With the Orioles showing some unexpected quality in the 2022 season, it’s looking likely that the days of the team raking in a top 5 pick in the draft every year are over for now. The #1 pick they’ve got lined up for tonight after having the worst record in MLB last season could be their last “easy” chance to grab a top talent for the farm system. From here on, it’s going to require more savvy and luck.
Who will the Orioles end up selecting with the top pick tonight? A variety of draft/prospect experts have weighed in over the closing days before the draft, including a couple that have made mock drafts on the day of the draft. The one sure thing is that no one really knows.
Four different publications have put out mock drafts within the last 48 hours or so and there are four different ideas of who will be taken at #1. These are not surprising names to anyone who’s been following the draft rumor mill over the weeks leading up to the draft. The names the Orioles might choose from have been guessed for a while. It’s just a question of who they will take.
One thing to keep in mind as this roundup is being posted is that the Orioles decision has almost certainly not been made. The pattern that was established when Mike Elias was an assistant with the Astros is that right before the draft, the top-level decisionmakers cloister themselves and come to a final decision. It is unlikely that any of the top-level thinkers are talking to any press person about their process. These assorted mocks are all just making guesses based on sources other than the high levels of the O’s front office.
Druw Jones - OF - Wesleyan HS (Georgia)
Jones, pictured above, is the #1 prospect on basically everyone’s draft board. He is the son of longtime MLBer Andruw Jones, who was on a Hall of Fame track through his 20s until his production cratered almost as soon as he hit 30. Druw Jones is the Orioles pick according to both halves of the MLB Pipeline duo, Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis, in their day-of-draft mock.
Whether the Orioles make the choice to draft Jones may depend on what kind of signing bonus they think he is going to demand. A previous rumor suggested Jones might be putting out a number of $10 million. In his final mock, Callis suggests that the Orioles could get Jones for an $8 million bonus - about $800,000 under the slot of the #1 pick. If that is an accurate number, it is tough to imagine the Orioles passing on the draft’s top talent.
The scouting report on Jones at Pipeline:
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.
Even for the best high school talents, it’s probably going to be the case that the swing is “a work in progress” - you don’t find 18-year-olds who can jump right to MLB, and even in the exceptionally rare situations where a player jumps to MLB at 19 or 20, the players generally have adjustments still to be made.
Termarr Johnson - SS - Mays HS (Georgia)
Johnson is the Orioles choice in the day-of-draft mock put out at FanGraphs. Eric Longenhagen reminds that other than when they took Adley Rutschman, the Orioles have gone for under-slot deals at their top pick with the aim of using the money to get better talents with later picks. “There is significant opportunity to do that” in this draft, he says, so he considers the key question to be: Which of the players the Orioles are considering has the best incentive to take a lesser signing bonus?
There has generally been agreement through the weeks leading up to the draft that Johnson is the player who would take the biggest discount among the players whose talent has put them in the #1 pick conversation. Johnson does not seem like he will be taken in the top 3 picks unless the Orioles take him. If that is the case, then his presumed best signing bonus would be $7 million - slot value for the #4 pick. The Orioles could offer him something like $7.25 million and still bank nearly $1.6 million in slot money for later.
FanGraphs rates Johnson as the #4 prospect in the class, which is not a knock on his talent - he could be one of the top 30 prospects in the game when he signs, according to their estimation. FG’s report on Johnson includes some exciting things and some work in progress stuff:
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. The stocky Johnson is short but not small, only 5-foot-8, but physical and explosive (especially in his lower half), and his swing bears a mechanical resemblance to Bryce Harper’s, especially its finish. Johnson’s size is actually an advantage for his swing, as he can enjoy a bat path geared for power and lift without it being too long.
His weakness at present is the outer third of the plate, and Longenhagen also writes that Johnson “has a tendency to expand the zone and make sub-optimal contact.” He is not expected to stay at shortstop, but could be a second baseman. Elias has a little experience with a short second baseman from his Houston days. If he sees some of that Jose Altuve “it” in Johnson, that could make him want to go this route for the #1 pick.
Jackson Holliday - SS - Stillwater HS (Oklahoma)
Holliday is another son of a longtime MLB outfielder. His father is Matt Holliday. He’s the Orioles pick according to the final mock draft from Keith Law at The Athletic. Law offers no specific intelligence to connect the O’s to Holliday, just that it’s his “most educated guess.” It seems that Holliday will be the #2 pick if he’s not taken by the Orioles, so there wouldn’t be much in the way of savings against the slot allocation. They might just like the talent, though.
Jackson, in contrast to his dad, is a lefty-batting infielder who, if he doesn’t stick as a shortstop, has potential to play center field. We know that Mike Elias likes the up-the-middle premium guys, and a player who could be either a shortstop or center fielder may interest him. Holliday is rated as Law’s #6 prospect in the draft:
He has one of the best swings in the draft, even with a slight bat wrap, with strong plate coverage and above-average power, more likely to be a high-doubles guy with 15-20 homers than a 30-homer guy even at his peak. He’s been hard to strike out as an amateur, only showing occasional weakness against fastballs up, and so far his pitch recognition has been strong for his age and experience level.
I’m just a guy who runs a blog and doesn’t know anything about amateur baseball prospects, but Holliday seems less exciting to me than either Jones or Johnson, based on what the assorted experts have written about them. Fans can now hope that the Orioles are bidding farewell to the top 5 or even the top 10 for a while. This is the time to get the best guy.
Brooks Lee - SS - Cal Poly
Lee’s name has come up with the Orioles throughout mock draft season, including in the final mock put out by Prospects Live. The rationale that they offer is similar to why the Orioles might pick Johnson in terms of slot savings: Lee seems unlikely to be picked earlier than #4 if not taken by the Orioles. They write that he offers “the best package of tools and intangibles” and that will make him the O’s pick.
At this outlet, Lee is the #5 ranked prospect in the draft class - he’s not even the best college player they rate, as they put him behind Georgia Tech’s catcher, Kevin Parada.
Listed at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Lee is an extremely physical, barrel-chested shortstop with a significant strength throughout his frame. Lee carries his size extremely well on the dirt where his fluidity and huge arm really stand out. He receives high marks for his instincts and leadership on the field, captaining the defense in-between plays. A switch-hitter with power from both sides, Lee showcases at least a plus hit tool, maybe 70-grade with thump. It’s above average raw power that he’s getting into, spraying missiles to all fields. Scouts believe there’s more game power coming., though he will probably never be a “power hitter” at the next level. Lee may eventually have to shift to third base.
Multiple reports on Lee note concern over recurring back injury issues for Lee. This is not very exciting to read about a potential #1 pick either, though as with all of this stuff, teams are going to have the most complete information and that will go into the decisionmaking process.
Elias has yet to take a high school player with his top pick in the draft as Orioles GM and if he takes Lee tonight, that’s really going to feel like an intentional philosophy after he passed on several highly-regarded high schoolers at #5 last year as well.
The draft gets under way at 7pm Eastern on Sunday night. The Orioles will be on the clock shortly after and then we’ll know whose combination of talent and signing price they like the best. I’m hoping for Jones or Johnson, but more than that I am hoping that Elias and company’s judgment about the best way to allocate the draft dollars generates multiple good or great players for the farm system.