In the 20-round MLB Draft last summer, the Orioles selected 10 position players and 10 pitchers. They signed nine of the position players. And in what was clearly a small sample which should be noted, that group of nine showed some outstanding plate discipline which could bode well for their future MLB chances.
As a group of nine players, the Orioles draft class produced a collective .400 OBP to rank second only to Seattle's draft class. The Mariners also had nine players that produced a collective .405 OBP.
But the Orioles did rank No. 1 in MLB with a draft class walk rate of 17.3 with San Diego (also nine players) second at 16.2.
Among O’s minor league players with 50 or more plate appearances last year, no player had a better walk-to-strikeout rate as a hitter than O’s No. 1 overall pick Jackson Holliday. He also led the organization with a 27.8 walk rate. He is just 18 years old.
Over 20 games between the Florida Complex League and low-A Delmarva, Holliday walked 25 times with just 12 strikeouts. That is a robust 2.08 walk-to-strikeout ratio, the best on the O's farm. Maxwell Costes, a non-drafted free agent from the University of Maryland was next at 1.50 with Adley Rutschman third at 1.38.
“Impressive,” said O’s director, draft operations Brad Ciolek of Holliday's pro debut. “Truth be told, we were impressed with his approach at the plate, even in the summer before his draft year. Just watching how quickly he adjusted to pro pitching at Delmarva as an 18-year-old high school draft pick was remarkable. I think you could say we were pretty optimistic in how he finished the year. He is extremely talented but being around the game with his father, he looked like he belonged. You could tell he is going to be a difference-maker for us in the box and with the glove as well. Pretty special talent there. Main thing now for all these guys is to stay healthy and keep putting in the work. But an awfully good start for that group.”
And yes, again in what was a small sample, numbers bear that out.
Eight of these nine drafted players had OBPs of .353 or better. Seven of the nine had walk rates of 13.8 or better and five were at 19.2 or better. This group could take a walk.
I asked Ciolek if this was mostly about scouting players that come to the Orioles already with very strong plate discipline skills or if the players get even better on their watch?
“Looking for guys that have that ability has always been a focal point for us,” he said. “Most of these guys were well known to our scouts due to the history with them. And our analyst department also does a good job of providing additional insight on these guys. And due to that combined effort we can paint a picture of their plate coverage, overall approach and swing tendencies to give us a picture of their ability at the plate.
“Having a foundation of plate discipline is the first step. But over some draft classes we have seen guys with that skill set get better when they step foot into our farm system. Our coaches do a good job of translating the insights they have on each guy. What makes them thrive? But we are very encouraged by what this draft class has done and we of course hope it continues.”
Of the nine draftees, all played at least 16 regular-season games at lower levels with a high of 23 games. Some got into a few extra games in the playoffs with high-A Aberdeen. So, over larger samples, these numbers most certainly would drop a bit. But it was an impressive beginning for this group of nine.
Keep in mind that the MLB average walk rate is 8.2 and OBP was .312 in the 2022 season. I present these numbers for a framework of what we are looking at but not to compare a player compiling MLB stats with one compiling stats in the Florida Complex League or lower full season levels.
* Jackson Holliday batted .297/.489/.422/.911 with 27.8 walk and 13.3 strikeout rate.
* Dylan Beavers batted .322/.438/.460/.898 with 15.2 walk and 17.1 strikeout rate.
* Max Wagner batted .243/.353/.386/.739 with 10.6 walk and 21.2 strikeout rate.
* Jud Fabian batted .333/.455/.615/1.070 with 19.2 walk and 21.2 strikeout rate.
* Silas Ardoin batted .192/.394/.212/.606 with 23.9 walk and 28.2 strikeout rate.
* Douglas Hodo batted .192/.397/.213/.610 with 20.6 walk and 28.6 strikeout rate.
* Adam Crampton batted .222/.356/.264/.620 with 13.8 walk and 21.8 strikeout rate.
* Adam Retzbach batted .184/.394/.265/.659 with 19.7 walk and 31.8 strikeout rate.
* Carter Young batted .253/.302/.380/.682 with 7.0 walk and 19.8 strikeout rate.
Yes it can be pointed out that this group did not hit much for power, producing a combined six home runs, three by Fabian. And several had OPS numbers under .700. But some also had high OBPs with batting averages under .200.
“Dylan Beavers is a guy that we think will continue to get on base at a decent clip and also offer the upside of a power package. Max Wagner is another really interesting guy with his overall approach and ability to hit with power to all fields. Jud Fabian is real interesting. Even though the strikeout numbers may be a bit higher than they were in the SEC, he still walked a lot, hit for power and played a really good center field. Our coaches rave about him. It’s always an interesting process looking at each guy individually in terms of what makes them successful and what we can do to help them improve and become an even better player once he gets into our system,” said Ciolek.
The Orioles selected Holliday, Beavers, Wagner and Fabian all among the first 67 picks in the draft and they produced such strong OBP numbers with Holliday at .489, Beavers .430, Wagner .353 and Fabian .455.
As Ciolek pointed out some players can get better in this regard on the O’s watch. Gunnar Henderson did with a 9.1 walk rate in rookie ball in 2019, which later was 13.8 in high A in 2021 and then 19.7 last year with Double-A Bowie. He kept making gains in this area which was of benefit to his overall offensive game.
But the Orioles have also worked hard to target players in the draft that already have some advanced skills in this area.
“Yes and our analysts do a good job to identify some guys that may fly under the radar,” said Ciolek. “In terms of, maybe they are not the most gifted athlete on the field, but they do a lot of things remarkably well in the batter’s box. And then as far as scouts are concerned, they are looking for guys that are going to work counts, sit on borderline pitches and adjust from fastball to off-speed. That collaborative effort fits nicely into what we look to accomplish.”
There are some teams in the American League right now that are scoring plenty of runs without plenty of strikeouts, so this trend toward more contact can work and can work in Baltimore also.
In the AL in 2022, Cleveland (18.2) Houston (19.5) and Toronto (20.2) had the lowest team strikeout rates. In runs scored they rated sixth, third and second in the AL.
“I think it’s interesting if you look around the league at how certain lineups are constructed. The Cleveland Guardians for one. They have a lot of guys that will find a way to get on base. Some lineups are geared more to power output. Trying to find a happy medium with contact ability and hitting for power and production is the ultimate goal here,” said Ciolek.