Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper weighs in on the No. 1 draft pick

LAS VEGAS - The last catcher drafted with the No. 1 overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft was Joe Mauer, taken by the Minnesota Twins in 2001. There could be another catcher taken 1/1 in June and the Orioles hold that pick.

Earlier, it seemed that many analysts favored Texas high school shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. for that No. 1 pick. Now the sentiment seems to have strongly moved toward Oregon State’s switch-hitting catcher, Adley Rutschman. And top draft analysts are reaching a consensus that he should be the No. 1 pick.

In interviews in recent weeks, I’ve had Jim Callis of and Jonathan Mayo of both say the O’s should take Rutschman in June. Yesterday, Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper weighed in with a strong endorsement for Rutschman at the Winter Meetings.

“Slam dunk for me right now, Adley Rutschman,” said Cooper. “Now again, there is a lot of baseball to be played. But if Adley Rutschman had some sort of freak injury or something that sidelined him for most of the 2019 college season, I think you could still make a pretty persuasive case that he should be the No. 1 pick.”

Rutschman in Gear Sidebar.jpgRutschman hit .408/.505/.628 for Oregon State last season, leading the team to the College World Series title. For the year, he hit 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, with a record 17 hits in eight games, including three doubles, two homers and 13 RBIs. Scouts say he has a well-above-average arm. So, yeah, there is a lot to like here if he turns out to be the Orioles’ selection with the No. 1 pick.

“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 potential to be a middle-of-the-order bat. And with his defense, if you are talking about the Orioles, you can’t help but think back to about a little over a decade ago with Matt Wieters and the profile for him. That is what you’re talking about with Adley Rutschman.”

I asked Cooper if Witt would have previously been his pick to go No. 1. Wasn’t Witt considered the top guy earlier?

“We always had Rutschman and Witt pretty close together,” he said. “Now Witt, we’ve been following him for a very long time and he’s really good. But I’m going to take the college bat that has produced over the ... Witt is an athletic shortstop and there is the potential for power and speed there. There are more concerns with his bat, partly because he’s in high school, not college. But at the same time, he’s a guy that is going to be in that mix.

“The Orioles are obviously going to extensively scout him. If you can get that 1/1 high school shortstop, that is a really good demographic, one that has produced a whole lot of very significant players over the years.”

Some years, the projected No. 1 pick seems like a near-certain future marquee talent, but while Rutschman is very well regarded, he doesn’t seem to be getting that consideration right now.

“That is fair,” said Cooper. “Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg were, we had back-to-back years with once-in-a-generation type guys at the top of the draft. That said, if Adley Rutschman goes out and is better than he was last year, he could be one of the better 1/1 prospects in quite a while.

“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. 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.”

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