Orioles GM Mike Elias gave an interview earlier this year where he talked about being “consumed” by thinking about the need for up-the-middle talent in the organization, adding that it sometimes keeps him up at night. In his first draft in charge of the O’s, Elias acted on that concern, using the team’s first eight picks on two catchers, three shortstops, and three center fielders.
This set of picks put the Orioles in a position where they were one of the last two teams in the draft to have not yet selected a pitcher. One of the consensus opinions among the draft prognosticators is that the 2019 draft is one of the weakest for pitching in recent memory. It seems Elias ultimately shared that opinion. Elias finally nabbed a pitcher in the eighth round and took another in the ninth, the only two pitchers he’s added through day 2 of the draft.
Does the hitter-heavy draft mean anything for the Orioles? Probably not a ton, when you get down to it. The ideal draft strategy for baseball is to take the best player available, and if this does end up creating a situation where there’s too much talent to squeeze into a particular affiliate level, they can deal with that later.
The reality is that most players selected in rounds 3-10 are going to flame out somewhere on the way up the minor league ladder. The farther down the rounds, the more likely that this will happen. They will reach a point where the players around them are better than they are, and no tweak or adjustment or amount of hard work can change this fact. Their real job with the organization will be to be good teammates for the prospects. What makes the later rounds of the draft interesting is you just don’t know which guys will beat the odds.
The Orioles picks so far
- Round 1 - Adley Rutschman - C - Oregon State
- Round 2 - Gunnar Henderson - SS - Morgan Academy (AL)
- CBB Round - Kyle Stowers - CF - Stanford
- Round 3 - Zach Watson - CF - LSU
- Round 4 - Joseph Ortiz - SS - New Mexico State
- Round 5 - Darell Hernaiz - SS - Americas (TX) HS
- Round 6 - Maverick Handley - C - Stanford
- Round 7 - Johnny Rizer - CF - TCU
- Round 8 - Griffin McLarty - RHP - College of Charleston
- Round 9 - Connor Gillispie - RHP - VCU
- Round 10 - Jordan Cannon - C - Sam Houston State
That is a lot of potential up the middle talent. It’s also a lot of college talent, with just two of the eleven picks being high schoolers. Of the college players, only two were drafted as seniors - Rizer and Cannon. College seniors typically represent money-savers against the draft slot pool, money that’s used to sign players who want above-slot bonuses where they were drafted.
For instance, the Mets selected two players of their first three picks who are expected to command $3.5+ million signing bonuses. They went into “senior sign” mode starting in the fourth round and effectively took only three real prospects in their draft class. With only the two high schoolers, the Orioles likely don’t have to do too much re-arranging of their slot money to get their people signed.
So who are these guys?
The Orioles had the #1 pick and they took the guy who everyone thought was the #1 prospect, Rutschman. As our Nick Cicere wrote, that’s exactly what they needed to do. The picks of Stowers and Henderson are also good value, as I explained in my day 1 recap.
Watson, the third round pick, was the highest ranked player on the MLB Pipeline top 200 draft prospects who the Orioles selected on day 2. He rated #111 on that list and was taken with the #79 pick. On the draft broadcast after his selection, they said Watson has speed and not arm strength and needs to work on his plate discipline. That sounds about right. If he had arm strength and plate discipline already, he wouldn’t be a third round pick.
The fourth rounder, Ortiz, is listed at 5’11” and 175 pounds. MLB’s Jonathan Mayo said Ortiz could definitely stay at short, calling him a “plus defender” who combined a good first step with arm strength. While he may hit for average in the pros, there’s less belief in his power potential.
For the high school shortstop, Hernaiz, MLB’s Jim Callis said he had a “shortstop starter kit” for tools, with decent size at 6’1” and 180 pounds, decent speed, good glove skills and throwing ability, a chance to hit well, and just enough power that you can’t say he has no power. Some video of Hernaiz in action from 2080 Baseball’s Adam McInturff:
#Orioles select SS Darell Hernaiz (Americas HS, El Paso TX). Athletic MIF w/ twitchy frame and sneaky pop in the bat, projects well on both sides of the ball. Young for class, still 17 y/o at time of the draft. His father played in the minor leagues. #MLBDraft #Birdland pic.twitter.com/rCno2Jcwpw— Adam McInturff (@2080adam) June 4, 2019
Sixth round pick Maverick Handley is automatically interesting by virtue of being named Maverick. Top Gun references will be mandatory if he succeeds. He is also interesting because the Orioles drafted his teammate, Kyle Stowers, earlier in the draft. They used phrases like “high baseball IQ” and “leader behind the plate” on the draft broadcast. To paraphrase what Caleb Joseph once said about Matt Wieters, somebody’s got to be Rutschman’s backup.
Johnny Rizer, the seventh rounder, has another great baseball name. He’s one of the two “senior signs” that the Orioles drafted. Commenter Joey_Made, who attends TCU as well, pointed out this amazing play Rizer made earlier in the season:
Hopefully, Rizer can make some plays like that in support of Orioles pitching prospects up through whatever level his back will take him to. Every pitcher looks better when he has defenders who can actually get to and catch the ball. This seems to have been the particular emphasis of Elias in the early and middle rounds of this draft.
Griffin McLarty, the first pitcher the Orioles actually drafted this year, comes with a ready-made “Little League World Series to MLB player” narrative:
In 2011, Griffin McLarty (#Orioles, 8th round) pitched in front of 41,848. It was the LLWS and his team was playing Keystone LL, which is 30 minutes from Williamsport, PA. He pitched a shutout, 12 Ks, 5 H, 1 BB and hit a solo HR in the 1-0 win. https://t.co/jXRiTxqg3d— Nathan Rode (@NathanRode) June 4, 2019
If he does make it to play at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, it’ll be a while before he is in front of as big of a crowd there. On the draft stream, Callis noted that McLarty’s velocity ticked up just slightly towards the end of his season, with improvement to his slider as well. It added up to a K/BB ratio of about 7. That’s against the kind of competition that College of Charleston played. Even the lowest level of the pros will be harder if his fastball works at 88-91. But that kind of skill is a nice thing to take into the pro ranks.
Gaudy strikeout totals stand out for the other pitcher selected, Gillispie, from VCU. He struck out 118 batters he saw in 86.2 innings on the season. Again, that’s against VCU-level competition, not pro batters, but again, it’s something. Mayo suggested he might have the bullpen in his future in the pro ranks. There’s nothing bad about getting a future MLB reliever in the ninth round.
Tenth round pick Jordan Cannon has a great name for a catcher. Cannon began his Sam Houston State career as both backup catcher and right-handed reliever, though he was exclusively a catcher for his junior and senior seasons. Same as before, someone will have to be Rutschman’s backup.
If Elias follows the same philosophy as his predecessor, Dan Duquette, the college draftees will be headed to the short-season Aberdeen Ironbirds once they sign, while the high school talent will head to the Gulf Coast League Orioles. He might have a different philosophy, especially with Rutschman.
Teams have until July 15 to sign their players before losing their draft rights.
The draft will conclude with rounds 11-40 starting at about noon today. Those are players who most likely don’t have MLB in their future, though it’s possible to unearth big leaguers there. The current most interesting Orioles pitcher, John Means, was an 11th round pick in 2014.
How are you feeling about this draft so far? Is there anyone you wish the Orioles could have taken? I’m bummed the Orioles didn’t draft any of my last name buddies, Dasan Brown, Hunter Brown, or Jordan Brown. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.