While MLB seems to be the league having the most trouble getting off its feet amidst the pandemic, they do at least have a draft coming up that will kick off on June 10th. For a rebuilding team like the Orioles, this is a massive opportunity to inject young talent into the system, with the hopes that some of those players will become critical members of the eventual turnaround.
Last year, GM Mike Elias secured the incredible catching prospect Adley Rutschman with the first overall selection. This year, he’ll look to follow that pick up with another strong talent at number two. While many assume that 1B Spencer Torkelson will go first overall and therefore predict the Orioles will take INF Austin Martin of Vanderbilt, I think things may go a different route this week.
With the uncertainty regarding the COVID-19 situation and the lack of scouting MLB teams have done, observers expect that many high school players will fall in the draft, leading them to sign on with their respective colleges. Typically, this already requires GMs to shell out larger signing bonuses to secure the services of high school prospects, but this year, those offers will be even more expensive. As a result, the better prep players will likely take massive falls.
To that point, with the Orioles also selecting at picks 30 and 39, some of the most highly touted prospects at the high school level may still be available. This could leave Elias wondering whether it’s worth drafting under-slot – meaning picking a player who will require a less expensive bonus – in order to save up to spend more on later picks. There were rumors that the O’s may have done just that heading into the 2019 draft, but Rutschman was simply too strong a prospect to pass on.
This year, however, I believe such a strategy makes sense.
If you consider the tools that Vanderbilt’s Martin has, it’s clear that he’s a very strong hitter with decent speed and a good glove. If you look slightly further down in top prospect lists, however, New Mexico State’s Nick Gonzales is quite similar. He batted over .350 in the Cape Cod League and is rated very highly in that regard, though he may be limited to second base. Still, the Orioles have had success with offensive-minded second basemen before, which could make Gonzales appealing.
In drafting Gonzales, Elias would save valuable cash to secure high school players later on, and I think it’s worth diving into who those guys could be.
First, an extremely intriguing name is SS Ed Howard, an Oklahoma recruit. With a well-rounded skillset and tremendous fielding skills, Howard could be a surefire prospect at short, but of course, his high signing bonus will likely make him fall a bit. MLB Pipeline has him rated as the 15th best prospect in the draft, but if things go Baltimore’s way, many college names could be taken ahead of him.
If Baltimore were to select a college arm or bat at pick-30 and wait for their third selection to go the high school route, two other names are quite intriguing to me.
Third baseman Jordan Walker is one, as he stands 6’5” and is “arguably the best Duke baseball recruit ever,” according to MLB.com. He has decent speed and a strong arm, but his power is his most impressive tool thus far. If the Orioles secured him, he’d be an outstanding young addition to the farm. Next, 17-year old Carter Montgomery is an exciting RHP to consider. Signed to Florida State, Montgomery has an impressive blend of pitches but flaunts a fastball that easily touches 95 mph with regularity. Pulling him away from Tallahassee would be a coup, especially given the circumstances of this year’s draft.
Many teams will shy away from high school prospects in this year’s draft, but I don’t think the Orioles should. To rebuild well you have to make aggressive decisions, and Elias strikes me as the type to do just that. When other GMs zig, electing to take college players, Elias can zag and make the decision to scoop up the best high school players.
There may be more risk involved, but the payoff could be massive.