The Orioles turned plenty of heads when they selected Heston Kjerstad with the number two pick in the 2020 draft. While Mike Elias insisted the Orioles felt Kjerstad was their guy, it immediately became clear that Baltimore intended to manipulate their draft spending pool.
MLB.com had Kjerstad projected as the 10th pick in the draft, while Baseball America projected the Arkansas outfielder at 13. The Orioles signed Kjerstad to a $5.2 million bonus that checked in well below the slot value of $7,789,900. Baltimore clearly felt they could use the extra cash to steal some value later in the draft.
Some of that money went toward signing third baseman Coby Mayo after the Birds selected him in the fourth round. Baltimore shelled out $1.775 million to steer Mayo away from a commitment to play at the University of Florida. That deal slated well above the projected slot of $565,600. The Orioles also signed Iowa high school product Carter Baumler for $1.5 million.
So, was it worth it? It depends who you ask. Like any other draft choice, it will take years to make a fair judgement. Unfortunately for Mayo and Baumler, there is a bit of extra pressure that comes with that larger signing bonus.
Baltimore drafted Mayo for his high ceiling and raw power. Mayo attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School— the same program that sent three-time All Star Anthony Rizzo to the bigs. Mayo’s seemingly firm commitment to his “dream school” caused the righty to fall to the fourth round.
Mayo checks in at 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds. He possesses enough arm strength to play third base, but there are questions about his reaction time and footwork. There are no third basemen in the Orioles top 10 prospects, so sticking at the position could give Mayo an edge.
Whether Mayo sticks at third is certainly something to monitor. Minor leaguers switch positions all the time, but it must be handled carefully. Baltimore has struggled to develop infield products over the last few years. The club was notoriously inadequate in Ryan Mountcastle’s defensive development and is now paying the price. It would behoove Baltimore to be more decisive with Mayo.
At just 19 years old, Mayo will have plenty of time to hone his defensive skills in the minors. The Florida native has yet to make his professional debut, and will not join the group gathering at the Orioles alternate training site.
MLB.com ranks Mayo as the Orioles 17th best prospect while FanGraphs lists him at 13. A strong start to his professional career, paired with the graduation of prospects like Mountcastle, Dean Kremer and Keegan Akin, could easily lead to Mayo jumping into the top 10.
Mayo’s power will steal the show, but a better-than-expected contact rate and defensive competency will get him there. Even if all goes to plan, he likely would not make it to Baltimore until 2024. The Orioles might actually be a good baseball team by then. There’s a chance that Gunnar Henderson will have found a home at third base, but Mayo could be moved to first base or the outfield.
It will be difficult to truly speculate about the recent draft picks until they get professional games under their belt. For now, Mayo profiles as a big bat with a legitimate chance to play everyday. Mayo may eventually generate Henderson level buzz if he puts the bat to work this season. MLB.com noted that Mayo’s exit velocity ranked among the highest at the Orioles instruction camp in 2020.
Mayo will be linked with Kjerstad and Baumler moving forward. Baumler has already undergone Tommy John surgery, while a medical condition has prevented Kjerstad from starting his development with the Orioles. The latest news saw Kjerstad left off the alternate training site list this season after Elias previously said he expected the youngster to be a day one participant.
The Orioles were projected to take Vanderbilt product Austin Martin with the second pick last season. Martin appears to be a lock to make the majors before any of these three, and O’s fans may view him as the one that got away if he’s successful. Patience will be required with the 2020 trio, but Mayo will have a chance to push the outcome into the O’s’ favor.