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Orioles mock draft roundup: High school pitchers are getting attention

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The first day of this year’s MLB draft is now less than three weeks away. The Orioles have pick #11 this year. Who will they take? The experts weigh in on how the O’s are leaning right now.

MLB First Year Player Draft
The Orioles probably won’t find the next Manny Machado at pick #11.
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

With a 13-29 record in mid-May, the potential for an exciting summer for Orioles fans is greatly diminished. Any particular night’s game is not going to matter so much. Neither do the standings. They may some day ascend from last place, but they will not contend for anything. The things that will matter the most are the decisions they make that affect the future of the club.

Who gets traded in July (if not sooner) and for what return is one important factor. Another will arrive sooner: The 2018 MLB Draft, which gets under way on June 4. That’s now less than three weeks away. This will be an opportunity for the Orioles to add talent by making a good first round pick and by finding the diamonds in the rough in later rounds who can be polished into big leaguers even though no one thought much of them before the draft.

Owing to their 75-87 record last season, the Orioles are picking higher up in the first round than they have done any year since 2012. They have the #11 pick in the draft, which carries a pool value of $4,375,100. The O’s also have the #37 pick in the draft due to being in Competitive Balance Round A this year. That pick’s pool value is $1,923,500.

What the Orioles do not have is a second round pick as a result of signing Alex Cobb. That cost them the #52 overall selection, which would have come with a pool value of $1,350,000. They will not pick from #37 until #87, so hopefully they can choose wisely and get good players they like early on.

Who are the Orioles going to take? With more than two weeks until draft day, no one can know for sure. College seasons aren’t over yet. Things can change. Ten teams are going to get to pick before the Orioles do and they will surely pick players who the Orioles like. Delicate pre-draft negotiations, which are forbidden, will nonetheless be done. All of these things will affect who the Orioles can even choose from, and who they will take out of who is available.

So the best the experts can do is guess, and guess they do, with mock drafts from those writers and publications that focus on the draft and prospects. Rounded up today are the latest from ESPN’s Keith Law, MLB.com’s Jim Callis, and the Fangraphs duo of Kiley McDaniel and Eric Longenhagen.

The Orioles may not take any of the below players when June 4 rolls around. They might, though! Here are some names to keep an eye on for the moment:

Matthew Liberatore, LHP, Mountain Ridge HS (AZ)

Law currently projects that the Orioles will take a high school lefty for the second straight year, after picking DL Hall with their first pick last year. Liberatore is currently ranked #3 on Law’s list of draft prospects, so as far as he must be concerned, this is some great value at #11. Law on Liberatore:

Liberatore did hit 97 mph in one outing to start the year and hasn’t done it again, but he’s still a top-five guy for the same reason he looked like one last summer -- he’s a lefty with arm strength, projection and an above-average breaking ball. He does need some delivery work out of the stretch.

He notes that he had previously heard that the Orioles were looking at several college pitchers; however, it now seems possible that Liberatore could last until the Orioles pick. Of the other mock drafts I am looking at today, Liberatore is picked at #7 in Callis’s mock and at #12 in the Fangraphs mock.

Cole Winn, RHP, Orange Lutheran HS (CA)

With Liberatore already gone in Callis’s current guess at the first round, he puts the Orioles on a different high school pitcher, Winn. The last time the Orioles picked a high school righty from California with their first round pick, that did not work out very well, but let’s not let the ghost of Matt Hobgood scare the O’s off from picking someone this year.

Callis notes that the Orioles have been connected to a variety of pitchers with their top pick, both high school and college. Winn is committed to Buck Showalter’s favorite college, Mississippi State. The MLB.com folks rank him as the #15 prospect in the draft, scouting him as follows:

Winn’s spring has moved him up to the upper-echelon group of high school arms. He flashes three plus pitches, carrying his fastball deep into starts and showing an improved slider with new life. His slider was more of a cutter at first, with not a ton of tilt to it, then it was slurvy, and now it’s often a plus three-quarters power breaker he throws for strikes. He’s not afraid to throw a changeup when he needs it, but he doesn’t need it. With his clean and easy delivery, he should develop more consistent command.

Having done this for several years, my experience is that the MLB scouting capsule makes a whole lot of people sound like a future All-Star who will not go on to be that good. That said, this sounds good! In Law’s mock, Winn lasts until the 20th pick - though Law rates Winn #10 in the draft class - and on Fangraphs, he goes at the 19th pick.

Jonathan India, 3B, University of Florida

The Fangraphs mock dips the Orioles into both the college ranks and the pool of position players. They note that the O’s have been tied chiefly to college players from what they have seen, with “heat” going to watch another Florida player, lefty pitcher Ryan Rolison.

What is “heat” in this context? An Orioles official, or any team’s official, might tell any writer what they’re thinking about for their pick. This statement could be true or it could be a smoke screen to fool other teams. But if scouting director Gary Rajsich or some other high-ranking Orioles official keeps showing up to watch a pitcher’s starts, you can’t fake that. That’s heat. And if they’re watching Rolison, they can look at his teammate India, too.

In both the Law and Callis mocks, India does not even make it to where the Orioles pick, coming off the board at #6 to the Mets. Both of these have India rated as the #10 prospect in the draft, noting that he is one of the best college hitters this spring against quality SEC competition and that he might even be able to play shortstop at the next level.

Probably don’t get attached to the idea of the Orioles drafting India - or any of these guys. A whole lot can happen between now and June 4, and once it’s June 4, a whole lot can happen before the Orioles pick at #11. When the dust settles, hopefully they end up with a future great Oriole in the fold.