We are now less than three weeks from June 3, the first day of the First-Year Player Draft. That is going to be a huge day and night for the Orioles, who will make the first pick in the first round for just the second time in club history.
The draft began in 1965. In 1989, the Orioles made LSU right-handed pitcher Ben McDonald the top pick in the first round. The Orioles have never had the No. 2 pick and selected No. 3 just once and took Manny Machado there in 2010.
Almost every mock draft continues to project the Orioles to select Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman. In the first 49 games of his junior season, the switch-hitter is batting .433/.582/.793 with nine doubles, a triple, 16 homers, 64 walks, 34 strikeouts and 53 RBIs.
But Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said he doesn’t know yet which player the club will take 1/1.
“No, we haven’t made a decision and we won’t until right before the draft,” Elias said Tuesday. “It’s just the approach that you take. You need to wait for the season to play out for all the information to come in. Some of that information doesn’t come out until very late, right before the draft. You need to be prepared for outcomes and info to reveal itself very late in the process. So, we are still monitoring it, but I will say there are five players that are strongly in the mix and there might be one or two other dark horses that we are keeping our eye on.”
And Elias said there is more to consider here than just talent and athletic ability.
“Character and we use the term makeup in scouting circles, it’s so critically important in baseball and sports in general,” he said. “But it is the hardest thing to quantify and to assess. We know how important it is, but there is no science to determining it. And especially picking so high. All these players are extremely talented to be considered there. A lot of times, as history has shown, the thing that dictates the success of these guys going forward is difference-makers like makeup or health. We know how important makeup is and we try to dig in on that the best we can.”
Elias has met one on one with all the top players he is considering for the top pick. That gives him a solid look into a player’s personality and character.
“As best as I could, but it’s more about the background work the scouts do. Talking to coaches, ex-coaches, family members and people in the lives of the players. Scouts pull out so much information just from being in the ballparks and digging over the wintertime. The personal conservations that we have with the players are all informative in terms of getting a feel for their personality and establishing a relationship with them, but really it’s the reputation of the player and information that we get from talking to people that know them best.”
In the past two years, under the new collective bargaining agreement, the teams selecting first have signed that top pick for $1.045 million and $596,000 under slot. That saved money was used on another pick or picks. Will the Orioles do the same? Elias is not tipping his hand.
“I guess we’ll have to see,” he said.
With a catcher in the mix for that 1/1 pick, one question that arises, is should a team take a player first that may only start 120-130 games in a major league season?
“I don’t want to speak to any particular player or situation, but I will say that the defensive outcome and possibilities of players and the different defensive value that we attach to a shortstop versus a catcher versus a left fielder, is a huge part of the equation. So, when it comes to pitchers and other positions that are physically demanding, you have to factor that in,” said Elias.
The slot amount for the 1/1 pick is $8,415,300, which is less than $400,000 for the Orioles entire pool in 2018. The O’s also pick No. 42 (slot amount $1,771,100), No. 71 ($884,200), No. 79 ($780,400) and No. 108 ($538,200) in the first four round rounds. So they have five picks among the top 108 selections.
“We just want to do well with them,” said Elias. “The scouts are out there working on the picks. (Assistant scouting director) Brad Ciolek, who has been running the department, has done a great job getting our information organized. I have seen some of those players but I’m not going to see all of them. We’re going to bring a really good process into the draft room in lining up the board.
“We have a competitive balance B pick (No. 71) , which is a nice advantage the Orioles have. We just want to add some good players to the system. You know the history of the baseball draft is you’re not going to get a star, or even a big leaguer, every single time with those picks. But if you do well over time, on the whole of them, you can really outperform the competition.”
Some have said that the top pick is vitally important to the Orioles future and rebuild. Elias doesn’t disagree.
“I think it is. You only get these picks because you went you through a rough year. And usually your team is in a position where it can really use the pick and use the boost. And it’s a rare opportunity to get an impact player, a franchise player. And we’re treating it as such,” he said.
Also here MLBPipeline.com has updated its top 100 prospects in baseball and four Orioles are now on the list. Ryan Mountcastle is No. 65, DL Hall No. 75, Yusniel Diaz No. 83 and Grayson Rodriguez No. 97.