After a spring of speculation, the Orioles finally got the chance to make the #1 overall selection in the 2019 draft on Monday night. The first big, public player who will be the face of O’s rebuilding effort is going to be Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman.
Mike Elias has been the GM of the Orioles for a bit more than six months now. It’s safe to say that he’s done a lot behind the scenes, from a scouting standpoint, player development, analytics, and other things, to transform the organization. These are not things that most fans can see out in the open. The #1 pick is a chance to make a big, public stamp about what his time as GM will be like.
For much of the lead-up to the draft, the top-rated prospect in the draft was believed to be Rutschman. He was at #1 in every draft ranking that I saw, and was the player chosen for the Orioles at #1 in every mock draft that I saw. One thing we know about Elias now is that when the Orioles get a chance to take who everyone believes is the best player in the country, they will take the best player in the country.
There is nothing not to like about MLB Pipeline’s scouting report of Rutschman:
The switch-hitting backstop is the complete package at and behind the plate. He has an advanced approach at the plate, walking more than he’s struck out at Oregon State, with the ability to make consistent, hard contact and drive the ball from both sides of the plate. He’d been more of a gap-to-gap doubles hitter, but the over-the-fence power started to show up more during his junior season. ... Rutschman is also outstanding behind the plate, with excellent hands, agility and a very strong throwing arm. He’s even a better runner than some give him credit for.
Rutschman is the first catcher drafted with the #1 pick since Joe Mauer in 2001.
As we got closer towards the draft, in the absence of any information from O’s sources, rumors cropped up with reporters, apparently from other teams and the advisors of some players, about the O’s having possible interest in three other players: Texas high school shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., University of California first baseman Andrew Vaughn, and Vanderbilt outfielder J.J. Bleday.
As late as 30 minutes before the draft began, the Orioles had apparently given no signs detectable to reporters that they had zeroed in on their selection. This is not necessarily a sign that there was indecision up to the last minute, just that Elias, as his old boss Jeff Luhnow is in Houston, is capable of keeping a lid on rumors.
The slot value assigned to this pick is $8,415,300. There was a lot of wonder pre-draft about whether the Orioles would try to draft one of the non-Rutschman players in hopes of saving some of that slot money to use with later picks, including the #42 and #71 picks later on day 1.
This strategy was used by the Astros in the 2012 draft when Elias was the scouting director there, and they picked Carlos Correa and signed him for an under-slot deal to get extra money that they then used on pitcher Lance McCullers. Elias described that in an interview with Orioles reporters over the weekend as a “perfect storm” that he did not expect to repeat itself.
It’s worth noting that every recent #1 pick, even the highly-rated ones, has signed a deal below the assigned slot value. Last year’s #1, Casey Mize, got a $7.5 million bonus with about an $8 million slot. The 2017 #1 pick, Royce Lewis, received about $6.7 million when the slot was about $7.7 million.
The Orioles will probably get at least a little bit of slot savings with Rutschman, just not as much as might have been available with someone like Vaughn or Bleday.