One of the big stories of the 2021 draft class throughout the spring has been the four high school shortstops who are expected to be picked within the first ten picks of the draft. That’s California’s Marcelo Mayer, Jordan Lawlar of Texas, North Carolina’s Kahlil Watson, and Brady House of Georgia. For the Orioles specifically, the question will be which of these players is available at #5, and then whether they want to draft whoever is left from the group.
What is interesting about House over those other three guys is that he brings huge power potential that may be unequaled among players in this draft class. The Athletic’s Keith Law puts it succinctly:
House has the best exit velocities in the draft class with huge power, and he’s on the younger end of the spectrum for this draft. (He turned 18 in early June.)
Last year, Mike Elias swerved from the expected pick of Austin Martin to draft Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad instead. Kjerstad was a guy with power and Martin is not; the former Vanderbilt standout has hit two home runs in 42 Double-A games. It may be that House’s exit velocities will interest Elias, along with the fact that he generated those velocities at age 17 while competing against older players than him. MLB Pipeline also believes in the power:
At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds with plenty of strength and bat speed, House looks the part of a power hitter and has well-above-average raw pop to all fields.
Strength? Bat speed? Pop to all fields? Yes! Yes! Yes! I would like the Orioles to find a hitter who has all of those things. And then there’s this weird sentence to write about another human being from Fangraphs:
House has a big, imposing frame and broad shoulders that look like cantalope (sic) halves under his jersey.
I’ve never looked at another person’s shoulders and thought, “Those look like cantaloupe halves.” Perhaps that’s one of many reasons why I am not paid to scout baseball players. I’m just not that kind of weird enough. Looking the part is nice, but despite Prop Joe’s advice to Avon Barksdale (“Look the part, be the part,”) there are a few more intermediate steps between looking the part and being the part to get to and succeed at the MLB level.
Before you start swooning over the idea of a right-handed batter cracking dingers into the second deck of left field at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, keep in mind the possibility that House will be drafted before the Orioles are even able to get to make a pick. They did not suck enough in 60 games last year to get into the top three.
The most recent Fangraphs mock draft tabs House to the Tigers at #3; they won two fewer games than the O’s last season. According to FG, Detroit had House in for a private workout where he was able to convince the Tigers of “both a plus hit and plus power tool.” They think it will come down to a choice between House and Oklahoma high school righty Jackson Jobe, thought to be the best high school pitcher available in this draft.
The other reason to hold off on swooning for now is that one necessary part of a player hitting huge dingers is if he actually is able to hit the baseball. Law, FG, and Pipeline all have concerns about House’s ability to do that based on games played last year. Law only rates House as #11 on his big board of draft prospects, behind the other three shortstops and a number of college players.
All three of these reports note that House encountered some struggles in summer showcase games last year. Pipeline attributes that to House getting “excessively aggressive,” leading to a swing that was “longer and slower.” They believe that he’s adjusted from that after “learning what happens when he sells out for home runs.” An MLB team assessing his potential will have to consider the possibility that he slides back into bad hitting habits that they won’t be able to stop.
The ability to actually hit is not the only question about House. There is a widespread belief he will not be remaining as a shortstop for long as a professional. Fangraphs sees him heading towards right field and possibly even first base later in his career - though they note House has some believers for remaining at shortstop as a pro - while Pipeline and Law see a slide over to third base.
At one time, some believers thought Ryan Mountcastle could stick at shortstop. Sometimes the believers are wrong. The farther down the defensive spectrum he goes from shortstop, the more he will need to hit to make up for it. If he makes enough contact to make those big exit velocities a staple of his pro prospects, he will probably be able to do that.
As a result of the questions about both his hit tool and his ultimate defensive home, House is not counted among the top five prospects in the draft by any of these rankings. He’s #7 at Fangraphs, #8 on the MLB Pipeline list, and #11 on Law’s board.
Depending on how he values himself and how much he wants to posture towards his commitment to join the University of Tennessee baseball team in the fall, those rankings mean House could actually be a bit of an underslot pick for the O’s, if he makes it there and they take him at #5. Even going down two slots worth of money to #7 is a difference of about $750,000. Toss in some low-bonus senior signs in rounds 8-10 and the O’s could probably find a good overslot player to draft later on with that extra cash.
The first day of the draft gets under way on Sunday at 7pm Eastern. With five minutes in between picks, it won’t be long from there before we know whether House gets past the Tigers at #3 to find out whether he’ll even be an option for the Orioles.