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ST. PETERSBURG, Florida—Three years ago, Oriole fans couldn’t stop talking about the team’s second overall No. 1 draft pick in team history. Most draft experts thought the Orioles would take Adley Rutschman, though some felt Texas high school shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. was the best choice.
The Orioles took Rutschman with the first pick, and the Kansas City Royals, picking second, took Witt.
With the unexpected success of the 2022 Orioles, there’s not nearly as much attention being paid to this year’s top pick, and there’s even more uncertainty.
On July 9th, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said that the team had five players under consideration. They’re thought to be Georgia high school outfielder Druw Jones, Georgia high school infielder Termarr Johnson, Oklahoma high school infielder Jackson Holliday, Florida high school outfielder Elijah Green, and Cal Poly shortstop Brooks Lee.
According to odds released on Saturday by SportsBetting.ag, and BetOnline.ag, Lee is the favorite to be the overall first choice in Sunday’s draft, followed by Jones, Holliday and Johnson.
After the 2021 draft, when the Orioles selected outfielder Colton Cowser with the No. 5 pick, early mock drafts had Green as the early favorite though Lee had been mentioned, too. Lee is the only college player of the five, and the 21-year-old has had two excellent seasons at Cal Poly, where he played for his father, Larry, the head coach.
After missing most of 2020 because of knee surgery and the pandemic, Lee bounced back sharply.
This season in 58 games, Lee hit .357 with 15 home runs and 55 RBIs, with a 1.126 OPS. He walked nearly twice as often as he struck out (46 to 28). In 2021, Lee hit .342 with 10 homers and 57 RBIs and a 1.010 OPS.
If Lee is the Orioles’ choice, it would be the fourth straight year Elias has selected a college position player (Rutschman in 2019, outfielder Heston Kjerstad in 2020 and Cowser in 2021).
The Orioles have the 33rd, 42nd and 67th picks in the first day of the draft. The 33rd pick is the competitive balance A round, the 42nd the first choice of the second round, and the 67th is the competitive balance B round pick the Orioles received in the trade with Miami for relievers Tanner Scott and Cole Sulser.
A year ago, there was thought that the Orioles should take Vanderbilt pitcher Kumar Rocker with the fifth pick, if he was available. He was, and they passed on him, and Rocker fell to the New York Mets with the 10th pick.
Rocker and the Mets didn’t agree on a contract because of a physical issue, and he’s back in the draft.
The Orioles, who haven’t taken a pitcher earlier than the fifth round in Elias’ first three drafts, could find Rocker there at 33, but according to Baseball America’s latest mock draft, Rocker is expected to be selected 13th by the Los Angeles Angels.
Baseball America has Holliday as the top pick with Lee at six for Miami.
MLB Pipeline predicts Jones will be the first choice.
There’s no consensus top pick this season, and perhaps Lee is the betting favorite because he’s the top-rated college position player in many rankings, and Elias has a record of selecting college position players with the first pick.
The Orioles have $16,924,000 to spend on their top pick. The slot value for the top pick is $8,442,200, and while the Orioles signed Kjerstad with the second pick and Cowser with the fifth for under the suggested slot, there’s no indication that the Orioles will do that again on Sunday night.
This could be the last year the Orioles have a high draft pick for a while. There will be a new draft lottery for next year, and if the Orioles continue playing well, they won’t have much chance of gaining the top pick in the new weighted draft lottery, which will include all the non-playoff teams.
If the Orioles end up selecting Lee with the first choice instead of one of the more publicized high school stars, fans should know that the team’s top pick was named after the most beloved of all Orioles, Brooks Robinson.
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