Ben McDonald talks about the Orioles' draft and a possible blueprint - BaltimoreBaseball.com

2020 MLB Draft

Ben McDonald talks about the Orioles’ draft and a possible blueprint

Photo Credit: Joy R. Absalon

Ben McDonald was chosen by the Orioles as the first overall pick in the 1989 Major League Baseball draft. After pitching seven seasons for them and two for the Milwaukee Brewers, he began a career in broadcasting. McDonald analyzes Orioles games on MASN and 105.7 The Fan and also works on ESPN and the SEC Network.

McDonald discussed the Orioles’ draft last week. The interview has been edited for length.

Question: Were you surprised that the Orioles chose Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad with their first pick instead of Vanderbilt infielder Austin Martin?

McDonald: “I was surprised because it seemed like in every poll that was out there, every projection that was out there, everybody had the Orioles taking Martin at No. 2, but looking back now on my conversations with [general manager] Mike Elias, and seeing him around the SEC schools last year scouting and looking at these players, it wasn’t a total shock.

“A lot of people didn’t even have Kjerstad in the top five picks that the Orioles may take. I remember tweeting back to somebody, ‘Don’t sleep on Heston Kjerstad.’

“I remember watching Heston Kjerstad over the years. I felt like he was the best left-handed bat in college baseball. When he stepped on campus in Fayetteville, he hit 13 homers as a freshman, then he backed it up with 17 in his sophomore year and was on place to hit 23, 24 home runs [this year], which would have led the SEC by far, which we talk about as the best conference in college baseball.

“To me, it wasn’t a total shock. I get it. I can poke some holes in all these kids that we talked about. Kjerstad’s defense to me has to get a little bit better. Some of the routes he took to the baseball that I saw him take over the last 2 ½ years weren’t great, but I think that with enough reps, he can overcome that because it’s an average big league arm.

“There’s some pop there. He’s going to hit home runs at the big league level. There’s no doubt in my mind. He’s a guy that’s going to stick in the outfield. He’s going to stay there, and he’s going to hit for average, too because he’s hit for average every year in a very difficult conference.

“There’s some swing-and-miss there, and that needs to improve a little bit, but in today’s game, swing-and-miss doesn’t seem to be a big shocker to anybody.”

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Q: Did you like Martin as a player?

A: “You could have the guy No. 2 overall. You want to be able to say, ‘He’s my third baseman. He’s my shortstop. He’s my centerfielder of the future. He’s my No. 3 starter in the rotation. Austin Martin didn’t really have a position because he never showed me that he could play the left side of the infield at the big league level because of his arm strength.

“I may be wrong, and his arm strength gets better. I tell people, ‘The Orioles weren’t the only team to pass on him.’ If he was that great, and everybody thought that much about him, why did two other clubs pass on him, too, before he was finally taken fifth overall.

“I love Austin Martin. I think he’s a big leaguer all day long. He has some things that Kerstad can’t do. He can steal some bases. He’s a little speedier of a guy. He doesn’t swing-and-miss very often. When you talk about potential production, [Kjerstad’s] going to hit a lot more home runs at the big league level than Austin Martin will.”

Q: After the first day of the draft, Elias talked about how tough a conference the SEC is. Were you pleased that three of the top four picks came from SEC schools?

A: “It’s hard to grade kids. It’s hard to judge them. It’s hard to project them out over time because you want to see them play a high level of baseball, and that’s what’s very difficult about high school kids. You’re almost projecting them on what the radar gun says and how fast they can run.

“College kids, you get a chance to see them perform at higher levels, and the SEC is the highest level there is in college baseball, and some of these kids are Team USA guys where you’re able to grade them out against tougher competition over the last couple of years.

“I know Mike Elias. He does his homework. It was eerily similar to 2012 when he took [Carlos] Correa No. 1 overall.  and he saved some money. Ultimately, that’s what I think is going to end up happening. You’ll get Kjerstad for a little bit less money, and he’ll end up poring it in to the back end. I think the fifth and sixth picks have been signed for way over slot value.

