O's fall as top pick remains within reach

October 2nd, 2021

TORONTO -- It suddenly feels like everyone is an Orioles fan this week, with the club in position to make noise as a spoiler in the still-jumbled American League Wild Card race. But for the O’s themselves, the bigger stakes are tied to a different race, one that involves being at least scoreboard cognizant, if not downright scoreboard watching: the race for the top overall pick in next year’s Draft.

The Orioles are guaranteed at least a top-two pick no matter what happens over the season’s final weekend, and they remain in the running for the 2022 No. 1 pick for at least another day by virtue of Friday’s 6-4 loss to the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. The defeat left Baltimore with one less loss than Arizona with two games against Toronto remaining, while the D-backs began a three-game series with Colorado later Friday evening.

The team with baseball’s worst record earns the top pick in the following year’s Draft. A tie is decided by the previous year’s records. But the Orioles and D-backs played to identical 25-35 records in 2020, meaning an additional tiebreaker would be required if they finished tied this season. In that situation, the top pick would be awarded to whichever team finished 2019 with more losses -- in this case, the Orioles, who lost 108 games in ‘19 compared to Arizona’s 77.

(These are the rules as they stand today, but they could be different come next summer’s Draft. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires on Dec. 1.)

“I don't worry about that at all,” Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said Thursday when asked directly about the No. 1 pick. “I've been a part of a lot of these. Sometimes, you just don't know what's out there. Crazy stuff happens. I want to finish as strong as we can possibly finish. I think we take a lot of pride in giving some of these teams fits down the stretch ... it's good for the team and the players, and that's our focus right now. But we're going to have a high pick, and we have a list of players, and we're preparing for that.”

The Orioles have drafted in the top five every year since 2019, selecting MLB's top prospect Adley Rutschman first overall in ‘19, club No. 7 prospect Heston Kjerstad second overall in ‘20 and club No. 5 Colton Cowser with the fifth pick this June. Baltimore's farm system is ranked No. 1 in baseball by MLB Pipeline, and Rutschman and top overall pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez are expected to debut in '22.

About Friday night
Held scoreless through seven innings Friday, the Orioles made things interesting with a four-run eighth before coming up short. and homered in the eighth and provided the evening’s defensive highlight with a throw from right field that cut down Cavan Biggio at home in the fifth.

The assist turned a would-be Vladimir Guerrero Jr. sac fly into a 9-2 double play, and it marked Hays’ ninth outfield assist of the season. That’s tops on the Orioles and seventh among AL outfielders.

“A situation like that, it’s a medium-depth ball and it takes a perfect throw,” Hays said. “If I miss 2 feet up the line or 2 feet higher, the runner is safe. Situations like that, I think [opponents] are going to continue to push the envelope and be aggressive. I need to continue to make accurate, consistent throws.”

No Oriole has done more to raise his stock in the second half than Hays, who posted a .933 OPS in September. He is riding an 18-game on-base streak (.351 OBP) after adding two hits Friday. All told, his all-around play has helped Hays rank as the Orioles' third most valuable player this season by both Baseball Reference's and Fangraphs' WAR.

“I love the way Haysie has really come on in the second half. That’s a huge boost for our organization, for him.” manager Brandon Hyde said. “It’s been awesome to see the at-bats getting better, and the defense is extremely solid. I love the way he throws. It’s been a great development year for him and, hopefully, a confidence booster going into next season.”

Dudes in diapers
With 15 rookies on the roster, the Orioles had a packed crowd for their annual rookie dress-up day -- and it did not disappoint. John Means, Trey Mancini and Cole Sulser were behind choosing the sartorial theme “Baby Birds” for the Orioles’ flight to Toronto late Thursday night.

The resulting photos speak for themselves:

“I thought it was interesting,” Hyde said. “I’ve seen a lot of them, but that was my first Baby Bird. These guys showcased their bodies ,and I think ‘interesting’ is the right word. But fun. I think the guys had a good time.”