There aren’t very many benefits for a team having the worst record in all of MLB over a given season. When you get down to it, there’s really only the one. The team with the worst record gets the #1 pick in the next year’s draft. Even this benefit won’t exist any more after this year thanks to the new draft lottery. Luckily for the 2021 Orioles, their 52-110 record means they will be the final team to benefit from automatically getting the next year’s #1 selection.
Inherent in the idea of picking first is that no one else gets a chance to make a choice before you. If there’s a unanimously-agreed best prospect, the team picking first gets him and that’s that. No one else can do anything about this other than decide which player they will choose as a consolation prize.
In the 2022 draft class, there is a broad, though not entirely unanimous, agreement about who is the top available prospect. That’s Druw Jones, son of 17-year MLB veteran Andruw. The younger Jones is fresh off his high school career at a private Georgia high school, where he impressed a number of evaluators. Jones sits at the top of draft prospect rankings at Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, and The Athletic.
Pipeline’s report on Jones notes that he has “similar five-tool potential as a center fielder” as his father demonstrated. When baseball people talk about the five tools, those are: Hit (average), power, speed, arm, and glove. Exactly what makes someone a “five-tool player” is always a debate, but in general it means you’re at least above average at each of these things, or a 55 or better on baseball’s peculiar 20-80 scouting scale that has 80 as the best and 50 as average.
In plain words, that sounds something like this:
While Jones’ right-handed swing is still somewhat of a work in progress, he understands it well, shows the ability to make adjustments and does damage against quality pitching. He already has plenty of bat speed and drives balls to the gaps, and as he fills out his 6-foot-4 frame he should develop plus power. He’s a plus-plus runner when he turns on the jets and is capable of beating out ground balls to the left side. ... His speed and instincts combine to give him tremendous range and his well-above-average arm strength stands out at a position not known for many cannons.
This report puts a grade on each of Jones’s tools, and as you might surmise from the above where only his swing is called a “work in progress,” Jones gets the lowest from this report - still an above-average 55 - on his hit tool. They think he’ll figure it out because he’s already shown he can adjust against high-level amateur competition. The rest sounds just plain exciting, with seemingly little question that he can do everything else with few potential issues.
The Athletic’s Keith Law goes even farther than Pipeline about Jones’s power:
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.
You might also be wondering, “What is 70 power?” Baseball America’s tool grade explainer - handy in this case for being publicly available; note that Law may have a different idea - lists 70 power as a player with 35+ home run potential per season.
When combined with the speed they all agree Jones currently has, that adds up for Law to “a superstar, with 30/30 potential and a glove that should save 10 or more runs per year in center.” The idea of a guy rolling out 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases multiple years is plenty exciting. Cedric Mullins accomplishing that last year was fun. He’s not on track to repeat. If Druw Jones rolled along and did this more than once, how much fun would that be?
The sky-high potential of any given draft prospect must always be balanced with the possibility that he won’t approach that potential. It doesn’t do the Orioles any good to take a player everyone agrees is the #1 player if he doesn’t pan out.
Law’s praise of Jones is also tempered with some concern about his current hit ability, saying “The real question is whether he’ll hit.” He still thinks Jones is the #1 prospect even with that concern, writing that even a 45 (slightly below average) hit tool would leave Jones with “plenty of major-league value due to the secondary skills, so he could be worth several WAR per year even with a .300ish on-base percentage.”
Here’s some video of Jones in action at a recent Perfect Game prospect showcase:
Neither you nor I needs much of a trained baseball eye to see one thing stand out here that comes up in the scouting reports. Jones is a lanky dude. This doesn’t stop him from making some loud contact with a wood bat in the video here. The idea that more power ought to be coming is also interesting.
Perhaps it will prove interesting enough for Mike Elias to have the Orioles draft Jones with the #1 pick. If they want to take who most observers seem to think is the #1 player in the class, he will be their pick. The last time the Orioles had this opportunity was in 2019, when Adley Rutschman was the #1 guy. They went ahead and took Rutschman. It’s only subsequent years where they had #2 and #5 where they swerved conventional wisdom.
The first round of the draft gets under way on Sunday night, so we’ll find out shortly after 7pm Eastern who the team ultimately decides to take. Between now and then, I’ll be back to take a look at some of the players who could potentially be the pick if the Orioles choose to use an underslot strategy with their top pick again.