In the baseball draft, as in its NFL counterpart, general managers like to say that they’re looking for the best available athlete. As Wednesday’s first round approaches, Mike Elias, who’ll make the selection for the Orioles, doesn’t have a specific model of player he’s looking for with the second overall choice.
“We want to do well with the pick,” Elias said in a video conference on Monday.
“With the baseball draft, even when you’re picking high, there are no guarantees, and the odds of your pick returning almost no value are enough to consider that possibility. Even high in the draft, we don’t think too much about positional need or context like that. We’re trying to make the best investment that we can.”
Two potential choices of the Orioles, third baseman/outfielder Austin Martin of Vanderbilt and New Mexico State middle infielder Nick Gonzales, play positions of need for the Orioles.
With a team that lost 223 games in the previous two seasons, there aren’t many positions that don’t need shoring up.
“You can only pick among what the draft is offering that year,” Elias said.
In 2019, it was a weak year for pitchers, and the Orioles didn’t choose one until the eighth round. From 2016-2018, the Orioles chose 11 pitchers with their first 15 selections.
Last season, the Orioles selected catcher Adley Rutschman with the first overall selection.
“There are really good players and really good talents this year, and we’re going to make a really good pick,” Elias said. “We’re treating them as individuals and comparing them one against the other.”
The Orioles’ six draft choices — once they’re signed — and any additional undrafted players who sign contracts for no more than $20,000 won’t have minor leagues to play in because of Covid-19.
“It’s not ideal,” Elias said. “I think that every team across baseball is getting hurt by this on a number of levels. There are economic impacts and all kinds of ramifications to the sport, but if you’re a team that’s not rebuilding, your window might be closing and you may be missing out on your players maximizing their playing time during this competitive window.
“For a team that’s rebuilding like ours, the repetitions at the minor and major league level for young players is not occurring. The only consolation is that every team is in the same boat. I try to keep a glass is half-full attitude about the draft. I’m happy that we have our high picks, that we’re getting our top five rounds in.”
Elias was hoping for a longer draft.
“It’s not that we can’t add players to the system beyond the fifth round,” Elias said. “We feel like we’re good at picking late. Last year, we took a lot of good pitchers on the second day of the draft and really bolstered our system and saw that they pitched well at Aberdeen.”
He said that the Orioles expected to be aggressive in signing the undrafted free agents.
“I don’t know what that number is going to be,” Elias said. “I don’t know how these kids are going to make their decisions. Nobody knows how that’s going to go and that process won’t start until two days after the draft is over.”
Once the quiet period is over, the Orioles are ready for it, Elias believes.
“We’ve got recruiting materials prepared,” he said. “In terms of video and some written materials about the opportunity that exists in our system. We want to wait and let the draft happen first and see who gets drafted, but we’ve had relationships that we’ve been building with these kids as an amateur scouting department. The player development department is involved as well.
“We think this is a terrific place to come sign if you’re an undrafted free agent for a number of reasons. We’re on the cutting edge of player development. We have a lot of track record and success with player development. We saw a big step forward from our players last year.”
Elias said that the Orioles continue to evolve.
“This is a rebuild that’s focused on homegrown players,” he said. “The opportunity to not only get better, but actually play for the major league team and graduate to the big leagues and play for the Orioles is much greater here than it would be at a club that’s not undergoing that strategy.”
As for the difficulties the nation is facing, Elias tries to stay optimistic.
“It’s tough to watch everything that’s happening this year,” Elias said. “This is a horrible year so far. I hope that we can change the story of this year before it’s over. I hope that baseball is a big part of that, coming back.”
John Miller Dies: John Miller, who pitched for the Orioles’ 1966 World Series championship team, has died at 79.
Miller, a Baltimore native who went to Edmondson High School, was 12-14 with a 3.89 ERA in five seasons with the Orioles. He started 16 games in both 1965 and 1966.
After his baseball career, which was shortened by a shoulder injury, Miller served as a Baltimore County firefighter for 28 years.