And With the 5th Pick, the O’s Select….

Recently, I participated in a MLB Mock Draft with @prospectslive and their staff of writers.

The picks have already started ahead of us. The time to add another exciting and talented piece to the rebuild is quickly approaching. One by one they get to Baltimore’s selection, the 5th overall. Here’s what happened, and my thinking behind my pick…

Finally the product of the team’s research and scouting became Sam Houston St outfielder Colton Cowser, a lefty hitter who throws right.

Thrilled to get my guy, I expected there to be criticism as not everyone shares the same vision for the organization. But this pick came a from careful and focused effort that required months of buildup. There are plenty of supporters who give in to the common perception that the Oriole front office led by Mike Elias would never take a star college pitcher. If Jack Leiter is there at pick 5, they’ll probably be proven wrong. In this mock draft I would have done the same, but he wasn’t and I didn’t expect him to be.

If you look at the results of a few recent drafts, signing periods and trades you can move over to the organizational depth chart and feel good about several position groups. There is competition and talent all over the infield and on the mound, enough to make the rotations and bullpens at several levels stand out. The outfield is most certainly not a wasteland, and more players will be added to the mix as soon as next week when rookie leagues begin. Lamar Sparks is an exciting name who just started his climb. Kyle Stowers has shown signs and was bumped up to Bowie with his uppercut swing leading the way. Even Yusniel Diaz has had some productive at-bats leading to positive results recently. But my confidence in there being a natural, instinctive star outfielder on this team is low.

Watching Cowser’s first step (off an aluminum bat) changes that confidence immediately. Seeing the routes he takes towards balls in the air, he’s not at the level of O’s farmhand Zach Watson but he’s not far off and can change his stride depending on the type of contact the hitter makes. That may seem insignificant, but the Orioles’ future aces do not profile as ground ball guys when they get non-strikeout outs. They get hit into the air often. And while fly ball outs might not seem like a reason to pick one player over another with more upside, that up-the-middle defense is of value to me and I trust the future at shortstop and second.

I found out that the O’s had a player in their ranks who has a friendship with Cowser and he gave me the full recommendation including a scouting report. Hit tool was emphasized. The second wave of the rebuild (players 20 or below) needs an offensive nucleus around Gunnar Henderson, Darell Hernaiz, Elio Prado, and Coby Mayo, and that group needs a high walk table setter who sees lots of pitches. To me, that’s Cowser with his college total of walks slightly exceeding his K’s 76 to 70. For reference, last year’s top selection at number 2 overall Heston Kjerstad had 54 walks and 129 strikeouts for a much different looking profile.

Diving deeper into a stats comparison between Kjerstad and Cowser shows a lot of surprising similarities. Kjerstad played tougher competition, perhaps the best and more games overall, 150 to Colton’s 125. Heston finished school with 37 HR/129 RBI/137 R and a slash of .343/.421/.590 and was widely considered college’s best hitter. Cowser wrapped up his days in Bearkat Orange with 24HR/112RBI/125R slashing .354/.460/.602 plus 31/36 in stolen bases.

The two aren’t that different except for the speed and BB:K ratio, both of which favor Cowser significantly.

So checking boxes, Cowser has the numbers, the experience, the skill set and plays a position that needs reinforcement and depth. There’s another serious reason to take a look at this player picking fifth and that’s money. A pick of Cowser here should register as under-slot and save the team several hundred thousand dollars to allocate to talent throughout the draft instead of a top heavy approach that could constrict that.

On its own that doesn’t seem impactful but think about the 2020 draft class of Anthony Servideo, Jordan Westburg, Carter Baumler, Coby Mayo and their bright future then realize that it was the Kjerstad savings that led to all of them being selected by a no doubt pleased scouting/developmental team.

Looking at the other potential draftees, I think I’d be a fool to not choose Leiter. His offspeed stuff isn’t nearly as refined as the heat and there are some slight usage issues and/or delivery imperfections but he looks really good and again he’d have been the top choice. Then Louisville catcher Henry Davis popped up in highlights and videos and I saw him play a few games too. Everything about his offensive skill set screams pedigree. His athleticism seems a bit limited for what the Orioles have been picking but he was the closest non-Cowser choice in my mind. Kumar Rocker is a big name, I don’t see the O’s taking a college pitcher high here and I don’t think he’d be the one to break the teams trend that way anyway. The 3 high school SS; Lawler, Mayer and Watson were very appealing because of a desire to add to that lower level nucleus forming at Delmarva and below but that type of thinking did influence my second pick, at number 41.

Adding a slugging outfielder would both increase competition at the position and potentially display Camden Yards future cleanup hitter so I selected a player who would require some cash saved from pick #1, James Wood. Wood is 6-6, lefty and blessed with the kind of athleticism and strength that could be once-in-a-generation. The reports on his instincts and approach to the game are overwhelming and I see him as a rookie league cleanup hitter batting 5 behind Mayo as early as this July. Prepping at IMG there were times when he was the most impressive non-college amateur hitter in the country and there were times where his large strike zone was exploited consistently. However the quick-twitch skills have remained through the beginning of his adult weight gain and there are more lbs to come which, if the power skills stick around mean lots of deep shots towards the warehouse one day. I was sweating him being there for a while and had my eyes on other players but the wait from 5 to 41 was tough and as names started flying off, I wanted to secure that under 20 talent and could afford it.

Last year’s draft and college free agency brought the infielders and this one to me should bring some outfield help both sooner later. Valuing versatility is one thing and I see it as positive. But as an improving organization, the time to stop trying infielders at outfield is nearing. Let Adam Hall and Jahmai Jones only drill in the dirt where they’ve been playing most of their professional careers.

This was such an enjoyable overall experience (except the waiting while players I wanted went to smart teams like the Rays) but doing the research, reading and video watching is the real fun part. I know the Orioles staff puts in so much research and debate to come to these franchise level decisions and after practicing it I have lots of respect for different ways of thinking when it comes to adding talent. No matter which way the O’s go, fans can be confident that the arrow is clearly pointed up. Hopefully a successful trade deadline just weeks from now will bring in even more skilled players to the mix.

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