Orioles 2020 Draft Primer

MLB is about to embark on the shortest draft in baseball history. In a draft with only five rounds, there will be an increased emphasis on ‘hitting’ on picks to maximize value. While this is always the case, teams with struggling farm systems won’t have the opportunity to replenish the talent pipeline as extensively. The Orioles have a prospect system that is on the rise and is currently Top 15, if not Top 10. The hitch this year will be the undrafted free agents. Normally, with 40 rounds, very few if any undrafted players ever make the major leagues. The rule for this draft is an unlimited number of players can be signed after the draft for a maximum of $20,000. This evens the playing field a bit for the Orioles, as they can’t be outbid and almost assuredly offer a faster path to the big leagues.

Austin Martin of Vanderbilt swings.

However, as it pertains to the draft itself, I have outlined who could be available for the Orioles’ first three picks, as they will be guaranteed at least three Top 40 draft prospects.

Keep in mind, the Orioles have the largest draft pool this year at $13,894,300, which should give them a decent amount of financial flexibility if and when they need it.

Round 1, Pick 2 (2nd Pick Overall)

The consensus in the industry is that Arizona State slugger Spencer Torkelson will be the first selection of this year’s draft. That leaves the Orioles with a bevy of options at pick number two. Mike Elias seems to be evaluating a number of options at 1:2 and the most obvious of those is Vanderbilt’s Austin Martin.

Martin has the best ‘hit’ tool in the class. MLB Pipeline gives Martin a 65 grade (20-80 scouting scale) for his hitting skills, citing his quick swing and efficient bat path. Martin also provides versatility in the field. He’s played the infield the majority of his collegiate career, but many scouts aren’t sure if he’ll end up there. It’s notable to mention, in 2020, albeit a shortened season, Martin played 75% of his games in the outfield. He has enough athleticism to stick in the outfield, and while the Orioles seemingly don’t need any more of those in their system, taking the best player available always is the most prudent strategy.

Other options at the pick include: Asa Lacy, P, Texas A&M, Nick Gonzales, INF, New Mexico St., and Zac Veen, OF, Spruce Creek High School (Florida).

There have been rumors that the Orioles are eyeing up a potential under-slot deal with Gonzales, which would really only make sense if they’re absolutely sure a premium High School talent will fall in the draft. Many scouts feel Gonzales has a special bat, but his numbers could also be inflated as New Mexico State is basically the Coors Field of college baseball. Gonzales produced a .399/.502/.747 slashline in three college seasons, and before this year was shortened due to COVID-19, Gonzales had 12 home runs in 16 games with a 1.765 OPS. He has had to face questions about his true ability for years, but went out and proved it in the Cape Cod League. ‘The Cape’ is a wood bat league and gives scouts a better idea of how a particular prospect may fare in pro ball. He won the Cape Cod League MVP, silencing much of the speculation that he was aided mostly by an aluminum bat and hitter-friendly ballpark.

Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing the Orioles go the route of Zac Veen. He is a younger guy, but to me, a guy with perhaps the most upside of anyone in the draft. I see Cody Bellinger in his swing, as they both use their length to generate power. Veen has strength yet to add and already topping out with a 98 mph (Baseball Factory), he projects nicely to be a really consistent bat at worst. As mentioned before, the Orioles don’t necessarily have a need for more outfield prospects, but if they feel Veen is the best player available, then you take him every time.

The only other person on this list I see worth mentioning as a possibility is Texas A&M southpaw Asa Lacy. Lacy is considered by most to be the best pitcher of the class. He has the frame and the repertoire to be a future all-star. Lacy features two plus breaking balls and a fastball that sits 92-97. I haven’t seen Lacy mocked to the Orioles lately and don’t expect him to be here, but nothing wrong with adding another arm to the DL Halls and Grayson Rodriguezes of the world.

Prediction: Austin Martin

Competitive Balance Round A, Pick 1 (30th Pick Overall)

This pick is very much up in the air. We could see High Schoolers fall, or with a draft so rich with college pitching, the Orioles could simply just see the best player available being the next best college pitcher.

There are many options here, but I’ll zero in on a couple high schoolers and a couple college players. Nick Bitsko, P, Central Bucks East High School and Jared Kelley, P, Refugio High School are two guys I could see slipping somewhat in the draft. They’re currently ranked in MLB Pipeline’s Top 15, but could see a fall if teams choose to go the safer college route.

Other guys I think who realistically could end up at 30 and the Orioles would have interest in would be: Tanner Burns, P, Auburn, Chris McMahon, P, Miami, and Casey Martin, SS, ArkansasBurns may be one of the more sure things in the class. Some speculate that his stuff could already play at the big league level, and for that, could advance through the minors quickly. McMahon could be the big hit or miss of the group. His fastball sits in the mid to upper 90’s and his changeup provides an effective complementary option. However, inconsistencies on the mound may plague his chances of ultimately becoming an upper echelon pro.

Martin perhaps could’ve been a Top 5 pick this year. If scouts hold a recency bias on Martin, he won’t be among the Top 30 picks. Martin struck out 31% of the time in 71 plate appearances to start 2020 and his slugging percentage was down nearly 100 points from his collegiate career numbers. Martin is an interesting case, because he has tools that could play right away (including a 75 grade speed), but putting it all together is the real question. Teams may shy away from him if they see a player who they consider to be more of a sure thing.

Prediction: Nick Bitsko

Round 2, Pick 2 (39th Pick Overall)

There have already been a few names connected to the Orioles at 30 and 39, namely High Schoolers Dax Fulton and Blaze Jordan.

Dax Fulton underwent Tommy John surgery last fall, but before then flashed on the high school circuit. Fulton’s 6’6 frame and lower end velocity perhaps make him a bullpen candidate in pro ball. Blaze Jordan burst on the scene at 15 years old as an internet phenom. While he was dubbed, ‘The Next Bryce Harper,’ back then, now it probably is not the case. Jordan offers no defensive value and will have to become a full time DH to get consistent at bats. So yes, at his ceiling, he could be David Ortiz, but you’re hoping for that on a wing and a prayer. Teams may be salivating at that power potential though, as Jordan is still only 17 and when he connects, the ball is going 500 feet. He still has a lot of growing to do, both physically and technically (refining his baseball acumen), but if you pick Blaze Jordan in this draft, you could end up with a literal home run *ba-dum chhh.*

There are several more options at 39 and it really depends on how the board falls and if the Orioles have enough financial flexibility to go overslot on a high schooler who fell. Keep an eye out for Jordan Walker or Carson Montgomery on that front.

Prediction: Blaze Jordan

When we look back on the 2020 MLB Draft, we may be pretty astounded at how much talent Mike Elias and Brad Ciolek were able to collect with so little selections. The Trey Mancinis (8th Round) and Toby Welks (21st Round) of the world won’t come from this draft, but that just means Orioles fans can really narrow in on the six selections to be made. I’m highly anticipating this year’s draft and hope some of the Top 20 talents fall to 30 and 39…is it wrong to be more excited about picks 30 and 39 over pick 2? No? Just me?

Regardless, I’m excited to look back on this draft five years from now to see how each player ended up. The faster the Orioles build a successful talent pipeline, the faster we will see a winner again in Charm City.

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