Until this year, when they selected Jackson Holliday at #1 overall, the Orioles had never used their top pick in a draft on a high school player. This was not the beginning of an indication that the Orioles are looking to add a bunch of just-graduated high school kids into the farm system. They picked three college players after Holliday on Day 1 of the draft and when all was said and done on Day 2 of the draft, they went another eight-for-eight on drafting college talent.
Mike Elias has never hidden what is easier to appreciate about college players. Predictive models can factor in college statistics in a way that it’s much harder to do for high school players. There’s both a better sense of what a player’s strengths might be, what his weaknesses are, and what of those weaknesses might be able to be sanded down with time, instruction, and effort.
The group of Day 2 players picked by the Orioles did not contain any surprise swerves into making a run at a probably-headed-to-college high school player. They have selected a bunch of players who will probably sign for more or less close to the slot value of their picks. If the O’s are fortunate, one or two of them might build himself some prospect stock over the next couple of seasons. If they’re not, well, they’ll probably pick some more college guys next year and try again.
Day 2 was noteworthy for one other reason: The Orioles finally drafted some pitchers high in the draft. The previous three Elias drafts did not see a pitcher taken before the fifth round, and no more than two pitchers in the first ten rounds. Five of the eight picks made by the O’s today are pitchers.
3rd round/#81 overall - Nolan McLean - RHP(/3B?) - Oklahoma State
Two-way player as an amateur, listed as a pitcher when drafted by the Orioles. That’s probably a sign that they intend to have him stay as a pitcher, although who knows, things could get weird. At MLB Pipeline, where the 6’3” righty is the #118 prospect in the draft class, they said this about his arm:
There are no questions about his arm, which delivers fastballs up to 98 mph and a pair of breaking pitches (downer curveball, power slider) that have a chance to become plus offerings. He’s averaging nearly two strikeouts per inning as a high-leverage reliever for Oklahoma State and evaluators are beginning to wonder if his future might be brighter on the mound.
Even if he’s solely a pitcher, this pick is immediately interesting for one reason: It’s the first time the Orioles have drafted a pitcher this high in the draft under Mike Elias. They had previously not drafted a pitcher before the fifth round.
McLean was used exclusively as a reliever when pitching for Oklahoma State - where, by the way, Josh Holliday, uncle of Orioles #1 pick Jackson, is the head coach. He struck out 39 batters in 25.1 innings, and batted .285/.397/.595 with 19 home runs in 64 games as a third baseman. He is a draft-eligible sophomore, having gone to college after going undrafted in the five-round 2020 draft. He had designs of also playing football when he arrived on campus, then the football team didn’t give him any playing time, so baseball it was.
Here’s McLean throwing some strikes and also hitting a dinger for the Cowboys:
R3, P81: RHP/INF NOLAN MCLEAN (Oklahoma State)— Locked On Orioles (@LockedOnOrioles) July 18, 2022
-Mid-90s FB + good, slow 12-6 curve
-25.1 IP in relief in 2022, 4.97 ERA, 39 K, 13 BB, .206 BAA
-2022 hitting: slashed .285/.397/.595 w/ 19 HR but 107 K in 242 AB
-Announced as pitcher, but potential 2-waypic.twitter.com/LZaAM9dsWD
4th round/#107 overall - Silas Ardoin - C - Texas
This name might seem familiar to those whose long-term memory is full of completely useless information like the names of obscure former Orioles. Ardoin’s father, Danny, played in five games for the 2006 team as part of a five-year big league career. Silas Ardoin, like his father, is a catcher.
MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis recognized Ardoin right away on hearing his name being called out, calling him “one of the best, if not the best, defensive catchers” in the draft class this year. Callis also noted that Ardoin “stepped it up offensively, this year he’s driving it more consistently ... he might hit 12 or 15 home runs.” He was the sixth catcher taken in the draft.
The 6’0” righty batter checks in at #146 on MLB Pipeline’s top 250 prospect ranking. Here’s what they had to say about him:
Ardoin’s upbringing shows because he’s extremely polished for a college catcher. He has soft hands and receives, frames and blocks balls well. He not only has plus arm strength but also a quick release and impressive throwing accuracy.
Prior to this season, Ardoin was notable for drawing walks but not hitting for much in the way of power. That improved this season, as Callis noted, with Ardoin posting a .271/.391/.513 batting line over 69 games. He hit 12 home runs. It is not bad to have some competition for the future backup to Adley Rutschman. Someone out there has to be better at both defense and hitting than Robinson Chirinos.
Ardoin throwing a dude out:
Silas Ardoin, C, Texas: I really don’t care where Ardoin is ranked, I think he’s a future MLB starting catcher. Great defense, great batted ball data.— Greg Zumach (@IvyFutures) July 18, 2022
5th round/#137 overall - Trace Bright - RHP - Auburn
Bright, a 6’4” junior, led the Auburn Tigers baseball team with 94 strikeouts this season. That’s probably what the Orioles liked about him, since his results certainly didn’t seem to be anything to be excited about - he had a 5.13 ERA for his junior season.
