis diagnosis shortly after the draft and a hamstring strain in March.
“That’s something that we decide when the off-days roll around, but his Delmarva debut has gone probably as well as it possibly could have gone,” Elias said. “It’s good that he’s feeling healthy, obviously, and I don’t think we’re going to leave him there all year.”
The Orioles keep monitoring prospects at Triple-A who could make their debuts later this summer, including left-hander DL Hall, infielders Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg, and infielder/outfielder Terrin Vavra. Henderson and Westburg aren’t on the 40-man roster.
“Nothing specific to them,” Elias said, “but just a global roster management standpoint, anybody that we call up or not, whether or not you’re already on the 40-man roster, is certainly a relevant consideration from a moment to moment standpoint.”
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