In little more than a month, the Orioles will replace Adley Rutschman in their farm system with another first overall draft pick.
With the new collective bargaining agreement’s draft lottery system not going into effect until next summer, Baltimore’s 52-110 record last year, paired with a tiebreaker against the Arizona Diamondbacks, secured the organization’s second first overall selection in four years after it had the top pick only once in the draft’s first 54 iterations.
It will be executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias’ fourth straight top-five pick since taking charge of the Orioles’ front office. With the previous three, he’s taken college position players, but the top of this year’s amateur crop could see the Orioles draft a high schooler in the first round for the first time since taking right-hander Grayson Rodriguez 11th overall in 2018, their final draft under Dan Duquette. Given the players available, it’s doubtful Baltimore selects a pitcher with this year’s No. 1 pick; they’ve yet to select a pitcher earlier than the fifth round under Elias.
With the second-largest signing bonus pool in draft history — they hold five of the top 81 picks — the Orioles could take the best player available, as they did in 2019 choosing Rutschman with the first pick, or grab a well-regarded prospect expected to go slightly later in the first round to better spread around their pool, the strategy deployed taking Heston Kjerstad second in 2020 and Colton Cowser fifth in 2022.
With the MLB Draft Combine this week in San Diego, here’s a look at the group of players the Orioles are reportedly considering atop the 2022 draft.
Georgia high school outfielder Druw Jones
The son of 10-time Gold Glove outfielder Andruw Jones, Jones has shown the potential to be just as dynamic of a defender in center field. The near-consensus top player in this draft class, Jones’ right-handed bat plays, too, as the Vanderbilt commit could develop into a five-tool talent. With 2019′s top pick, the Orioles took the player regarded as the best available in Rutschman. Drafting Jones would be a repeat of that.
Florida high school outfielder Elijah Green
Listed at 6-foot-3 and upward of 210 pounds, Green boasts power to match that frame, one that could have allowed him to follow the path of his father, former Ravens tight end Eric Green. Despite his size, he’s also regarded as a speedster, with reports that have him as a 70 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale. That could allow him to play center in the long run, though the power profile would also fit in a corner.
Oklahoma high school infielder Jackson Holliday
Yet another pro athlete’s child, the son of seven-time All-Star Matt Holliday has been linked frequently to Baltimore in mock drafts, seen as a possibility should the Orioles decide to use their first pick for cost savings to deploy later in the draft. He played his way to the top of the draft this spring by setting a national record for hits. Holliday is committed to Oklahoma State, where his uncle is the head coach, his dad is an assistant, and both his grandfather and great uncle were once on the coaching staff.
Georgia high school infielder Termarr Johnson
Johnson had a workout at Camden Yards during the Orioles’ most recent homestand. He’s the least physically imposing of the high school crop, listed a few inches below 6-foot, but he’s considered perhaps the top pure hitter among the group, if not the whole draft. A shortstop in high school, he projects as a second baseman in the long run and could become the highest drafted high schooler at that position. The last left-handed-hitting prep infielder Baltimore grabbed with an early pick — Gunnar Henderson — has panned out well, and either Holliday or Johnson would fit that bill.
Cal Poly shortstop Brooks Lee
With a first name that would certainly make him popular in Baltimore, Lee has a game that could do the same. He excelled in the wood bat Cape Cod League last summer, hitting .405 with six home runs in 88 plate appearances. Then, in his redshirt sophomore season, Lee hit .357 with 15 home runs, a 1.125 OPS, a 16.1% walk rate and an impressive 9.8% strikeout rate. A switch-hitter known for his bat-to-ball skills, Lee dealt with back injuries as a high schooler and missed most of his true freshman year with a hamstring injury that required surgery, but he stayed healthy the past two springs.
LSU infielder Jacob Berry
This would be the biggest leap in terms of public draft prospect rankings, and thus likely to be the biggest cost-diverting selection. Ranked seventh among draft prospects by both Baseball America and MLB Pipeline, Berry has an impressive bat but lacks a clear defensive home. The top freshman in the country last season at Arizona, he hit .370/.464/.630 with 15 home runs this year with LSU, with most of the switch-hitter’s power coming from the left side. Primarily a third baseman for the Tigers, Berry’s bat can still profile at first base or designated hitter, though that’s rarely the role of a first overall pick.
Best of the rest
Georgia Tech catcher Kevin Parada hit 26 home runs, but his work behind the plate needs polish. The last time the Orioles had the No. 1 pick, Texas Tech infielder Jace Jung’s brother, Josh, went eighth overall; Jace could follow his brother as a top 10 selection. High schoolers Brock Porter and Dylan Lesko are considered the top pitchers in the class, but a prep right-hander has never gone first overall, and both are more likely to land in the middle of the first round.
What’s to come?
The Orioles begin the week with their first visit of the year to Toronto, meaning members of the roster who aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19 will be placed on the restricted list, as they aren’t permitted to enter Canada. In spring training, Elias said “a very, very high percentage” of the Orioles’ roster was vaccinated and thus they would be “probably less affected than what I read about other teams in our division” at the time. The New York Yankees placed no players on the restricted list for their trip to Toronto, while two Boston Red Sox pitchers were barred from entering Canada. The Tampa Bay Rays, who come to Camden Yards this weekend, have yet to visit the Blue Jays.
This series is also the Orioles’ first meeting with Toronto; the teams were scheduled to open the season against each other before the MLB lockout delayed the start of the season.
What was good?
Rutschman’s first two weeks in the majors were rather quiet, both by the gaudy exterior standards surrounding him and the modest ones Orioles manager Brandon Hyde has tried to establish for him. The third finally started to align with the former. Even with an 0-for-4 hat trick Sunday, Rutschman went 5-for-16 (.313) last week, with more extra-base hits than he recorded in his first 51 at-bats. Saturday marked his first three-hit game, in which he put three balls in play at 106 mph or harder; entering Sunday, that’s been done only 28 other times this season. The week raised Rutschman’s average by more than 40 points and his OPS by more than 100.
Hard to imagine a better qualifier for this space than the news one son of principal owner Peter Angelos is suing the other. Louis Angelos’ suit against Orioles CEO John Angelos doesn’t necessarily bring immediate change to the Orioles’ ongoing on-field process, but it certainly does color it. The legal action brings any claims that have surrounded this rebuild, including that ownership is committed to Baltimore and will provide financial backing for an eventual turn toward competitiveness, into question. The full ramifications remain to be seen, but legendary Orioles pitcher and broadcaster Jim Palmer probably expressed to The Baltimore Sun what most of the fan base is feeling: “All I care about is this gets resolved.”
On the farm
Gunnar Henderson made an immediate impression by homering on the second Triple-A pitch he saw, but his fellow promoted infielder had the more impressive week. Jordan Westburg, drafted 30th overall in 2020, hit .455 with a 1.387 OPS in his first week with Norfolk. Five of his 10 hits went for extra bases, including two home runs. He and Henderson, who posted a .963 OPS, each made three starts at shortstop, with Westburg’s other outings coming at second base and Henderson’s coming at third.
Monday, 7:07 p.m.
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