Who will O's select with No. 1 pick?

July 10th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Zachary Silver’s Orioles Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

We’re one week out from the MLB Draft and this year’s iteration is promising -- not just because the Orioles have four picks on the first day, but because it comes amid a season in which Baltimore appears to be turning a corner toward competitiveness.

Baltimore has invested heavily in both its Draft operations and international scouting under the Mike Elias regime, knowing it has to build from the ground up to compete in a rabid, big-market division. Arguments can be made that this Draft is the most important of them all.

Orioles’ Draft day info
First pick and bonus slot: No. 1 overall, $8,842,200
Additional first-day picks: Nos. 33, 42 and 67
Total bonus pool: $16,924,000 (second highest in bonus pool history)
Last three first picks: OF Colton Cowser, OF Heston Kjerstad, C Adley Rutschman
Best pick of the last 10 years, per MLB Pipeline: Rutschman (2019, first round)

We don’t know much about the Orioles' intentions for the first pick of the Draft, except:

1. It won’t be a pitcher.
2. Odds are it’ll be a high schooler.
3. It’s one of the more unpredictable first overall picks in recent memory.

Here are five options who could be on the Orioles’ big board for the No. 1 pick, and why they may or may not make sense:

No. 1 prospect Druw Jones -- OF, Wesleyan (Ga.) HS
Why it makes sense: In a Draft without a slam-dunk No. 1 overall pick, Jones might be the most can’t-miss player. The son of former Braves All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove Award winner Andruw Jones, Druw was recently named the Georgia prep player of the year -- and for good reason. According to Jones, he hit .570/.675/1.026 (1.702 OPS) with seven doubles, three triples, 13 homers, 39 RBIs and 33 walks against nine strikeouts this season. He notably went viral this year, hammering a home run in the face of a fan base berating him with “overrated” chants.

Why it maybe doesn’t: Jones, like many of the top-rated players in this class, is a high schooler. The Orioles under Elias have drafted only two high schoolers (Gunnar Henderson and Coby Mayo) within the top four rounds -- and never with their top selection. Plus, Jones has a Vanderbilt commitment in his back pocket and could command a higher signing bonus than those rated behind him. This, coming off two years in which the O's have gone underslot on their top picks with an eye on later-round talent. It all depends on whether the Orioles believe they can’t miss on Jones.

No. 2 Jackson Holliday -- SS, Stillwater (Okla.) HS
Why it makes sense: When the Orioles took Henderson 42nd overall in 2019, they got a high school prospect Elias has since called the “flagship” of their player development system. Henderson was listed as 6-foot-2, 210 pounds upon his selection, forgoing a commitment to Auburn to go pro. Holliday, the 18-year-old son of seven-time All-Star Matt Holliday, is 6-foot-1, 175 pounds. It’s not a direct comparison, but it’s one the O's have a recent history of turning into a success. If it ain’t broke, maybe don’t fix it.

Why it maybe doesn’t: Truthfully, there don't seem to be many holes in Holliday’s allure. There are times in his past when he got too homer-focused when stacked up against tougher pitching and, in turn, that led to some swings and misses. The biggest thing working against Holliday -- and many on this list -- is that he again hails from the high school ranks. The Orioles have tended to prefer the more known, surefire college options.

No. 3 Elijah Green -- OF, IMG Academy
Why it makes sense: Physically, the Orioles know what they’re getting in Green, as he's already listed at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds -- comfortably the most imposing atop the big boards. Baltimore's complexes in Sarasota, Fla., are just a short drive down the road from IMG Academy, which the club has not been shy to visit. Green is the son of former NFL Pro Bowl tight end Eric Green, who spent three seasons with the Ravens. It’d be a nice story.

Why it maybe doesn’t: There’s a sense, according to MLB Pipeline Draft guru Jim Callis, that Green may be slipping. There tends to be a prospect from time to time who’s seen as a high-ceiling talent, but for some reason he is passed up at the very top, a la Red Sox prospect Marcelo Mayer last year. That trend may find Green.

No. 4 Termarr Johnson -- 2B, Mays (Ga.) HS
Why it makes sense: No prospect has had as public an involvement with the Orioles through this scouting process as Johnson, who took batting practice at Camden Yards and ran through drills in front of team brass in June. Assuredly, meetings and workouts have taken place out of the public eye, but Johnson, at least on the surface, has been most linked with a club that tends to be tight-lipped about its process.

Why it maybe doesn’t: What do the Orioles’ recent top picks -- as well as international signees -- have in common? An overwhelming majority play the middle of the field: Catcher (Rutschman, Samuel Basallo), shortstop (Henderson, Jordan Westburg, Maikol Hernandez) and center field (Cowser, Kyle Stowers, Braylin Tavera). That’s the O’s recipe: Middle-of-the-field athletes who at worst have to shift to the corners as their careers progress, but less so on the front end. Johnson, likely a second baseman, doesn’t quite fit that bill.

No. 5 Brooks Lee -- SS, Cal Poly
Why it makes sense: As outlined above, this could very well be the Draft the Orioles go for a high schooler with their first pick. But if not, Lee is the overwhelming favorite. He’s the top college bat; a switch-hitting shortstop who is lauded for his bat-to-ball skills. All those nuggets sure set off positive alarms in Baltimore's front office.

Why it maybe doesn’t: Lee has built up his power, but it’s not a given it stays. That has also impacted his fielding, in part. Lee might be better suited to third base over shortstop in the long term. And while that’s not necessarily something that has scared the Orioles away from a top pick before (see: Kjerstad, Mayo), would they invest so heavily in that projection first overall?

Other top prospects to watch: No. 7 Jacob Berry (3B/OF, LSU), No. 8 Cam Collier (3B, Chipola JC), No. 10 Gavin Cross (OF, Virginia Tech).