“Mike has said he wants to inject as much talent into the Orioles as quickly as he can. I wish in the third round, we would have grabbed [Georgia right-hander] Cole Wilcox along the way. I knew he had a huge number, but I felt like that might be a possibility. He went [Hudson] Haskin instead, the outfielder from Tulane. I know a lot about Anthony Servideo, I’ve seen him play a good bit. I’ve seen Jordan Westburg play, but all in all, it was a very solid draft for the Orioles.”

Q: Were you surprised that the Orioles waited until their last pick to choose a pitcher?

A: “I was, a little bit. The strength of the Orioles’ minor league system is obviously the pitching. There’s some real stars down there, Grayson Rodriguez, [DL] Hall and some other guys. If we talk about the Orioles and what their strength is in the minor leagues, there’s some outstanding position players down there, too.

“It’s eerily similar to what Mike has done with Houston in the past. He really went position player heavy, and then he added some pitchers, some free agents when they really felt they had a chance to win. Maybe that’s the blueprint again.

“I know there are some good arms out there that I really liked in the third and fourth round that I’d seen a lot. I was hoping they were going to go in that direction because I didn’t know that much about Haskin, and the two high school kids [Coby] Mayo and  [Carter] Baumler.

“Mayo sounds like a really nice athlete and a kid that’s very big, and he’s athletic.

“I was a little bit surprised that they didn’t go with a pitcher because there were some really nice arms still on the board. At the end of the day, you’ve really got to trust Mike Elias and the front office and the direction they’re going.

“Mike’s got a blueprint, and it worked pretty well in Houston, and I think he’s going to stick with that blueprint. He didn’t have a whole lot of success with early-round pitching prospects in Houston, but he had a ton of success with position players. I think they did their homework. Next year might be a different story. It might be a really pitcher-heavy draft for the Orioles next year.”

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. dakhd1

    June 18, 2020 at 8:18 am

    Ben, thanks for your candid insight.
    Best, Don

  2. willmiranda

    June 18, 2020 at 10:11 am

    Why is everyone so blithe about Kjerstad’s swing-and-miss problems? Yet many have
    no problem keeping Mountcastle in the minors for that same fault, despite excellent
    productivity. Nor will I mention a certain first faseman. Dave Nicholson, anyone?

    • Rich Dubroff

      June 18, 2020 at 10:45 am

      Will, baseball is much more forgiving about strikeouts than it was in the past.

    • CalsPals

      June 18, 2020 at 10:54 am

      Unfortunately the argument I’ve been hit with non-stop is Mountcastle’s clock starting, I get it, BUT play your best…go O’s…

      • willmiranda

        June 18, 2020 at 3:39 pm

        Thanks, Cals. I’m not arguing with you, and I get the logic in the abstract. But in the O’s case, there
        aren’t multiple young players we’re trying to hold on to. We’re talking about one player and one year
        of “control.” And he’s no Machado. I just think some people are being too clever by half and outsmarting
        themselves. Playing games with the kid’s psyche isn’t a good thing. It just seems they should be burning
        their little grey cells on more important things.

        • OriolesNumber1Fan

          June 19, 2020 at 12:21 pm

          First we need to find a position for Mountcastle to play BEFORE we bring him up. He can hit but he couldn’t handle shortstop or 3rd base. Sounds eerily familiar to a certain draft pick (Austin Martin) the Orioles passed on for the 2nd pick in this draft. The big difference here is five years ago, not under Elias as GM, the Orioles used their second pick on Ryan Mountcastle, who at that time was generally not on any top 200 draft lists. So maybe Elias wants more 2 way athletic players who can play defense. He’s been picking a lot of up the middle type players who could certainly move the the corners more easily, smart move!

          • willmiranda

            June 20, 2020 at 10:34 am

            Yes, indeed, let’s find him a position. There are so many Gold Glovers ahead of him on the roster! The rationalizations are endless, none of them dispositive. I think you’ll have to agree that one thing the New O’s are not good at is finding a single position for players and letting them work at refining their technique. I know you don’t disagree because you point to it as a virtue of the Elias regime.

