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The Orioles are in an unfamiliar position heading into Sunday night’s draft. Their first pick isn’t until the 17th selection, the lowest they’ve picked since taking left-handed pitcher DL Hall at 21 in 2017, and if the Orioles aren’t sure who they’re picking, and they’re not, neither are the various mock drafts.
MLB Pipeline’s Jonathan Mayo has the Orioles selecting Stanford shortstop Tommy Troy while The Athletic’s Keith Law sees them picking right-handed pitcher Ty Floyd from LSU.
ESPN.com’s Kiley McDaniel forecasts the Orioles taking Florida high school shortstop George Lombard Jr., the son of former major leaguer and current Detroit Tigers bench coach George Lombard.
A year ago, the Orioles grabbed Oklahoma high school shortstop Jackson Holliday, the son of another longtime major leaguer, Matt Holliday, with the overall No. 1 selection.
Baseball America’s Carlos Collaza foresees the Orioles taking another Florida high school shortstop, Arjun Nimmala.
FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen has the Orioles connected with still another high school shortstop, Colin Houck, who’s from Georgia.
CBS Sports’ Mike Axisa thinks the Orioles will draft Oregon high school right-hander Noble Meyer.
Two mock drafts have the Orioles landing Florida right-hander Hurston Waldrep, Bleacher Report’s Joe Tansey and The Sporting News’ Edward Sutelan.
Both McDaniel and Mayo’s colleague, Jim Callis, earlier linked the Orioles with Waldrep. McDaniel, whose draft includes a second round, has the Orioles taking Long Island high school right-hander Josh Knoth.
The Orioles have $10,534,800 to spend in their draft pool, and their first pick’s slotted value is $4,169,700. Their other first day picks are the 53rd and 63rd selections.
Who will they spend the money on? In a meeting with reporters last week, Brad Ciolek, the director of draft operations said the Orioles were considering at least 20 players with the first pick, though on Thursday executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said the Orioles were focusing on 10-to-12.
“It’s a very deep draft in terms of the composition. A lot of folks saw what the power arms did at [the College World Series in] Omaha, whether it’s Hurston Waldrep, [LSU’s] Paul Skenes, [Wake Forest’s] Rhett Lowder,” Ciolek said.
“There’s a lot to like on that front. The college hitting board is very good as well. I know that’s obviously been our flavor the last few years here, and then, the high school infield demographic is very good, a lot of polished high school hitters in terms of plate discipline, a thing we also like about that crop.”
Skenes is predicted to go among the top few picks, and mock drafts also have Crowder being snapped up long before the Orioles get their chance.
Waldrep could be available at 17, and Ciolek, who has said he has seen all the top prospects multiple times, likes what he saw.
“It’s kind of hard to ignore when guys perform on the big national stage, like in Omaha,” he said. “That is always in the back of your mind. I think if you look at what happened last year with Cade Horton out of Oklahoma. He made himself a Top 10 selection based on how he pitched down the stretch.
“With that said, I think we always try to take the entire body of work into account, ultimately how they start just as well as how they finish. Waldrep is a unique talent. It’s fun to watch him. He’s got four pitches.
“His secondaries are lethal. He’s got a split that he’s got a remarkable feel for, two breaking balls that he will double and triple up with, a fastball that sits 95 to 98. He’s a very intriguing starting pitching prospect. We’ll be discussing him as well as other guys as well. I’m curious to see where it goes as well.”
The Orioles haven’t taken a pitcher in the first two rounds under Elias and Ciolek, and while there are nine pitchers among the Orioles’ Top 30 prospects only two, Carter Baumler, an Iowa high school pitcher ,and Justin Armbruester, now at Triple-A Norfolk, were drafted by this group.
Armbruester was selected in the 12th round of the 2021 draft, a year when the Orioles drafted only one pitcher, Carlos Tavera (5th) in the first 10 rounds, but the Orioles took seven pitchers from rounds 11-20.
Last year, the Orioles drafted Nolan McLean in the third round, but he wasn’t signed because of medical concerns. Between rounds seven and 20, they drafted nine pitchers.
“I would say there’s always room for improvement, but so far there have been a lot of positives in terms of the guys we have taken,” Ciolek says. “I think Justin Armbruester is a really good case of that. He’s at Triple-A … There are other guys that have done well as well, so we’re going to continue to hone in on that, whether it’s round two or round 20.”
With outfielder Colton Cowser’s arrival in the majors this week, six of Elias’ picks have played in the major leagues (Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, Kyle Stowers and Joey Ortiz from 2019, Jordan Westburg from 2020, and Cowser, the fifth overall pick in 2021. No pitcher is in that group.
“I think we always keep our mind open,” Ciolek said. “Obviously, you guys have a scouting report on what we look for in terms of our first-round selection, but there are some pretty intriguing arms. There’s a few college arms. There are also a couple of high school arms that have our attention. We typically do lean to the college demographic, but we are open to all possible scenarios in this case.”
As Elias said on Thursday, the Orioles aren’t going to draft for need even thought they don’t have a top-shelf pitching prospect. (Grayson Rodriguez has pitched too many major league innings to be listed among top prospects.)
“The bottom line is we want the best player regardless of the situation, regardless of what the 40-man roster might look like a couple years from now,” Ciolek said. “It is in the back of your mind, there is, a little bit of, I don’t want to say a bottleneck, but there’s a lot of qualified guys up in Triple-A and Double-A that a lot of clubs looking at our system would like to have in our system.”
When the draft telecast begins at 7 p.m., the Orioles won’t be picking quickly, and that will test their patience.
“It’s going to be a little bit different kind of anxiety,” Ciolek said. “It’s the stressful buildup. We have to wait for 16 teams to go in front of us to make our pick but looking forward to it.”
Note: Holliday struck out in his only at-bat and Heston Kjerstad was 1-for-2 in Saturday night’s Futures Game.
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