The first day of this year’s MLB Draft is July 9. Leading up to the draft and following along, it’s going to be a different experience for Orioles fans this year compared to recent years. The days of picking in the top five are gone for now. Last year, we could ponder the top draft prospects and wonder who the Orioles might take. They’re not in line for this year’s #1, Dylan Crews, or anyone else in the top five. The O’s won’t be picking until #17.
It’s not as catastrophic to miss on a pick in the later teens. Yet getting a good player out of the #17 pick this year, or whatever pick they earn going forward, is still going to be important for maintaining a farm system that can either supplement the Orioles with useful players or be used to trade for established, quality big leaguers.
Overall, it’s a whole lot more fun to be in the middle of the round than having the Orioles with the top pick. The Orioles actually winning games at the MLB level is preferable. The 2022 season was a good time. When it comes to looking at the draft, it is much more challenging to know who will even be available at the O’s pick, let alone who might be the best player for the O’s to take.
With six weeks or so left until the draft, the picture of what will happen ahead is a cloudy one. This never stops the prospect-writing class from putting out mock drafts with their best guesses based on what their sources tell them teams are thinking right now. If nothing else, it’s a good illustration of the kind of player who will probably be available to the Orioles by the time they are able to make their first selection this year.
Bryce Eldridge - 1B/RHP - James Madison HS (Va.)
This is the choice in the first pass at a mock draft by The Athletic’s Keith Law, which he posted this week. He wrote of the idea of the Orioles choosing Eldridge:
Eldridge is an exit velocity darling but also a great athlete with a plus arm, and the Orioles have gone after those exit velo guys with high picks in recent years. With Jackson Holliday doing what he’s doing in High A, I would have to think the Orioles would be very willing to go back to the high school ranks.
Until the Orioles picked Holliday last year, it did seem like there was some kind of aversion to going for high school players with their top picks. High school draft prospects simply can’t build up the kind of track record that three years of a college career can do. They’ve now shown they’ll take a player they like if the chance presents itself. Still to be determined is whether they will use a top pick on a pitcher, if that pick is later in the first round.
Eldridge is the #14 prospect on Law’s ranking of the draft class. His assessment is that Eldridge is “probably a top three rounds pick as a pitcher due to size and arm strength.” The prospect is listed at 6’7”, which is certainly the kind of size that, as they say, you can’t teach. Law thinks that Eldridge’s greater strength is as a hitter, “with plus raw power already that’s probably going to end up at 80.” 80 is the best grade on baseball’s weird 20-80 scouting scale. He’s a lefty batter, which is not bad for a power hitter in the AL East.
In the other two mock drafts I’m looking at today, Eldridge is available for the Orioles to take at #17. Those mocks have him being taken at #24 and #25. Law currently considers Eldridge as a possibility as high as to the Rockies at #9, as well as one pick before the Orioles, #16 to the Giants.
Aidan Miller - 3B - Mitchell HS (Fla.)
The mock draft sending Miller to the Orioles is the oldest of the three I’m focusing on today, from MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis earlier this month. About Miller, he wrote in the mock, “Miller raked throughout the showcase circuit last summer and could be one of the steals of the first round after his stock slipped because he missed almost all of the spring with a hamate injury.”
Miller is the #12 prospect on MLB Pipeline’s ranking of this draft class. If the 6’2” righty batter slips to the Orioles, that’s some good value, assuming that’s the correct assessment of his value, of course. Pipeline’s scouting report on Miller:
Miller is a corner infielder with the kind of offensive profile pro teams want at that spot. The right-handed hitter has easily plus raw power and has shown he can get to it in games against good competition, showing no difficulty in turning around elite velocity. He already has a lot of strength.
A common note of these scouting reports is power, which does seem like the kind of thing that has made a difference to Mike Elias in evaluating potential first round picks.
In the other two mocks from this article, Miller is chosen at #15 in one and #24 in the other. If a team ahead of the Orioles decides to overlook the hamate injury as a temporary bump in the road, he might go sooner.
Yohandy Morales - 3B - University of Miami
Callis’s Pipeline colleague, Jonathan Mayo, provided a mock draft last week in which he placed this 6’4” college talent with the Orioles. About Morales in the mock, he said:
One of the college bats who seems to be floating up boards, and for good reason: Morales is now slashing .402/.471/.656 with a dozen homers.
Morales is not included in the first round at all in either of these other mocks, so the comment about how he’s floating up boards would really be fulfilled if he was picked as high as #17 by the Orioles. This is not an unusual phenomenon in a draft class - there are always “helium guys” who improve their stock through the spring compared to what scouts thought of them before their college junior or high school senior years. Sometimes they have helium for good reason. Other times, they don’t.
Miami’s third baseman is the #23 prospect on Pipeline’s ranking of the class. There’s some good and some improvement needed in their scouting report, which is probably why he’s looking like a mid-first round pick at best, and isn’t even in the first round of other mocks:
He’s an aggressive hitter looking to do damage and he does consistently barrel up the baseball, showing an ability to drive the ball to all fields. While he’s still power-over-hit, he has ironed out some of the moving parts of his swing that hurt him as a prepster, giving him a better chance to hit and get to that power, though some scouts worried about his tendency to chase pitches, especially up and out of the zone.
The Orioles do seem to like college performers, so maybe his profile will be of interest to them with this pick.
Or maybe it won’t! One constant in the Elias era of drafting is that the Orioles are very good at not tipping their hand about who they like and who they like less in a given draft class.
When the draft rolls around, one of these mocks might happen to be right, but there are surely several other names the Orioles could take as well, and there’s no way to know who will even be available, so don’t start getting your hopes up yet. And definitely don’t get your hopes up for a player who’s probably getting taken in the top ten. The Orioles are better than that now, which is the best part of all.