    • CalsPals

      June 18, 2020 at 4:34 pm

      Totally agree w/you will…go O’s…

      • OriolesNumber1Fan

        June 20, 2020 at 7:08 pm

        Hey Miranda – Let’s get something clear right here. THE REASON Mountcastle IS still in the minors IS because Elias WANTS TO FIND a position for Mountcastle to play while learning it in the minors!!! There are no gold glovers on this team and Elias is trying to change that. And the last thing we need is another DH type player playing out of position on the major league roster so bloggers/posters can b1tch about that there are no gold glovers on this roster.

  3. Bman

    June 18, 2020 at 11:00 am

    Picking up Wilcox would have been nice if they could’ve afforded It. The theme of this draft seemed to be athleticism and power bats. Something severely lacking in the minors.

  4. Eldersburg Enigma

    June 18, 2020 at 1:30 pm

    Ben McDonald is a paid employee of the Orioles organization. Did we actually expect criticism?

    • dlgruber1

      June 18, 2020 at 3:18 pm

      Exactly right. Just about every independent analysis I’ve seen give the O’s a “C” grade at best. Bottom line tho is we won’t know for at least 3-4 years.

      • willmiranda

        June 18, 2020 at 3:44 pm

        If choices are really good or really bad, an A or an F, think we’ll know in a year or two. Otherwise,
        I don’t think the grades mean that much. A B or a C just means they’re doing the expected.

    • Rich Dubroff

      June 18, 2020 at 6:27 pm

      Enigma, I’m well aware that Ben is a team employee, but so is Jim Palmer, and both have valuable insight on pitching.

      Ben has actually seen three of the six draftees, Kjerstad, Westburg and Servideo multiple times as well as Austin Martin, so I thought his insight would be helpful.

      Jim Callis, who I interviewed last month and works for MLB.com, rated their draft as the sixth best of 30 teams.

      Ben did question the decision to not take a pitcher when Wilcox was available.

      As you know, I always say it takes five years to evaluate a draft, and I like to hear thoughts from astute broadcasters, which are what Ben and Jim are, team officials and independent analysts—as well as fans.

  5. DC Skins

    June 18, 2020 at 5:48 pm

    I would have rather had Cole Wilcox at over slot than Baumler as an over slot.

    So replace Wilcox and an underslot in the 5th instead of Servideo and Baumler. We already took a shortstop at 30 so getting a more established SP would have made me more optimistic about the haul.

    • OriolesNumber1Fan

      June 19, 2020 at 11:48 am

      Rumor has it that the Orioles pick of Kjerstad at #2 was made with the Plan A being to take RHP Nick Bitsko with their second pick at #30. Of course Plan A was ruined by the Tampa Bay Rays picking him at #24 so the Orioles went to their Plan B. Now, the Rays may have all of their eggs in the Bitsko basket, since they used picks #57 and #96 on prospects outside the top 100, and their fourth and fifth round picks were not in the top 200 at all just to sign him.

      As far as Cole Wilcox is concerned. The Padres, according to multiple reports, are willing to meet the right-handed pitcher’s demand after selecting three high school players, each rumored to be below-slot-value signings, before choosing Wilcox. Ian Smith, a baseball writer based in Miami, reported he had confirmed a $3.3 million signing bonus for Wilcox, which would be nearly $2.7 million over his third-round slot value.

      As for Austin Martin, it looks like the Jays had to settle for way lesser talent later in the draft for that move, since Martin’s bonus demand is going to be over the #5 slot money. The first signing is a Louisville outfielder named Zach Britton. Britton was not even ranked, and according to MLB’s Jim Callis, he agreed to a signing bonus of $97,500, more than $300,000 below the slot value for that pick. The Jays have also officially signed two other 2020 draft picks including second-round selection CJ Van Eyk, third-round pick Trent Palmer as well. Van Eyk signed for $1.8 million and Palmer for $850,000, both slightly above slot value. If the Jays don’t sign their 4th round pick slotted for $549,000, this leaves just $6,969,000 for the 5th slot of $6,180,700 to sign Martin.

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