When it comes to their preference for the first pick in the upcoming First-Year Player Draft, the Orioles, as always under Mike Elias, will not be tipping their hand on which player or players they prefer. The consensus seems to be they are working with a short list of five for that No. 1 overall pick on July 17, two weeks from tomorrow.
Baseball America’s top five for the draft shows Georgia high school outfielder Druw Jones No. 1 on their board, followed by Cal Poly shortstop Brooks Lee and Oklahoma high school shortstop Jackson Holliday. Then they have Atlanta high school star infielder Termarr Johnson rated fourth and outfielder Elijah Green of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., at No. 5.
Elias' top picks in his first three drafts with the Orioles started with his selection of Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman at No. 1 in 2019. The next year he selected University of Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad No. 2 overall, and last summer he tabbed Sam Houston State outfielder Colton Cowser at No. 5 overall.
The selection for this year will join Ben McDonald in 1989 and Rutschman as the third 1/1 pick by the Orioles in club history.
During a recent interview on WBAL Radio’s “Orioles Insider” pregame show with Brent Harris, Keith Law of The Athletic discussed how the Orioles play it very close to the vest in the lead-up to the draft.
“Not only are they tough to read, they are flat-out secretive,” Law said. “They just don’t share, not even internally, what their plans are. Most people who work for the Orioles will not know who the pick is until a few minutes before we know. That said, this is a high school hitting draft. My guess is, if you were tying to guess who they take, hitter or pitcher, college or high school, this is a high school hitter draft. That is the strength of this draft class. I’m sure there are not pitchers under consideration for that pick. Throw one or two college players they might have in the mix, maybe to cut a good deal to save money for other players. But I really would put money on it being a good high school position player, and that is the strength of this draft.”
Is Jones, who has gotten some 70 grades for his running and fielding with a 60-grade hit tool, the No. 1 player in this draft?
“I believe Druw Jones is the consensus No. 1,” said Law. “I don’t think he is a slam dunk. This isn’t Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, you take this guy or you’re a moron. It’s not like that. But I do think he’s the best guy in the class. And the issue that they’ll face is because he is the best guy in the class and we know who he is, who his dad is (former 10-time Gold Glove winner Andruw Jones) and he is advised by Scott Boras, he is not going to come cheaply.
“If you like at Mike Elias’ history, though, when they picked first, Adley Rutschman was the best guy on the board and they just took him. Carlos Correa was probably the second-best guy on the board (taken 1/1 by Houston in 2012) but they saved $2 million dollars and ending up getting Lance McCullers Jr. by taking Correa and paying him less.
"So we have examples of him going in both directions. We know when they don’t pick first, they try to cut a deal. I think he will at least very seriously consider Druw Jones versus a scenario where they say no because of the cost. I think it’s going to be, 'Do we pay Druw Jones or do we take one of these other guys specifically with the intention to pay our extra picks?' They have two extra picks this year. They could end walking away from this draft with three first-round talents if they play the money correctly.”
And Law also gave the current state of the O’s farm system some high marks, particularly with the talent that is starting to find its way to the highest levels of the minor leagues.
“They are rich in position players," he said. "There are a lot of guys in this system who project to be average everyday position players or better. More than they are ever going to need, most likely. Which is a great thing, because they become not just the future foundation of the major league lineup, but they become potential pieces for trade to go get pitching.
“I do think they will end at a point soon, within the next 18 months, where they start trading some of that position-player-prospect depth to get starting pitching specifically. Because even if Grayson and DL Hall are everything we hope they’ll be, they’re going to need one or two more starters, and the way to get them is take, maybe it’s Colton Cowser, maybe it’s Coby Mayo, one of those good position-player prospects and say ‘We like this guy, but he is the piece we are going to use to go get the pitching we need to be contenders.’ ”
The Orioles have five of the first 81 picks in the upcoming draft with selections at No. 1, No. 33, No. 42, No. 67 and No. 81. They have 12 picks over the first 10 rounds. And they also have a total bonus pool to sign picks of $16,924,000, which is the second largest pool in draft history.