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5 prospects for Orioles fans to know at the top of the 2019 MLB Draft

5 prospects for Orioles fans to know at the top of the 2019 MLB Draft

Most of the talk surrounding the 2019 MLB Draft has centered around Adley Rutschman, the catcher out of Oregon State, and Bobby Witt Jr., the high school shortstop from Texas.

As the process has gone on, Rutschman has seemingly separated himself on most draft boards. Of course, considering Orioles GM Mike Elias’ history with Houston, that’s no guarantee Rutschman will be the pick on June 3. How the Orioles can best utilize their available slot money allocation will play a role in the final selection. 

Interestingly, every player being considered is a position player, not a pitcher. In fact, some talent evaluators don’t even have a pitcher in their top 10. The college crop of arms is historically weak this year, and with an average position player group, the overall draft is lacking depth.

It’s not lacking star potential at the top, however, so the Orioles will have plenty of quality options to choose from. With the 2019 MLB Draft less than a month away, let’s break down five prospects Orioles fans should know:

C Adley Rutschman, Oregon State

As mentioned above, Rutschman is in a tier of his own entering the home stretch of the draft process. The star catcher entered the college season considered the top prospect, and instead of scouts nitpicking his flaws, they’ve begun to separate him from the rest of the class.

Rutschman checks literally every box imaginable. He’s projected, on the 20-80 scouting scale, as a grade 60 when it comes to hitting, power, fielding, and arm strength. His only fringy grade is a 40 in running, but when you’re talking about a catcher, no one really cares about speed. Even in that area, he’s hit an inside-the-park home run this season, so it’s not like he’s unbearably slow.

Even beyond the traditional five tools, Rutschman is off the charts. His pitch framing, perhaps the most important element of a catcher’s game, is considered really strong, and he’s proven himself capable of leading a young, talented pitching staff.

His teammates have two nicknames for him: Captain America, a sign of his clubhouse presence, and Clutchman, a nod to his high-pressure performance in last year’s College World Series where he set a record with 17 hits en route to the title.

It’s not just the intangibles, as Rutschman’s stats in one of the best conferences in college baseball jump off the page, and he’s the heavy favorite to win the 2019 Golden Spikes Award, awarded annually to the top amateur player in the country. He’s added power to his game this season while maintaining a high average and the best plate discipline in the sport, all while bearing more of an offensive burden with less talent surrounding him in the lineup this year.

By all accounts, Rutschman is one of the most impressive draft prospects in recent memory, and perhaps the best newcomer since Bryce Harper in 2010. He will immediately be one of the top 5-15 prospects in all of baseball, and if the Orioles don’t select him with the top pick, it would only be for signability concerns.

SS Bobby Witt, Jr., Colleyville Heritage HS (Texas)

Witt is the son of a former Major League pitcher, and his ceiling is as high as anyone’s in the draft. A potential 5-tool shortstop, Witt has the natural talent to become one of the highest-rated prospects in all of the minors, and he has a great attitude to match. By all accounts, he loves playing baseball and has a terrific makeup, a common thread among top prospects in this class.

He has a ton of raw power and looks like a sure bet to stay at shortstop defensively, with a chance to play the position at a near-Gold Glove level. The only concern defensively would be if he grows out of the position, but with guys like Corey Seager and Carlos Correa using advanced scouting and defensive positioning to excel, there isn’t too much concern surrounding Witt.

The one real question mark is how much he swings and misses, especially at the high school level. You can’t tap into your raw power if you can’t make contact, and the pitching he’ll face will only get better as he enters professional ball. It’s especially concerning considering Witt is nearly 19-years-old, so he’s a bit old for his class as well.

All that said, he’s assuaged most of these concerns by compiling a great senior season, and his future is remarkably bright. It would qualify as a real surprise if he falls out of the top two picks.

1B Andrew Vaughn, California

For a while during the non-conference season, Vaughn’s stats didn’t just rival Kris Bryant’s epic 2013 season at the University of San Diego but blew it out of the water.

