BALTIMORE -- All eyes will be on the Orioles tonight, when the club makes what it hopes is a franchise-altering top selection in this year’s Draft.
Only twice in 54 years and not since 1989 has Baltimore owned the No. 1 overall pick, when it selected right-hander Ben McDonald, and perhaps at no point in recent memory has Draft night felt as critical for the Orioles, who are under new management and in the nascent stages of their rebuild. The club also hasn’t picked in the top five since doing so each year from 2007-12, a stretch that produced Matt Wieters, Manny Machado, Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, proving the type of fruit such high Draft positioning can bear.
The 2019 Draft will take place tonight through Wednesday, beginning with tonight's Draft preview show on MLB Network and MLB.com at 6 ET. MLB Network will broadcast the first 41 picks (Round 1 and Competitive Balance Round A), while MLB.com will stream all 78 picks on Day 1. MLB.com will also provide live pick-by-pick coverage of Rounds 3-10 on Day 2, beginning with a preview show at 12:30 p.m. ET. Then, Rounds 11-40 can be heard live on MLB.com on Day 3, beginning at noon ET.
Go to MLB.com/Draft to see the Top 200 Prospects list, mock Drafts from MLB Pipeline analysts Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo, the complete order of selection and more. And follow @MLBDraft on Twitter to see what Draft hopefuls, clubs and experts are saying.
Here’s how the Draft is shaping up for the Orioles, whose first selection is No. 1 overall.
In about 50 words
With a farm system rated in the lower third in baseball even after last summer’s selloff, the Orioles are in the market for just about everything. First-year general manager Mike Elias and assistant GM Sig Mejdal arrived in Baltimore from Houston this winter with noted experience building through the Draft, having helped morph the Astros into champions earlier this decade. Now they get their first chance to pave a new direction for an Orioles franchise that lost 115 games a year ago and sold off many of its core players.
What they’re saying
“It’s hard to understate it -- it’s a huge opportunity,” Elias said. “Any time you’re picking high in the Draft, you have a pretty good shot at getting a franchise cornerstone. But it’s not a 100 percent shot by any stretch of the imagination. It’s probably more 50/50 if you look at the historical records of it. So you feel a lot of pressure. There is big upside in the opportunity, but it’s not easy. Nobody has a crystal ball and it’s not easy to nail. We just do as much work as we can going into it and do the best we can.”
Who might they take?
The prime candidates to go No. 1 in what’s considered a top-heavy class are:
Oregon State C Adley Rutschman
Rutschman has sat atop most Draft boards since earning Most Outstanding Player honors at last year’s College World Series. He’s done nothing to hurt his stock this spring as Rutschman is enjoying a dominant junior season for a Beavers team looking to make another run at Omaha. A left-handed hitter with plus tools behind the plate Rutschman was batting .419 with 17 home runs and 137 total bases through Oregon State’s first 55 games, while leading all Division I hitters in walks (73) and on-base percentage (.580). He’s seen as one of the best prospects since Bryce Harper and a potential franchise cornerstone.
Colleyville (Texas) Heritage High SS Bobby Witt Jr.
There are rumblings, though, that the Orioles could pivot to Witt, the son of former No. 3 overall selection Bobby Witt, who pitched 16 Major League seasons for the Rangers, A’s and five other clubs. A potential five-tool player who has starred for the U.S. National Team, Witt draws comparisons to Carlos Correa, whom the Astros made the surprise No. 1 overall selection in 2012. Then Houston’s scouting director, Elias is largely credited with lobbying for Correa over Byron Buxton, Mike Zunino, Gausman and others who were more highly touted at the time.
Cal 1B Andrew Vaughn
The reigning Golden Spikes Award winner, Vaughn is considered one of the most polished college hitters in years. Vaughn’s profile as a bat-first corner player still makes him a dark horse to go No. 1, but his combination of power and elite plate discipline makes him almost tailor-made for the Orioles' projection models, and he's certainly on their radar.
Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team has an allotted bonus pool equal to the sum of the values of that club's selections in the first 10 rounds of the Draft. The more picks a team has, and the earlier it picks, the larger the pool. The signing bonuses for a team's selections in the first 10 rounds, plus any bonus greater than $125,000 for a player taken after the 10th round, will apply toward the bonus-pool total.
Any team going up to five percent over its allotted pool will be taxed at a 75 percent rate on the overage. A team that overspends by 5-10 percent gets a 75 percent tax plus the loss of a first-round pick. A team that goes 10-15 percent over its pool amount will be hit with a 100 percent penalty on the overage and the loss of a first- and second-round pick. Any overage of 15 percent or more gets a 100 percent tax plus the loss of first-round picks in the next two Drafts.
This year, the Orioles have a total pool of $13,821,300, second only to the D-backs. The No. 1 pick is valued at $8,415,300, up from $8,096,300 in 2018.
Of the club’s four Top 100 prospects per MLB Pipeline, two are hitters and two are pitchers -- both reflect the uneven nature of the Orioles' system. Left-hander DL Hall and righty Grayson Rodriguez are in the low Minors, where many of the club’s better pitching prospects are stashed. As a result, they are ultra-thin on the pitching side at the upper levels. That is, however, where the overwhelming majority of Baltimore’s better position-player prospects remain, including Ryan Mountcastle and Yusniel Diaz. On top of its stated goal of bringing more talent into the organization, the Orioles' new regime will also likely look to even out that imbalance.
The Orioles have skewed heavily toward the pitching side in recent years, taking a position player in the first round just once since 2011. They’ve taken high school hurlers with each of their past two top picks, and arms with 65 percent of their top five-round selections since '16.
But it may be more productive to analyze the type of players Elias and Mejdal tended to target in Houston, especially at the early stages of the Astros’ rebuild. While Houston famously walked away with Lance McCullers Jr. and Correa in 2012, the club also had a pair of high-profile busts on the pitching side in Mark Appel and Brady Aiken, its No. 1 overall selections in '13 and '14. Appel retired without making the Majors, and Aiken is still far off in the Indians' system, his career ravaged by injuries.
Failing to sign Aiken in 2014, though, put the Astros in position to take Alex Bregman second overall in '15, only furthering their success on the position-player side. Notable hitters the Astros have drafted and developed in recent years include Correa, Bregman, Ramón Laureano, J.D. Davis, Rio Ruiz, Brett Phillips and Tony Kemp.