On the draft broadcast, Callis said that Bright has “got the making of four pitches to be average or better, 92-94 on his fastball.” He did not rate in the top 250 ranking of MLB Pipeline. That’s not too surprising once you hit the fifth round and the things that teams are looking for don’t match up with what generates a place on the longer prospect lists. Another publication, Baseball America, had a bit more to say about Bright:
Per Baseball America: "Bright looks the part of a starter with a still-projectable 6-foot-4, 199-pound frame, but he’ll need to refine his control to make the most of what is a legitimate and deep arsenal of solid stuff."— The Verge- An Orioles MiLB Podcast (@BSLOnTheVerge) July 18, 2022
As Prop Joe once said to Avon Barksdale, “Look the part, be the part.” Well, it’s not quite that easy for a professional starting pitcher, but there are worse places to start out on the journey. With recent results from the Orioles minor league system, it doesn’t feel like a hopeless cause to have pitchers who need to do some development to be their best selves.
6th round/#167 overall - Douglas Hodo III - OF - University of Texas
Elias loves drafting college outfielders. His first draft saw three college outfielders taken in the first seven rounds. His second draft had him take two in their first three picks. Last year’s draft saw the Orioles take four college outfielders out of their first five picks. Throw them all out there and see who can play.
Hodo checks in on the Pipeline draft ranking at #223:
Douglas’ center-field skills and fearlessness have earned him comparisons to Kevin Pillar and Eric Byrnes. Hodo’s speed continues to stand out and he can flash plus-plus run times out of the batter’s box. The Longhorns haven’t really turned him loose on the basepaths but he runs down balls from gap to gap in center field, where he has a playable arm. His high-energy style of play has made him a favorite of area scouts. While Hodo’s right-handed swing can get loopy and he can get overly aggressive and pull-happy at the plate, he has a knack for getting on base.
Although every team hopes a player taken at this point in the draft can be polished into a big leaguer, another important quality for the mid-to-late round picks is guys who will show up, work hard, and have a good attitude while playing alongside more heralded prospects. Hodo’s “high-energy style of play” was probably noticed by the Orioles scouting apparatus, too. It probably didn’t hurt that he led all of NCAA Division I in doubles in this college season.
The note about his having an odd swing is a common trait with the Orioles day 1 choices of Dylan Beavers and Jud Fabian. The O’s are taking three chances that they can turn one of these guys with a weird swing into a solid player. Maybe they are right. This could be the full Delmarva Shorebirds outfield for the last month of the season.
7th round/#197 overall - Preston Johnson - RHP - Mississippi State
This is a pretty big dude, listed at 6’4” and 250 lbs. He’s also already 22 years old and is listed on the MLB Draft Tracker as a college senior, raising the possibility that this is something of a “senior sign” pick that might save some bonus pool money (pick value about $250k) that could need to go to one of the sophomores drafted previously.
Johnson started 14 games for the Bulldogs and struck out 117 batters in 79 innings. On the draft telecast, Callis noted this was the ninth-best strikeout rate among NCAA pitchers this season, so again, you can guess what the Orioles might like about this guy. Can he do that as a pro? If everyone thought he could, he wouldn’t have pitched his senior season of college, and wouldn’t have lasted until the 7th round of the 2022 draft.
8th round/#227 overall - Cameron Weston - RHP - Michigan
Elias’s avoidance of pitchers high up in the first three years he drafted here almost seemed like it was an overall philosophy, but not with four pitchers picked in the top ten that looks more like it was just a bit of a fluke of the way the draft boards lined up in previous seasons. It’s probably not a coincidence that, now that the Orioles are drafting a few pitchers, they have all come from universities you’ve heard of.
Weston is fresh off of a junior season at Michigan where he struck out 92 batters in 81.1 innings, though that came along with a high walk rate; he walked nearly a batter every other innings. The Orioles might have also noticed him pitching in the Cape Cod League this summer. Weston threw 21.1 innings for the Wareham Gatemen, striking out 21 batters with a WHIP of 0.891.
On the draft broadcast, Callis offered a brief note on Weston before moving along to other players: “pitchability right-hander, low 90s guy, top out at 94, pitch with the best potential is a forkball/splitter.”
9th round/#257 overall - Adam Crampton - SS - Stanford
Jonathan Mayo on the draft stream called Crampton a “defense first, glove first” prospect, with “a lot of contact” but not a lot of power, so big questions are there about the bat. For a ninth round pick, there are going to be questions about something. One uncommon thing about him for American baseball players is that he was born in Taiwan.
Crampton was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year this season. The lack of power is evident in his batting line for Stanford in 2022, as he hit .316/.395/.392. You don’t get the OBP higher than the slugging percentage too often. He hit one home run in 65 games. The Orioles surely haven’t drafted him to hit home runs, they’ve drafted him to field ground balls by the pitching prospects they are trying to develop so that they don’t start to feel like it’s awful if they allow contact.
A little slick defense from Crampton:
10th round/#287 overall - Wyatt Cheney - RHP - McClennan CC (Texas)
Cheney was selected here from a junior college, but his previous two seasons he’d been pitching for Oklahoma State, whose name has come up here already. He had some major command problems as a sophomore reliever in 2021, walking 14 batters in 13.2 innings. Callis and Mayo were each stumped by this pick initially, and unless Cheney and the Orioles are very lucky, there may not ever be much to say about him.
The number of players picked in the first ten rounds who sign pro contracts is very close to 100%. The Orioles are probably going to sign all of these guys, and maybe even all of the guys they take tomorrow too. With a college-heavy draft, perhaps many of them will jump straight to Low-A Delmarva after a few short days to get their feet wet at the spring complex in Sarasota.