He’s come back to earth in Pac-12 play, but the numbers still jump off the page. A .374/.530/.712 slash line with nearly twice as many walks as strikeouts show a hitter with complete control of the strike zone and tons of raw power.

Vaughn is almost certainly the best all-around hitter in the draft, as he projects as above average in both power and hitting. It would be a major surprise if a bat this talented, and this advanced, didn’t end up sitting in the middle of a Major League lineup someday.

So, why isn’t he the consensus number one overall pick? Defense.

Vaughn projects to be an average first baseman; the problem is what kind of value that has. First base is low on the defensive spectrum and will never be valued in the same way an up-the-middle position is. It doesn’t help that he’s short and right-handed, either.

In order to provide value, Vaughn will have to really mash the ball at every level. We’ve yet to see anything to make us think he won’t do just that, but there’s way less margin for error when you don’t have strong defensive value to fall back on.

It’s not enough of a knock to drop him out of the top five, and rumors have even swirled about him going number one if the Orioles can agree to a below-slot deal with Vaughn before draft night. But it is the reason he’s not number one on any boards right now.

SS CJ Abrams, Blessed Trinity Catholic HS (Ga.)

Speed, speed, speed. That’s the name of Abrams’ game, as the southern shortstop is one of the most athletic players in the 2019 draft class. MLB Pipeline grades his speed as a 75 on the 20-80 scouting scale, putting him in a tier with the elite of the elite.

Abrams is more than just a stolen base threat, as he projects to wind up as an elite defender, whether it’s at his current shortstop or after a move to center field. He’s more “athlete” than fluid defender at shortstop right now, but when you’re blessed with the athleticism Abrams has, it may not matter.

He has excellent control of his bat, utilizing a quick stroke from the left side of the plate. The power will never be great, but it won’t be nonexistent either.

In terms of pure upside, there’s an argument to be made that Abrams should be at the top of the class, though it seems more likely he’ll go fourth or fifth come draft day. At the very least, he’s solidified himself in the highest tier of players not named Adley Rutschman.

OF Hunter Bishop, Arizona State

While the general consensus is clear on the top four guys, it can be difficult to narrow down to number five. Detroit really likes Riley Greene, but the name outside the top four most mentioned as a dark horse option for the Orioles atop the draft is Bishop.

Bishop is a well-rounded player (MLB Pipeline gives him between 50 and 60 in each category of Hit, Power, Run, Field, Arm and Overall) who has finally found his consistency as a Junior at ASU.

His traits seem like they would play well as a right fielder, though some scouts think he can stick in centerfield. In reading many of the evaluations, he comes across as a left-handed Austin Hays, one of the top prospects in the Orioles farm system, who had his breakout in 2017.

A .366/.492/.814 slash line with 22 home runs, 11 stolen bases, 53 strikeouts and 41 walks in 49 total games this season is hard to ignore. If evaluators are able to look past the lack of a track record, there’s no ceiling on how high he could be picked.

Honorable Mentions: 

OF JJ Bleday, Vanderbilt
OF Riley Greene, Hagerty HS (Fl.)
LHP Nick Lodolo, TCU
C Shea Langeliers, Baylor
SS Bryson Stott, UNLV
RHP Alek Manoah, West Virginia
OF Corbin Carroll, Lakeside HS (Wa.)

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Mike Elias expects big things from Adley Rutschman in 2020 and beyond

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Mike Elias expects big things from Adley Rutschman in 2020 and beyond

As excited as Orioles fans are for the future of the franchise, and as desperate as they are for any glimpses of that future in the form of their top prospects, it doesn’t guarantee they’ll see Adley Rutschman in the big leagues any time soon.

The number one overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, Rutschman is one of the most highly-touted prospects to enter the draft in years, and as an experienced college catcher, is the prototype of a fast-moving player through the farm system.

According to the man tasked with ultimately making those types of timeline-based decisions, Rutschman will play the biggest role in determining how quickly he advances.

