The first round of the 2022 MLB draft is now a bit more than three weeks away. The Orioles, holders of another #1 overall pick thanks to their worst-in-MLB record last season, have that much time left to make the big decision of this draft. One big choice with two broad options stands before them.
The Orioles could choose who most lists seem to think is the top talent in the draft, high school outfielder Druw Jones, son of 17-year MLB veteran Andruw. This is what they did the last time they had the #1 pick in selecting Adley Rutschman.
The other Orioles option is to do what they have done the last two years, picking someone who will not demand the highest bonus of players available to them, with the hopes of using that money within their bonus pool to get talent they like later in the draft. With the #1 pick as well as the acquisition of a competitive balance pick from the Marlins (#67), the Orioles have the largest total bonus pool available, at nearly $17 million. That’s about $1.8 million more than the next team.
The Mike Elias-led Orioles front office seems to make its draft decisions in a similar way to the Astros where Elias was an assistant. As described in Ben Reiter’s book Astroball, when it comes time to make a final decision, a small number of upper-level executives seclude themselves, debates their team’s information, and only reaches a final decision within minutes of making the selection. A group like that for the O’s might be Elias, Sig Mejdal, and recently-promoted assistant GM Eve Rosenbaum, end of list.
It is important to keep this in mind before considering some of the latest round of experts’ mock draft picks because no one discussed below really knows for sure. Even the most-informed draft observer can only make a best guess as to what the Orioles will ultimately decide on the day of the draft, based on their access to rumor mill information of varying quality and their intuition about how much past Elias draft behavior has to say about this year’s decision.
With that in mind, it’s also not much fun, as a fan, to say, “No one knows anything so there’s no point in talking about what might happen.” I care about the future of my favorite baseball team being a sustainably successful one. You probably do too, which is why you’re reading Camden Chat. It is fun to be aware of potential decisions the Orioles might make and have an opinion about that, whether or not you or I know very much.
Three different mainstream prospect writers have weighed in with a mock draft within the last week-plus: The Athletic’s Keith Law, and in separate mocks, the MLB Pipeline duo of Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo.
Druw Jones - OF - Wesleyan HS (GA)
Jones stands as the #1 prospect in the draft by both of the publications whose work is being highlighted today. He’s at the top of Law’s personal ranking and sits #1 on MLB Pipeline’s top 200. Jones is not a unanimous #1 across all publications, though, with another Georgia high schooler, second baseman Termarr Johnson, sitting at #1 on the FanGraphs draft ranking.
Law’s mock draft begins with the admission that he doesn’t know what the Orioles will do because they haven’t decided yet, so he uses Jones as the #1 pick on the basis that he thinks Jones is the best player available. From Law’s scouting report on Jones:
His game bears many resemblances to his father’s, not least in the outfield, where Druw is already a plus defender and could work his way up to an elite level with experience. At the plate, he shows 70 power thanks to the strength in his wrists and forearms, with more power possible as he fills out further. ... The real question on Druw is whether he’ll hit – if he does, he’s a superstar, with 30/30 potential and a glove that should save 10 or more runs a year in center.
“Will he hit?” is maybe not a question you want to have about the player you are thinking about taking with the first overall pick. The Orioles brain trust will need to figure out if the answer is yes. If it’s not, they could look elsewhere.
The pull of a son of a 10-time Gold Glove winner looking like his dad’s game could be too much to pass up. The elder Jones racked up 57.6 bWAR from age 20-29 and was handily on a Hall of Fame track until cratering at the plate at age 30. Based on the mock drafts where the Orioles do not choose Jones, it seems that the Arizona Diamondbacks are salivating at the chance to draft him at #2.
Brooks Lee - SS - Cal Poly
Lee looks to be something of a consensus (but not unanimous) choice for the best prospect from a four-year college in this draft class. Mayo, whose mock last week included the Orioles choosing Lee at #1, offered the possible explanation that Lee would sign for less than the #1 pick’s slot value, enabling the Orioles to go overslot later.
