The Orioles have picked in the top five in their last five drafts. This year, they’ll pick 17th. The draft begins on July 9th and continues on July 10th and 11th. Jim Callis, senior writer for MLB Pipeline, talked about the Orioles’ draft strategy this year.
This interview has been edited for brevity.
Question: How do the Orioles approach changing from picking near the top of the draft to 17th?
Jim Callis: “Even in 2018, they picked pretty high. They picked 11. Our discussion has been essentially: ‘Are the Orioles going to take the best player? Or are they going to look for discounts to spread money around? That’s been the question.
“Now they’re picking 17th, it doesn’t really change how you approach it. I bet the Orioles would say the same thing. If you line up the players, and in the past they were picking at the top and they knew they were going to get one of the very best players or have the ability to take a guy who wasn’t a consensus top guy and move money around.
“The few they did that with, Heston Kjerstad and Colton Cowser, look like really good players. It’s really the same thing. They’re going to line up the players. You aren’t going to get your Adley Rutschman or Jackson Holliday. I think the biggest difference is instead of having a pretty reasonable idea of who was going to get to you because there aren’t too many teams in front of you, now you just don’t know.
“You line them up, and at 17, you may get the eighth guy on your board or you may get the 15th guy on your board, depending on how your board stacks up against the consensus. Realistically, you don’t approach it any differently. You line up the players and you bat around the different possibilities. Like every team, they’ll consider, which guys will we take at full slot? If all those guys are off the board, we push some money down? It definitely is a different feel. You’re not walking away with [LSU outfielder] Dylan Crews or [LSU pitcher] Paul Skenes this year.
Q: Who do you think they take this year?
Callis: “I don’t think it’s necessarily a specific demographic, like a college bat. Let’s say the draft unfolds according to chalk, and the guys you think are going to be gone are gone. It’s a weird draft for pitchers. Paul Skenes could go No. 1 out of LSU and then the next two college guys are [Wake Forest pitcher] Rhett Lowder and [Tennessee pitcher] Chase Dollander in either order. I don’t think they’re going to get anywhere close to Baltimore. I think everybody from 11, 12, 13, 15, 16 all hopes one of those guys falls to them and they’re not going to. [Florida’s Hurston] Waldrep’s the fourth guy, and then there might not be another college pitcher taken in the first round. I keep giving them Hurston Waldep at 17.
“To be honest, and part of that might be, I feel like they need pitching more than hitting. I think they have interest in him. I don’t know that he’s definitely their guy. You don’t draft for need. That wouldn’t be overdrafting him, but the fit. Look at all the young position players they have. They can use pitching.
“If it’s not Waldrep, I keep coming up with high school hitters, which is not so much that the Orioles are targeting high school hitters as that’s going to be the strength of the draft at that point of the draft. There are younger guys like Arjun Nimmala the high school shortstop from Florida, Aidan Miller, he’s a high school third baseman from Florida who is the best hitter on the Showcase Circuit. He’s had a broken hamate this year. People are knocking him down because they didn’t get to see him play, but they saw him rake all last summer. You know he can hit.
“Those guys may not make it to 17. Blake Mitchell, a high school catcher. There’s a bias against high school catchers. He might sneak in the top 10 or go in the twenties, but he’d be a really good value. Bryce Eldridge from Northern Virginia, he’s the best two-way player in the draft. He’s going to be drafted as a hitter. I hear those names a lot.
“I also hear some college bats. If you buy into that the Orioles like college performers, the best college performer on a purely statistical basis this year is a first baseman/outfielder from Florida Atlantic named Nolan Schanuel. He may not even make it to the Orioles, but I hear his name.
“[Outfielder] Chase Davis from Arizona seems like he’s got a lot of buzz recently and moving into the middle of the first round somewhere. It could be a guy that I think goes ahead of them and falls. I tell you another college bat that’s interesting is Matt Shaw of Maryland and Tommy Troy of Stanford are two shortstops that seem to be on the rise, who may or may not get to 17.”
Q: Under Mike Elias, the Orioles have not drafted a pitcher in the first round. Could they do it this year?
Callis: “I’m convinced if they thought he was the best guy, they would. This is also a different situation. You don’t draft purely for need, but the Orioles are in a different cycle now. This isn’t the downtrodden Orioles perennially finishing way out of first place in the AL East. They’re a legitimate playoff contender and right now, they’d be the first wild-card.
“They have a better record than anybody in the Central. Going forward, rebuilding’s done. The window’s open for at least the next five years. The Orioles have all this young talent. They have all this young talent coming. They seemingly have lots of room to add payroll, if they want to do that.
“I wouldn’t be shocked if we saw them take pitching. It’s not a great pitching draft, but it would not shock me to see them take Hurston Waldrep at 17. There’s no way it really happens, but if Rhett Lowder or Chase Dollender got to 17, I think the Orioles would take that guy in one second, but it probably wouldn’t happen. It’s different now. This is not the Orioles rebuilding, when is it going to come to fruition. They’re contending now and they’re not going to stop contending for a while.”
Q: is there another team that’s been built so successfully through the draft?
Callis: “The Cubs used a lot of early picks on position players, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ, Albert Almora. I thought the Cubs in the middle of the previous decade had one of the best collection of young position player talent I’ve ever seen, and now you liken them to the Orioles.
“They had the No. 1 prospect in baseball in Adley Rutschman. Then they had the No. 1 prospect in baseball in Gunnar Henderson. Now they have the current No. 1 prospect in baseball in Jackson Holliday, and that’s not even mentioning all the other position players. It kind of reminds me of that.
“The Cubs made some trades, too, and the Cubs traded for Jake Arrieta and they traded for Kyle Hendricks. I think even the Cubs will tell you they didn’t know those guys were going to be as good as they were, and that was huge. They stole some pitchers, too, one of them from the Orioles. The Orioles haven’t made a move like that yet. The Orioles have a lot to trade. Maybe they will. Maybe they will steal some frontline players from guys. Those Cubs teams are the first team that comes to mind.”