LOS ANGELES -- In 2019, the last time the Baltimore Orioles had the No. 1 pick, no one knew for certain who general manager Mike Elias was going to select until the last minute. Back then, they kept three players officially in the mix -- Adley Rutschman, Bobby Witt Jr. and Andrew Vaughn -- before deciding to take Rutschman.
So anyone expecting Elias and company to make up their minds early this time around was engaging in some serious wishful thinking. And this time around, there appear to still be five players in contention to have their name called first Sunday. Those five are currently the top five players on our Draft Top 250 list: Georgia high school outfielder Druw Jones (son of Andruw), Oklahoma prep shortstop Jackson Holliday (son of Matt), Florida high school outfielder Elijah Green (son of NFL tight end Eric), Georgia high school infielder Termarr Johnson and the lone college player, Cal Poly infielder Brooks Lee.
The Orioles keep things very close to the vest, so handicapping the candidates is a little tricky, but let’s talk through each of the five contenders. We polled scouting directors, national scouts and front office executives, asking them whom they thought the O's would pick -- and the results from the 27 who responded might surprise you.
Brooks Lee, SS, Cal Poly
Polling result: 9/27 (33.3 pct)
That’s right. More people voted for Lee as the eventual No. 1 pick than any other player. The main argument for taking Lee is that because he is perceived to be the kind of advanced college hitter who could move quickly through the system, that syncs up better with the current Orioles’ timeline of talent pooling at the upper levels of the system and impacting the big league roster. Baltimore has gone the college bat route the past two years, and while this wouldn’t represent the same level of savings as Heston Kjerstad or Colton Cowser, it’s believed Baltimore would bank a little more bonus pool money with Lee than it would with the best player in the class.
Druw Jones, OF, Wesleyan HS
Polling result: 8/27 (29.6 pct)
This is the scenario where the O’s take the best player in the class, just like they did with Rutschman three years ago. It’s the pick I went with in our most recent mock and Jones did get the second-most votes by a wide margin.
Something to keep in mind: When the Orioles signed Rutschman for $8.1 million, it was a record bonus, but they also saved just over $300k, which helped them go over-slot to get someone like Gunnar Henderson. This year, the slot for the No. 1 pick is nearly $8.85 million and Baltimore has the biggest bonus pool in the Draft at close to $17 million. It could easily be argued that the O's should just take the best player and see if he turns down, say, $8.2 million (arbitrary line in the sand). Rumors of a $10 million asking price could make them pause, and some of those polled felt they are more inclined to be more creative with their pool money.
Jackson Holliday, SS, Stillwater HS
Polling result : 4/27 (14.8 pct)
This has seemed a bit like the hybrid approach: Holliday wouldn’t be the big “cut a deal” choice, but most believe he would potentially sign for less than what Jones is commanding. Our No. 2 prospect, Holliday is immensely talented and plays a premium position, so it’s not like the O’s would be reaching too far down the board to be a bit more financially creative.
Termarr Johnson, 2B, Mays HS
Polling result: 3/27 (11.1 pct)
This has been the deal-cutting favorite, and my colleague Jim Callis made the case for Johnson in the top spot in a mock draft a few weeks back. There are those in the Orioles scouting group who do love his bat (who doesn’t?) and few doubt he’s going to hit, a lot. Johnson would likely sign for a much larger discount than the other players above, and it frankly was a bit surprising more scouts didn’t choose him when looking at “Not Druw Jones” options, with some wondering if Elias would really take a 5-foot-10 likely future second baseman 1-1, regardless of how special a hitter he might be.
Two players not considered to be in the mix received votes, though Berry at one point earlier in the year was thought to be part of the conversation. Both college hitters would fall into the discount category, and the choice of Parada with Rutschman in Baltimore would surely raise some eyebrows, even if he’s athletic enough to play elsewhere. Also noteworthy is the absence of any votes for Green (+2000), the talented outfielder from IMG Academy. His name has not come up much when people have talked about the top pick, though the Orioles did do a private workout with him in May.
So the only real consensus, it seems, is the belief that the Orioles won’t take Jones, with those polled coming out strongly in favor of “Not Druw,” 19/27 (70.4 pct), even if there isn’t agreement on who that pick will be.