Because of the absence of live baseball, Wednesday night’s draft has generated much more interest than in the past. Here are some frequently asked questions.
Why is this year’s draft shorter? In 2020, the draft will be just five rounds, down from the customary 40. Teams are looking to save money, and there’s no minor league baseball for draftees to play.
Next year, the minor leagues are likely to be radically different with the Orioles and the other 29 teams losing an affiliated team. It didn’t make sense to add the 30-plus players usually signed of the 41 drafted to a minor league system.
Who will the Orioles draft? The consensus top selection in the draft is Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson, who is expected to be selected by the Detroit Tigers.
In his Monday video conference call, Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias sounded as if he expected the Tigers to take Torkelson.
“Usually when the same player is pegged to the same team in the same list over and over, there’s an outcome that tends to happen,” Elias said. “We’re preparing for all possibilities. The level of mystery surrounding that pick this year seems lower than average.”
With Torkelson off the board, the apparent favorite for the Orioles is Vanderbilt third baseman/outfielder Austin Martin.
If the Orioles go for a pitcher, Texas A&M left-hander Asa Lacy is the top-rated one.
They could also select New Mexico State middle infielder Nick Gonzales or Florida high school outfielder Zac Veen, pay them slightly less than the slot bonus of $7,789,900 and use the savings for a player later in the draft.
Are the Orioles looking for players at specific positions? No, that’s not how Major League Baseball teams draft. Since no player goes directly from the draft into the major leagues, there’s no sure way of telling what the Orioles’ situation at say, third base, will look like in two or three years.
Last year’s draft was light on pitchers, and the Orioles didn’t take one until the eighth round, right-hander Griffin McLarty.
This year, if the Orioles take Martin with the second pick, they could choose pitching with the draft’s 30th pick or with their second round pick, which is 39th overall.
In 2020, besides taking catcher Adley Rutschman with the first overall pick, the Orioles took two other catchers, Maverick Handley (6th) and Jordan Cannon (10th) in the first 10 rounds. They also took Harris Yett in the 32nd round.
With only six selections, it’s probably a safe bet that the Orioles won’t take another catcher in this draft.
Last year, the Orioles also selected three shortstops, Gunnar Henderson (2nd), Joey Ortiz (4th) and Darrell Haraiz (5th) in early rounds. They also loaded up on centerfielders, Kyle Stowers (competitive balance pick), Zach Watson (3rd) and Johnny Rizer (7th).
That doesn’t mean the Orioles will shy away from additional middle infielders or centerfielders. If a player can play shortstop, they likely can play other infield positions, and the same for centerfielders.
Looking to the future, teams are often looking for catchers, shortstops and centerfielders in trades, so it’s not a bad strategy to have a surplus.
Where will those drafted play this year and in 2021? Elias talked about trying to find them competitive games. Perhaps there will be an extended spring training setup, and there’s also been talk about an expanded Arizona Fall League.
It would be interesting to see where a college player drafted in a high round would begin 2021, assuming next year’s schedule is back to normal. If there’s only one short-season team, as is the conventional wisdom, perhaps the high draftees would begin in Low-A.
If high schoolers are drafted, they might be kept in extended spring training in Sarasota next year and then play in short-season ball a year from now.
Of course, we don’t know what the affiliate setup will be for the Orioles.
How many undrafted free agents are expected to sign? That’s hard to say, but Elias indicated the Orioles will be aggressively recruiting undrafted players in a signing period that begins 48 hours after the draft ends on Thursday night.
These players can sign for a maximum of $20,000. If in a normal year, the Orioles sign 30-to-35 players, and perhaps they’ll sign as many as two dozen this season.
High school players who aren’t drafted have the option to go on to college ball, and since the NCAA season was canceled this year, an extra year of eligibility was added, giving college juniors and seniors some leverage.
How quickly can a draft class be evaluated? It takes at least five years. In 2015, the Orioles drafted outfielder DJ Stewart (1st), first baseman/outfielder Ryan Mountcastle (compensation pick), outfielder Ryan McKenna (4th), outfielder Cedric Mullins (13th).
They also have a late-blooming right-handed pitcher, Gray Fenter, whom they picked in the seventh round and has yet to play above Low-A Delmarva because of Tommy John surgery.
Another pitcher, Ryan Meissinger, was an 11th-round pick and made it to the Orioles in 2018 before he was claimed on waivers by St. Louis after the season.