Feeling a draft: Jim Callis on the O’s at No. 5

On Sunday, July 11, the First-Year Player Draft for 2021 will begin at 7 p.m. There is no consensus No. 1 pick this year, as in some previous years, but there is surely plenty of speculation about what the Orioles will do.

After executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias selected Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman No. 1 overall in 2019 and Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad No. 2 overall last year, he will make the No. 5 pick in round one this time.

In a Zoom interview taped yesterday with Jim Callis of MLB.com and MLBPipeline.com, I asked Callis about his thoughts on the Orioles at No. 5.

“It still feels a little wide-open,” Callis said “I think a lot of teams are preparing to have their meeting when they set their boards. Starting next week, we’ll start to see some progress on who is going where. It’s still unsettled who is going one or two and you don’t know how the draft will play out. But there hasn’t been a guy or guys to run away and separate from the pack like Adley Rutschman did or Spencer Torkelson did last year with the Tigers at No. 1.

“To me, there is a tier of about eight guys in that top group. Not everyone at the top likes all eight players. You have to try and parse what can happen. With the Orioles, you hear so many different things. I’ve heard they are going to go college. I’ve heard Mike Elias is out seeing and scouting Brady House and Kahlil Watson, like they are all over the high school guys. I’ve heard they will cut a deal - a lot of teams think that they may cut a deal (sign someone underslot) like they did last year with Heston Kjerstad at No. 2 and try to save a significant amount money at five and spend it later in the draft.

“So I don’t really know which one of those to believe and I don’t think any one of those is set in stone. When I do my mock, I just play it out. I had them taking (Louisville college catcher) Henry Davis at five. Orioles fans might say why would you take another college catcher (when) they have Adley Rutschman?

“I do think they would take Henry Davis if he was there, and I think they would take (Vanderbilt pitcher) Jack Leiter if he was there. If those two guys are gone, it could be a bunch of different directions.”

Davis, 21, hit .370/.482/.663 for Louisville this year with nine doubles, 15 homers and 48 RBIs over 50 games. He’s walked more times (31) then he has struck out (24) and stole 10 bases in 13 tries. Baseball America ranks him No. 4 on its draft board and MLBPipeline.com has Davis at No. 5.

So why would the O’s take another catcher?

“Two reasons,” said Callis. “One, if you think he is the best player on the board, you take the best player on the board. I mean, if the worst-case scenario is you develop two All-Star catchers, you can have them DH when they are not catching. If they are sharing time, you can trade one since All-Star catchers are hard to find. That said, I think you take him. I like Henry Davis a lot. He was one of the few college players, maybe only the real prominent college position player this year who had a good year from start to finish.

“He’s clearly the best college position player available in this draft. I think the consensus of teams, there’s no question. He can hit for average and power and controls the strike zone. He’s got a really good arm. He’s kind of a shaky receiver. When you have a guy that might be an OK catcher, but he can really hit, but if he’s going to catch it will take wear and tear on his bat and he might not be in the lineup as much. I personally, if I took Henry Davis at five, would probably move him to a corner outfield spot. He’s got a really good arm and just say look, ‘We want his bat in the lineup 140 times a year and this is what we are going to do.’

“For me, it wouldn’t even be two catchers. Adley Rutschman would be my catcher of the future and Henry Davis would be one of my outfielders of the future. I don’t know if his feet are quick enough to play third base, but I might even give him a look there.”

In looking at Elias’ first Orioles draft in 2019, his first eight picks were position players and his first pitcher taken came in round eight. Last year, he selected five position players before his last pick in a five-round draft was high school pitcher Carter Baumler.

Thumbnail image for Elias-Sunglasses-Visor-ST-Sidebar.jpgSo I asked Callis if those with a draft scouting report on Elias as a GM indicating he’s reluctant to take a pitcher at No. 5 will be proven correct.

“It may have been initially that (he felt), we have to build up our position prospects, because we are kind of light,” Callis said. “When he came in, the two best prospects were probably Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall, right? And they had some pitching depth. So that may have been, ‘We need to do this for a couple of years to build it back up.’ But you can’t do that year after year, so I wouldn’t read too much into that.

“I do think that the only pitcher the Orioles would take at five would be Jack Leiter. I don’t think they take Kumar Rocker. I don’t think they take Jackson Jobe, the high school pitcher from Oklahoma. But after that, picking (next) at 41, if the best guy there is a pitcher, they might take him.

“Going back to last year when they saved money by taking Kjerstad at two, the belief in the industry was that the Orioles wanted Nick Bitsko, high school pitcher from Pennsylvania, and he was the guy they were saving their money for. But the Rays took him in the first round (No. 24). He didn’t get to the Orioles’ second pick (at No. 30). I don’t know there is anyone besides Leiter they see worthy of a pitcher going five. But I bet they take more pitchers in the early rounds than they have in past years.

“I just think they like Jack Leiter more than Kumar Rocker, his Vanderbilt teammate, and Jackson Jobe, the high school right-hander. I don’t see them taking a high school pitcher that high. I haven’t talk to them or know that is their philosophy. But they did that once in Houston and Brady Aiken had a pre-existing elbow condition and it kind of blew up. And a lot of teams think high school pitchers are risky.

“I think if you are just grading out pure stuff and control, Jackson Jobe is better than Leiter or Rocker. Now, that said, they’ve both proven they can stay healthy with premium stuff. ... And they both dominated in the Southeastern Conference, which is the best conference in college baseball. There is value in that track record and performance. But if you are going pure stuff and control, Jackson Jobe is better. That said, I kind of feel if the Tigers don’t take him at No. 3 - and I don’t think he is their top choice or a lock to go three - that he probably doesn’t go until like the 8 to 11 range. I just think teams are leery of high school pitchers and high school right-handers in genera.”

Check out the Zoom interview with Callis at the end of this entry. I will have more with Callis as we get closer to draft day.

O’s win again: For two games, O’s pitchers have walked too many and their starting pitchers didn’t get deep into the games, but the O’s have won two in a row at Houston.

They won 13-3 last night, scoring five runs in the eighth and four in the ninth. So the Orioles are 26-54 and will reach the midpoint of the year with Game No. 81 tonight.

When the Orioles played against Houston last week in Baltimore, they scored three runs on 14 hits a combined in three games and went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position with one homer.

In two games in this series, they’ve scored 22 runs on 31 hits with six homers and have gone 10-for-28 with RISP.

The Orioles have won this series, ending a streak of losing seven consecutive road series since they took two of three at Seattle in early May.

The Astros began this series with wins in 16 of 20 games and had the best record in the American League. But the Orioles can sweep Houston tonight at Minute Maid Park.

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