An unsightly first half of the 2021 Orioles season draws to a close this afternoon. Within hours, and not a moment too soon, the O’s will get their long-awaited opportunity to infuse a slew of young talent into their organization.
Welcome to the first day of the 2021 MLB draft, which this year has kept us waiting a month longer than usual. For the first time, MLB bumped back the draft — normally held in early June — to mid-July to coincide with the All-Star break. Today marks a prospect-palooza, as the draft was preceded by the All-Star Futures Game in Denver featuring, among other highly touted youngsters, the Orioles’ #1 prospect, Adley Rutschman.
Rutschman, of course, was drafted #1 overall by the Orioles in 2019, Mike Elias’ first draft as Baltimore’s GM. As the second-ranked prospect in all of baseball, so far there’s every reason to believe Rutschman will live up to his enormous potential. The same can’t be said for last year’s top O’s pick (and #2 overall), Heston Kjerstad, who still has yet to make his professional debut after suffering from myocarditis. It’s much too early to write him off, and neither he nor the Orioles could have foreseen the unfortunate circumstances that have kept him sidelined, but so far it’s looking like a pick the Orioles might like to have back.
Tonight the O’s will hope to land a top-tier prospect who lands more on the Rutschman side of the spectrum than the Kjerstad side. It’s safe to say that hitting it big on their top pick would go a long way to helping the Orioles’ arduous rebuilding effort.
How do I watch?
The first night of the draft begins at 7 PM ET and airs on both MLB Network and ESPN, and can also be streamed online on MLB.com. You can also catch an hour-long draft preview show on MLB Network at 6.
Which picks do the Orioles have?
On the first night, the O’s have just one pick: #5 overall, behind the Pirates, Rangers, Tigers, and Red Sox, in that order. Unlike last season, the Orioles do not hold a pick in the competitive balance round A that follows the first round tonight, so they’ll have to wait until Day 2 to continue their picks (their next one is pick #41).
Where can I read more about the draft prospects?
For a deep dive into not only the first-rounders but guys likely to be selected well into Day 2 of the draft, check out MLB Pipeline’s top 250 draft prospects. There’s also Keith Law’s 2021 MLB Draft Big Board, which goes 101 players deep, as well as FanGraphs’ The Board, which ranks their top 71.
Who will be the Orioles’ first-round pick?
That’s the question, isn’t it? Right now there are as many as a dozen possibilities for the Orioles’ top pick, four of whom will be taken off the board before their turn comes up. Our Mark Brown profiled five strong candidates for the Birds this past week:
- Kahlil Watson, SS (Wake Forest HS, N.C.)
- Henry Davis, C (Louisville)
- Colton Cowser, OF (Sam Houston State)
- Jack Leiter, RHP (Vanderbilt)
- Brady House, SS (Winder-Barrow HS, Ga.)
Watson and House are part of a dynamite quartet of prep shortstops, along with Marcelo Mayer (Eastlake HS, Cal.) and Jordan Lawlar (Jesuit Prep, Tex.), who are all expected to be selected in the top 10. By all indications, Mayer and possibly Lawlar will be snapped up before the Orioles’ pick rolls around, with Mayer universally pegged to go first overall to the Pirates. After that, it could be a free-for-all.
Three prominent mock drafts — from MLB Pipeline, FanGraphs, and The Athletic’s Keith Law — have just today fallen into lockstep about whom they think the Orioles will pick, with all three now predicting Watson. In previous mock drafts, though, FanGraphs predicted Cowser and Pipeline tabbed Davis. Other mock drafts only add to the lack of consensus; CBS Sports projects Davis as the Orioles’ pick, while Sporting News predicts underslot signing Harry Ford, a catcher from North Cobb HS in Georgia. FanGraphs also tossed out the name of UCLA shortstop Matt McLain as a last-minute possibility for the Birds.
The Orioles famously have been loath to use high draft picks on pitchers under the Mike Elias regime; they didn’t select a hurler until their ninth pick (eighth round) in 2019, and not until their sixth and final pick in the truncated, five-round 2020 draft. There’s some thought that Leiter or possibly his fellow dominant Vanderbilt righty, Kumar Rocker, could be talented enough to tempt the O’s to take a chance on a hurler. It’s a long shot that Leiter will make it to #5 — the mocks have him drafted anywhere from second through fourth — while most predict Rocker to be available but passed over by the Orioles. And if the O’s get really crazy and decide they want a high school pitcher, righty Jackson Jobe (Heritage Hall HS, Okla.) is considered the best one in this draft class.
Bottom line: right now, nobody knows what direction the Orioles are going to go, including the O’s brain trust, which is at the mercy of the four teams ahead of them. Let’s tune in together and see how it all plays out.