Mayo also suggested that the Orioles, with a wave of talent potentially soon arriving on the MLB shore, might want to get a player who could help them sooner, when that crop of talent is still here. Whether or not the Orioles choose Lee, I doubt that’s going to be their reasoning for considering him. Either the Orioles like Lee’s combination of expected professional talent and price tag or they like someone else’s better.
Lee checks in at #5 on Pipeline’s draft class ranking, with this scouting report:
Talk to any scout about the switch-hitting infielder and the first thing that comes up are his otherworldly bat-to-ball skills. He almost never strikes out and has made consistent hard contact everywhere he’s been ... He can drive the ball from both sides of the plate and as he’s gotten more physical, it’s easy to project him having better-than-average power in the future. ... That physicality will mean he’s very likely to move off of shortstop at the next level, with third the most likely destination to take advantage of his above-average arm.
“otherworldly bat-to-ball skills” and “consistent hard contact everywhere he’s been” are good phrases to read in a scouting report about a player your favorite team might draft. As long as they actually carry over into the pro level, anyway.
Termarr Johnson - 2B - Mays HS (GA)
The Callis mock draft released two days ago puts the Orioles on Johnson, who is unique among this group of high school players because he just turned 18 earlier this month. A high school draft prospect’s age doesn’t determine everything about him, but a younger player achieving success against older competition could help give him an edge in his case to be drafted.
It is Callis’s assessment that Johnson is the player among the top five draft prospects in the class who would take the smallest signing bonus to get him on board. That, along with his suggestion that the Orioles might prefer an infielder after taking outfielders with their last two first round picks, is why he’s mocked Johnson to the Orioles. As with Mayo’s college rationale, it seems unlikely to me that Elias would factor this in very much. Johnson’s price/talent combination will entice him, or it won’t.
The Pipeline draft ranking has Johnson at #4 in the class. Law’s rank puts him third. As mentioned above, Johnson is the #1 prospect on the FG ranking for the class. It’s not clear to me when the FG rank was last updated; the ranking doesn’t seem to reflect either players who sank during the spring, like James Madison’s Chase Delauter, or players whose stock rose substantially, like Georgia Tech catcher Kevin Parada and 17-year-old JuCo talent Cam Collier. Nonetheless, here’s FG on Johnson:
Johnson has the most electric bat speed in this draft, and presents a rare combination of present power and potential middle infield fit, while also being one of the younger prospects in the class ... his swing bears a mechanical resemblance to Bryce Harper’s, especially its finish. Johnson’s size (listed 5’10”, may really be 5’8”) is actually an advantage for his swing, as he can enjoy a bat path geared for power and lift without it being too long. While especially adept at launching pitches on the inner third, Johnson also shows some ability to shorten up and cover the top of the strike zone. ... While currently an incomplete hitter, Johnson also does lots of really exciting stuff you can’t teach.
Though Elias didn’t muck around and do the underslot strategy with Rutschman at #1 in 2019, he has done it before in a prior job. The Astros choice of Carlos Correa at #1 overall in 2012 was a famous underslot swerve. Ten years later, the thing that really stands out about this pick is that the Astros both got the discount and correctly identified the best player in the draft class. Correa’s career bWAR of 35.8 is more than double all but three other first round picks from that draft year.
If Elias thinks that Johnson could be that combination again, that would be a good reason to draft him. He and the rest of the inner circle have until July 17 to figure it out.
Last weekend, Elias told Orioles reporters that the team is “working with a group of five, maybe six, but probably five players at this point.” Johnson, Jones, and Lee seem to be three of them. Callis thinks that a pair of other high school talents, Elijah Green and Jackson Holliday, son of Matt, round out the quintet, while Law also throws Collier and LSU third baseman Jacob Berry into the mix.
Which player do you want to see the Orioles draft with the #1 pick in 2022?
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