We have just over two weeks to this year’s five-round First-Year Player Draft. The Orioles hold the No. 2 pick in the first round behind the Detroit Tigers at No. 1. The Orioles will also pick at No. 30 and No. 39. They are the only major league team with three picks among the first 39 selections.
Many analysts seem to be predicting that Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson goes first to the Tigers. He hit 25 homers as a freshman and 23 as a sophomore. When this year’s season was canceled, he had hit six homers with 11 RBIs in 17 games.
Many project Vanderbilt’s Austin Martin at No. 2 to the Orioles. During his 2019 sophomore season, he hit .392/.486/.604. This season in 16 games, he hit .377/.507/.660. Texas A&M lefty Asa Lacy is projected third by some outlets. He had a 2.13 ERA last year and had started this season going 3-0 with an ERA of 0.75.
I recently recorded a video interview with Jim Callis of MLBPipeline.com. You can click to watch it at the end of this blog.
“I don’t think it’s decided, but it would be a big shock to me if the Tigers don’t take Spencer Torkelson out of Arizona State,” said Callis. “The bat is just so special. He has the best power in this class. He’s got an unbelievable combination of power, hitting ability and plate discipline. I’ve had scouting directors tell me he could play in the big leagues right now.
“If Torkelson doesn’t go No. 1, I think Mike Elias would say, ‘Thank you very much,’ and take Torkelson. If he goes one, I don’t think it’s a clear-cut decision at No. 2 yet. Austin Martin is No. 2 on our prospect list. Very good player at Vanderbilt. Led the SEC in hitting and on-base last year, the best conference in college baseball.
“There is some question to where he will play. He opened this year at third, didn’t throw well and they move him to the outfield in center. Is he a center fielder, a third baseman, an offensive second baseman? That is a little unclear, but he is the best pure hitter in this draft. But I don’t think he’s a lock at No. 2. I think there are a number of teams that would take Asa Lacy ahead of him. He’s the best pitcher in this draft.”
For a frame of reference, I asked Callis how those players at the top of this draft would rate against Adley Rutschman, the first pick in the first round last year by the Orioles out of Oregon State. Would Rutschman rate ahead of this year’s top three?
“Yes, he would,” said Callis. “Because he’s a catcher and potential Gold Glove catcher. I’d put Torkelson’s total offensive package ahead of Rutschman’s. As a catcher, maybe you get worn down some. But I would put Adley ahead of these guys. Torkelson’s power is ridiculous, but Adley has plus power. With Torkelson, you’d be getting more power but not a potential Gold Glove catcher. If they got Torkelson somehow, that would be pretty amazing. Imagine those two guys in that lineup. That would be pretty exciting.”
The Orioles will have six picks over the five rounds in the draft, which will start on June 10. They select No. 2 and also have selections at Nos. 30, 39, 74, 103 and 133.
“It’s a good year to have a lot of early picks,” noted Callis. “The thing that is important with pick 30 is they are the first team that gets to pick twice. So they may talk about some guys that fit in the category of could be risky with their first pick at No. 2, but maybe someone would take and overpay with their second pick. Well, the Orioles can do that before somebody else. And they have three picks before anyone else has three. And it’s a really deep draft and that helps them.
“Last year was not a good year for college pitching. I’ve been doing this for over 30 years and it was the worst draft I’ve seen for first round-caliber college arms. And this year, college pitching is a strength. There is a lot of good college pitching. If they wanted to take a college pitcher at 30, they would probably get a guy who might have been the fourth- or fifth-best college pitcher last year. Overall, it’s a really good draft.”
Players who go undrafted can be signed later but for only a maximum bonus of $20,000. Many players may elect for next year’s draft, but some could take the lesser amount to get into pro ball quicker.
Last year, the slot bonus for the last pick of round six was $251,100. For rounds seven and eight, it was $197,300 and $163.900, respectively. The slot values for the last picks in rounds nine and 10 were $150,300 and $142,500, respectively.
Callis has heard many theories regarding players who may choose to sign for $20,000. Everything from they will sign with a winning team like Houston or New York to they will sign with a team like the Orioles where they can advance to the majors more quickly. Players (and their representatives) will no doubt do their own homework on all the clubs and may be most interested in signing with teams that best develop players, are best equipped with data and analytics or maybe one that has a history of success with later picks. There are a lot of variables and unknowns with that aspect of this draft.
Click on this video to see the entire interview with Callis, touching on numerous aspects of the upcoming draft.