“Well it’s his first full season in pro ball, so it’s hard to put too much expectation on that,” General Manager Mike Elias cautioned to NBC Sports Washington when asked about the hype surrounding his first-ever draft pick. “It’s about starting in A-ball, or High-A, or wherever we decide to start him, and having success. And once he has success, we’ll get him moving.”

Elias told reporters at the Winter Meetings that Rustchman would have a chance to play with the big league club at Spring Training next season, but that will be more about the learning experience and less about a true opportunity to break camp with the team.

It’s hard to imagine a player like Rutschman not having success. He showed flashes of his talent across three lower levels of the Orioles’ minor league system after signing last summer, ultimately landing with the Delmarva Shorebirds.

The skills necessary for success, both on and off the field, were readily apparent to Elias and the Orioles front office throughout the draft process.

They say timing is everything, and Elias considers the Orioles very lucky to have earned the top pick in a year with a player like Rutschman.

“I think we were very fortunate that we had the number one pick in a year when Adley Rutschman was in the draft,” he said while praising the future face of the franchise. “He fits the type of player that we’re looking for perfectly, being an impact hitter but also a really good defensive catcher and team leader type. So it’s a perfect guy to sort of kick off this whole era of our rebuild, and I think it’s going to be fun seeing what he does in our minor league affiliates this year.”

Of course, Rutschman isn’t the only young player fans will be keying in on this season. Austin Hays is one of the more exciting young players in the organization, and he will enter Spring Training as the favorite for the everyday job in centerfield. If the gifted outfielder can stay healthy, he will be given every opportunity to solidify himself as the centerfielder of the future.

“He’s what we call in the scouting parlance ‘tooled out’,” Elias described when asked about Hays’ highlight-reel plays late in the 2019 season. “I mean he can run, he can really throw, he’s got power, all the physical capabilities. And he’s shown that when he’s healthy he can hit at the Major League level too.”

Of course, injuries have been the one thing that can stop Hays early in his promising career. 

“Health has been the issue for him,” Elias continued. “He’s had two injury-plagued seasons in a row, but when he came up at the end of last season he was playing with energy, he was healthy. So that’s all we want to see for him, but I think he’s an impact centerfielder and a huge part of our next good team.”

The next good Orioles team is still a few years away, but the pieces are starting to come into place. Not every top prospect will pan out -- there’s no such thing as a sure thing when it comes to minor league players -- but the Orioles are stocking the organization with talented, hard-working players.

Looking ahead to another long season in 2020, Orioles fans will have to look beyond the win-loss column to find signs of hope. If things go according to Mike Elias’ plan, Rustchman and Hays should provide plenty of moments worth getting excited.

Rutschman’s time is coming. For Hays, the future is now. For both, the eyes of Baltimore are upon them as the franchise enters the next era of Orioles baseball.

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Orioles and Scott Boras have met to discuss how Chris Davis can improve

Orioles and Scott Boras have met to discuss how Chris Davis can improve

When the Orioles signed Chris Davis to a team-record $161 million deal ahead of the 2016 season, they were expecting the left-handed slugger to be a perennial candidate for the league lead in home runs while being a versatile defender at multiple positions.

Instead, Davis has been a black hole in the lineup. No one in the majors has more strikeouts than Davis since the start of that contract, his home run totals have fallen every year and he’s played almost exclusively first base and designated hitter.

“We’re trying everything we can,” Orioles GM Mike Elias told NBC Sports Washington’s Todd Dybas. “He’s been struggling now for years and there are a lot of reasons for that and we continue to look into it. But the reality is, as you said, he is under contract and it’s something not to take lightly and because of that we’re going to be focused on getting the most out of him that we can. But it’s a very frustrating situation for him and for us.”

At his annual Winter Meetings impromptu press conference, Davis’ agent Scott Boras told reporters that he’s spoken with Orioles officials about how they can help the first baseman improve his production next season.

Davis, who spends his offseasons in Dallas, is reportedly not interested in attending a hitting school. Both Boras and the Orioles are hoping to come up with a different approach that will help him contribute to the lineup next season.

Baltimore still has Davis under contract for three more seasons, but the deferred money in his contract has the team paying him until 2037.

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