College talent at heart of Orioles' Draft haul

June 6th, 2019

As these pivotal past three days approached on the calendar, club officials did little to tamp down how much they would mean for the Orioles, who for months have looked forward to the infusion of talent the 2019 MLB Draft would bring.

For a new front office determined to buoy a farm system rated among baseball’s least stocked, the Orioles’ greatest need was both general and dire: talent, the goal to add it large bundles.

History will tell how they fared on that front, with particular emphasis on top overall pick Adley Rutschman, the club’s first in 30 years. But as the Orioles wrapped up the Draft with 30 more selections on Day 3, what was immediately clear is how they operated with specific parameters in mind.

“This Draft’s strength was in its college position players,” said Orioles interim scouting director Brad Ciolek. “We felt there was an incredible amount of depth in that department. We’re incredibly happy with what we were able to walk away with.”

Baltimore used an astounding 80 percent of its picks across three days on college players, including their first 23 selections on Wednesday. In between Texas prep shortstop Darell Hernaiz (fifth round) and California high school righty Zachary Arnold (34th round), a whopping 28 straight O’s picks came from the collegiate ranks.

“We felt there was enough pitching for us to add value later on in the Draft,” Ciolek said. “This crop of college hitters was very good. That was what we were focusing on – getting those college bats.”

And they weren’t alone.

The Yankees took 19 consecutive college players at one point; the Dodgers 18. The Astros did so with all but two of their first 35 picks, and the Cubs with 24 of their first 30. These are teams that have routinely set and reset industry standards when it comes to drafting and player development over the past decade-plus, with the Astros and Cubs standing as examples of clubs the Orioles hope to model its rebuild after.

Consider the Orioles right on par, philosophically speaking.

Take a look at the Orioles' top selections:

C Adley Rutschman, Oregon State, No. 1 overall

For all Rutschman's physical ability, Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias called makeup the deciding factor in choosing Rutschman, who the Orioles feel possesses off-the-charts maturity and leadership skills. Let’s not undersell the tools either. Switch-hitting catchers are unicorns, especially those so well-rounded and accomplished. Rutschman brings athleticism and plus defense to one of the most productive offensive skillsets in NCAA history. Now the Orioles are betting it translates into a franchise cornerstone.

“He strikes you with his intelligence, presence, thoughtfulness,” Elias said. “He has a good mind for the game. Good motor to him, energy level is strong. You can tell he was the captain of that team, whether it’s officially or unofficially. That stuff just comes through when you meet him and talk to him. He was very impressive.”

SS Gunnar Henderson, John T. Morgan Academy (Alabama), second round

Their bevy of collegiate picks likely gives the Orioles enough financial flexibility to convince Henderson, one of their few prep selections, to forgo his commitment to Auburn. The Orioles entered this year’s Draft with a bonus pool of $13,821,300, second-most among MLB clubs, which they must spread amongst their first 10 picks.

As one of only two high school seniors taken in that span -- and the highest drafted by far -- Henderson probably has the most leverage of that bunch. Whoever ends up with Henderson is getting one of the better high school hitters in this year’s class, with enough bat to profile well, even if his size requires an eventual change of position. He was rated No. 27 on MLB Pipeline’s list of Top 200 Draft prospects, making the Orioles thrilled when he fell to them at No. 42 overall.

“It’s nice when people start their amateur careers up the middle. It usually speaks well to their abilities going forward,” Elias said. “Gunnar Henderson is very athletic and he can run, but he’s a big guy. There is a possibility he grows and moves to third base. But we think his profile still holds up at third.”

OF Kyle Stowers, Stanford, Competitive Balance Round B

By this point, another trend of the Orioles’ Draft was becoming clear. Stowers marked the Orioles third straight middle-of-the-diamond player, and the third of eight straight they’d open their Draft with. Baltimore was the second-to-last team to draft a pitcher, opting for three shortstops, three center fielders and two catchers before grabbing College of Charleston righty Griffin McLarty in the eighth round.

They’d also take two more of Stowers’ teammates at Stanford, catcher Maverick Handley in the sixth round and first baseman Andrew Daschbach in round 11.

“He had a really good year at Stanford, and that’s not an easy place to put up numbers,” Elias said of Stowers. “They are impressive for that ballpark and that conference.”

What did we learn on Day 3?

After loading up on position players in the first 10 rounds, the Orioles switched their approach considerably during Day 3. They used 14 of their first 19 picks on pitchers Wednesday, drafting 17 in total on the Draft’s final day.

Again, they targeted a specific type. Baltimore mined the later rounds for college arms with extreme walk-to-strikeout ratios, plucking several from smaller programs.

For example:

• 15th rounder RHP Kyle Martin: 65 strikeouts against 11 walks this spring for Fordham.

• 16th rounder RHP Shelton Perkins: 72 punchouts and just 16 walks for James Madison University.

• 18th rounder RHP Malachi Emond: He posted a 48:9 strikeout-to-walk ratio for New Mexico as a true senior.

• 27th-round selection Dillon McCollough: He issued just 20 free passes and amassed 141 strikeouts at Eckerd College in Florida this season.

But 26th-round selection Nick Roth takes the cake. A senior righty from Division III Randolph-Macon College, Martin went 10-0 with a 1.93 ERA this season with a ridiculous 14:1 K/BB ratio.

“One of the philosophies here is, we leave no stone unturned,” Ciolek said. “Our analytics department did great job of deep diving to find those smaller school guys who have great numbers. That’s definitely a focus of the organization.”