When Mike Elias became head of baseball operations for the Orioles in November 2018, he found that the club was bereft of infield prospects. That was something he changed quickly.
In his first four Oriole drafts, the team has selected nine infielders in the first five rounds, including Gunnar Henderson, who was their second-round pick behind Adley Rutschman in 2019. Jordan Westburg and Connor Norby were their second-round picks in 2020 and 2021, and shortstop Jackson Holliday was the first overall pick this year.
Those picks have paid off. Henderson, who made his major league debut in late August, remains the Orioles’ top prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, and he’ll be the early favorite for American League Rookie of the Year in 2023.
Holliday and Westburg are the third and fifth overall prospects, and third baseman Coby Mayo, who was the Orioles’ fourth-round selection in the 2020 draft, is seventh.
Norby is rated 11th. Third baseman Max Wagner, who was drafted in the third round this year, shortstops Darell Hernaiz (fifth round, 2019), Joey Ortiz (fourth round, 2019) and international signee César Prieto are ranked 15th-18th.
Of those nine draft picks, only Anthony Servideo, another infielder, who was their third-round pick in 2020, isn’t among the top 30 prospects. Injuries have limited Servideo to 44 games in 2021 and 2022.
Prieto, a Cuban defector who was signed in January and combined for a .273 average in 115 games at High-A Aberdeen and Double-A Bowie and is in the Arizona Fall League, is the first of the Orioles’ international signees to play in the high minors.
Three other international shortstops — Frederick Bencosme, Maikol Hernández and Leandro Arias — and Carter Young, an overslot signing from Vanderbilt who was drafted in the 17th round this year, are also in the top 30.
Westburg, who doesn’t have to be placed on the 40-man roster until a year from now, and Ortiz reached Triple-A Norfolk.
Henderson is already with the Orioles, and the team has Jorge Mateo, who was named the Fielding Bible’s top defensive shortstop, and Ramón Urías, a Gold Glove finalist at third base.
While the Orioles have drafted infielders and a slew of outfielders in the last four drafts, they haven’t taken many pitchers. The highest pitcher taken in Elias’ four years was third-rounder Nolan McLean this year, and the Orioles were unable to sign him.
DL Hall, who made his major league debut in August, and Grayson Rodriguez, the top pitching prospect in baseball, were the Orioles’ top draft picks in 2017 and 2018, but most of the pitchers on the Orioles’ Top 30 list weren’t Oriole draft picks.
Seth Johnson, Chayce McDermott and Cade Povich, ranked 10th, 13th and 14th, were acquired in trades. Johnson and McDermott came from Tampa Bay and Houston in exchange for Trey Mancini, and Povich was the key acquisition from Minnesota in the deal that sent All-Star closer Jorge López to the Twins in August.
As Elias prepares for next week’s General Managers meetings in Las Vegas, he may attempt to find out how much interest other GMs have in Oriole infielders.
While Elias has been aggressive in trading players nearing free agency or in the latter stages of arbitration eligibility, he has yet to deal one of the players he has picked in the draft.
The Orioles could begin 2023 with Henderson at third, Mateo at shortstop and Urías as a utility player. It’s possible that Westburg, who was named the organization’s top minor league player, could be the Opening Day second baseman.
Ortiz, who hit .346 with a .967 OPS in 26 games at Norfolk after his promotion from Bowie, may not be far behind Westburg, but there might not be a spot for him.
The Orioles also have Terrin Vavra, who hit .258 in 40 games.
The Orioles would like to add experienced starters, and if they don’t pick up Jordan Lyles’ $11 million option for 2023, they’ll have to look at free agents or at the trade market.
If they trade, it will be interesting to see if teams value the Orioles’ infield or outfield prospects.
They could always attempt to trade some of their more experienced outfielders, but if they’re looking to pick up the eight or 10 additional wins they’ll probably need to make the postseason, they’ll need to change their strategy and trade for experience instead of young players in need of additional minor league experience.
Elias has picked up many pitching prospects over the last few years but has yet to acquire an experienced major league pitcher in a trade. Not every Oriole prospect will turn out to be a major league regular, but it seems they have a large number of infield candidates. Finding out their value could be an interesting experiment during the next few months.