The Major League Baseball draft isn’t like other drafts. The top prospects aren’t household names like they are in the NFL and NBA, and the players selected aren’t ready to make an impact right away.
And yet, the draft is arguably the most important, effective way for teams to add talent to their organization. Young players come cheaper than free agents, and having a homegrown pipeline of talent to draw from helps when replacing departing veterans. It also helps to have organizational depth when trying to make trades to improve your team.
It’s not news to anyone that drafting and developing talent is important, but it’s harder to invest in a draft without knowing much about the players or process.
The Orioles have had a lot of hits, and a lot more misses, with their first-round picks since 2000. In the top five, where they find themselves yet again, they’ve struck gold with guys like Manny Machado and Matt Wieters, while missing big with Billy Rowell and Matt Hobgood.
Will having their pick of the litter bring better fortune for the Orioles in 2019? We’ll find out Monday night.
Here’s what to watch for.
Where are they picking?
The Orioles, notably, have the top overall selection in the 2019 MLB Draft. It’s a big deal, as the Orioles have an opportunity to put a face on their current rebuild, while obviously hoping to add an elite talent to their farm system.
The O’s earned the top pick after going 47-115 in 2018, one of the worst records in Major League history.
What prospects are they looking at?
We’ve written a lot about the prospects the Orioles are likely considering at the top of the draft. For a while now, it’s looked like the draft is Adley Rutschman, and everybody else.
There’s not much more to say about the Oregon State catcher that hasn’t already been said. He checks literally every possible box and combines maybe the highest floor *and* ceiling in the draft.
Reports are the Orioles have narrowed their choice down to four. Rutschman is certainly one of those choices. The other three definitely include Cal first baseman Andrew Vaughn and high school shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. At this point, the fourth player is probably Vanderbilt outfielder JJ Bleday.
Witt is an elite draftee in his own right, as he projects as a five-tool shortstop at the big league level. MLB Pipeline even has him ranked as the second-best shortstop to enter the draft in the last few decades, behind only Alex Rodriguez (the consensus best draft prospect ever).
Vaughn is the most polished hitter in the class, and his numbers have rivalled Kris Bryant’s epic 2013 stats at San Diego. His value is diminished as a first baseman, but his bat will play for a long time.
Bleday is college baseball’s Christian Yelich, in the sense that he’s always been a great hitter who all of a sudden figured out how to tap into his power.
Who else has been picked at this spot in the past?
Obviously, there have been some terrific players selected with the first overall pick. The obvious standout is Alex Rodriguez, an inner-circle Hall of Famer on statistics alone who has been kept out of baseball immortality thanks to his connections to steroid usage. Right behind him in career WAR among number one picks is Ken Griffey, Jr. and Chipper Jones, two of the best players ever.
Other successful players taken at the top include Joe Mauer, Adrian Gonzalez, David Price, Darryl Strawberry, Harold Baines, Justin Upton, B.J. Surhoff, Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Carlos Correa and Gerrit Cole.
The only former Orioles top pick was LSU pitcher Ben McDonald in 1989.
What will be expected of the selection right away?
This could go one of two ways. Among the four players reportedly being considered, only one is a high schooler. Witt would likely go to Aberdeen to play with the short-season affiliate.
The other three, as polished collegiate hitters, could all theoretically move through the system quickly. Vaughn looks like a Major League-caliber bat right now, and Rutschman could be one of the better catchers in baseball by this time next year.
That said, there’s no reason to rush if you’re the Orioles. Tellingly, Mike Elias has shown a lot of patience with his talented young players, so it would be reasonable to expect any of Vaughn, Rutschman or Bleday to begin their Oriole careers with Low-A Delmarva, with a good chance of starting the 2020 season with High-A Frederick and reaching Double-A Bowie next summer, if things go well.
MORE 2019 MLB DRAFT COVERAGE: