O's focus on high-upside college arms on Day 3 of Draft

July 11th, 2023

BALTIMORE -- The Orioles' primary target during the 2023 MLB Draft became clear on Monday’s Day 2, and it was even more apparent early on Tuesday’s Day 3 -- college pitching.

Baltimore selected 22 players over the three-day Draft, 13 of them college hurlers. The Orioles used 59.1 percent of their picks on pitchers, the highest of any of their five Drafts under general manager Mike Elias. The 13 pitchers also marked the most they’ve selected in a Draft since taking 19 in 2019, when the event still consisted of 40 rounds.

The Orioles plucked 19 total players from the college ranks -- a group that includes Vanderbilt University outfielder Enrique Bradfield Jr., their first-round pick at No. 17 overall -- and they took only two high schoolers.

“A lot of our resources are dedicated to the college crop,” director of Draft operations Brad Ciolek said. “We do focus extensively, a majority, on the college crop, because that’s a lot of the data that we do get, and it allows us to do a deep dive on those players.”

Here are three takeaways from Baltimore’s showing at the 2023 MLB Draft:

1. The O’s added a lot of high-upside arms to their farm system
There are some talented pitchers who will soon be joining Baltimore’s organization, assuming most of them sign with the club before the deadline to do so on July 25 at 5 p.m. ET.

On Day 1, the Orioles took Florida State right-hander Jackson Baumeister in Competitive Balance Round B, marking the first time they’ve selected a pitcher earlier than the third round in the Elias era. They also took University of Washington right-hander Kiefer Lord in the third to open Day 2.

After selecting six college pitchers on the second day, Baltimore took six more on Day 3, including each of the first four players they added on the day.

Among the pitchers the Orioles selected Tuesday were a pair of LSU hurlers -- right-hander Blake Money (12th round) and left-hander Riley Cooper (13th). The duo recently won a national championship with the Tigers to cap the 2023 season.

“Anytime you have the opportunity to add power arms, guys that have some pitchability from the SEC, that’s always a focal point for us,” Ciolek said. “Just the fact that those guys have been on a championship club, the championship pedigree that goes along with that -- and they’re fierce competitors -- we think that will carry over well here in our system.”

2. It could be challenging to sign Texas RHP Tanner Witt
Witt was the most notable player taken by the Orioles on Day 3, as the 21-year-old ranked as MLB Pipeline’s No. 76 prospect in the class. So why was he still available for Baltimore to select with the No. 541 overall pick in the 18th round?

In February 2022, Witt underwent Tommy John surgery. He returned to the Longhorns this May and did not pitch nearly as well as he did early in his college career, posting a 10.97 ERA over six starts. Witt, who is the son of former big leaguer Kevin Witt, had a 2.91 ERA in 30 games (two starts) over his first two seasons with the Longhorns.

It’s quite possible Witt could return to Texas and boost his Draft stock for 2024, when he could even be a Day 1 pick if he pitched well enough for the Longhorns.

Ciolek doesn’t publicly discuss Baltimore’s negotiations with Draft picks while they’re ongoing, but he shared optimism that the club will sign all members of its 2023 class.

“Obviously, the goal for us is to try to put our best foot forward, sign each and every one of these guys,” Ciolek said.

3. SS Kollin Ritchie was another intriguing late-round pick
In the 19th round, the Orioles selected Ritchie, an 18-year-old out of Atoka (Okla.) High School, with the No. 571 overall pick. He is the No. 214 prospect in this year’s Draft class, per MLB Pipeline.

Ritchie’s hometown of Atoka has a population of only 3,188 and has produced only one MLB player (Ted Blankenship, who played from 1922-30) and one previous Draft pick (Patrick Wyrick, who was selected by the Montreal Expos in the 18th round in 1999).

It’s not a guarantee Baltimore will sign Ritchie, who is committed to play at Oklahoma State. But it would be another boost to the farm system if it did, as he’s a well-rounded player with a grade of 50 (on the 20-80 scouting scale) for each of his hit, power, arm and fielding tools.

“Left-handed hitter with plus power,” Ciolek said. “He’s got great bat-to-ball skills and also has a pristine eye at the plate.”