O's continue position player strategy in '20 Draft

June 12th, 2020

It’ll be years until we can properly assess Mike Elias’ first two years at the helm of the Orioles’ draft, until which picks hit and which didn't can be accurately gauged. But zoom out and analyze even on a surface level, and an overriding trend is plain to see.

If Elias and the Orioles are indeed going to rebuild through the Draft, they are laying the groundwork with position players, with athletes, with bats. That became even more clear over the course of this year’s truncated, five-round MLB Draft, when the Orioles used five of their six selections -- including three on Day 2 -- on position players. Now two drafts into his tenure as head of baseball operations, Elias has used 13 of his top 14 picks on position players. Ten of those picks -- including their first four this June, came from the college ranks.

“We lined up our board and took the best player that was on our board at that given time,” said Brad Ciolek, the Orioles’ supervisor of domestic scouting. “We had pitchers up and down our board that we thought we had in good spots, for whatever reason we liked the position player in that point in time better, or the pitcher went right before our next selection. That’s sometimes how the Draft works and that’s ultimately what ended up happening here.”

Nonetheless, it wasn’t until the fifth round on Thursday that the Orioles deviated, using their final selection (the 133rd pick) to gamble on Iowa prep right-hander Carter Baumler, a talented pitcher with signability concerns. Given his strong commitment to Texas Christian University and limited exposure this spring, Baumler was believed by many a sure bet to attend college. But the Orioles’ outsized bonus pool, and the bevy of college bats they took to begin the Draft, could position them to reel in such a fish while also ensuring their system is infused with other significant talent.

Baumler told the Des Moines Register on Thursday night that he plans to sign. Ciolek said the team was “very confident” it would be able to sign Baumler and fourth round pick Coby Mayo, a Florida commit, without getting into specifics because negotiations are ongoing.

“In regards to the two high school players, we feel really confident in our ability to make them an offer they will deem acceptable, and we’ll do everything we can to make sure we’re able to pull that off,” Ciolek said.

Such financial gymnastics were made possible by tabbing accomplished college players with their first four picks in this Draft, two coming Thursday. After going far off most published mocks to take Arkansas right fielder Heston Kjerstad second overall and then jumping on Mississippi State shortstop Jordan Westburg (30th overall) on Wednesday, the O’s grabbed Tulane outfielder Hudson Haskin with their second-round pick and Mississippi shortstop Anthony Servideo in the third round.

It’s possible all could command less than slot value, freeing up money Baltimore could then theoretically use to lure Baumler and Mayo, a third baseman who shows 70-grade power in batting practice, to forgo their commitments. The Orioles $13,894,300 bonus pool is the largest in this year’s Draft.

In sum, Ciolek called it “a really nice blend,” replete with two college outfielders, two college shortstops, a high school slugger and one prep arm. Demographically, it’s a crop that resembled the one the Orioles brought in during Elias’ first year heading the draft, when they selected Adley Rutschman, prep shortstop Gunnar Henderson, college outfielder Kyle Stowers (and then five more position players, two of them outfielders, with their next five picks).

The circumstances were widely different this year, though, due to the restrictions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. The Orioles were also in a better position to utilize data, leaning on their revamped analytics department during unprecedented circumstances that required it, and relied heavily on remote scouting and Zoom calls. The club taking Kjerstad was a large-scale trust fall onto their internal data models, which spit out glowing projections of what his production would’ve looked like had the pandemic not cut short spring seasons. They also scouted Baumler exclusively on video.

“Every one of these guys we selected, it was a balance of scouting and analytics,” Ciolek said. “We think we got a really good blend of guys who can move quickly through the Minor League system and also some high-ceiling high school guys with our last selections.”

Here is a further breakdown of the Orioles’ Day 2 selections:

Round 2, 39th overall: Hudson Haskin, OF, Tulane

The 74th-ranked prospect on MLB Pipeline’s Draft board, Haskin is a toolsy, right-handed-hitting center fielder with plus speed and projectable power. A Draft eligible sophomore, Haskin hit .372/.459/.647 for Tulane as a freshman in 2019. He was a 39th-round pick of the Athletics in 2018 out of Avon Old Farms School, the same Connecticut high school that produced Astros star George Springer. He is viewed as a potential 20-20 guy and has drawn comparisons to Hunter Pence for his unorthodox swing.

Ciolek: “First thing that stands out is the overall athleticism that he has. He’s a double-plus runner who we believe will end up in center field. He also has a knack for barreling up the ball consistency and sneaky power.”

Round 3, 74th overall: Anthony Servideo, SS, Mississippi

The 110th-ranked prospect on MLB Pipeline’s Draft board, Servideo is a left-handed hitting glove-first shortstop with outfield experience, plus speed and little power. The question is the bat, after Servideo put together one of the worst performances in the Cape Cod League last summer. He then got off to a great start offensively this spring at Mississippi in a small sample, showing more pop and an improved batting eye, in particular. He is considered a strong enough defender at short and athletic enough to play virtually anywhere on the diamond if the bat doesn’t pan out.

Ciolek: “We’ve been following him ever since he was in high school. He really popped up on our radar this spring. He got off to a blistering start and ran into some power. We were intrigued by his athleticism in the dirt, how well he moved laterally and how well the hands worked.”

Round 4, 103rd overall: Coby Mayo, 3B, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (Fla.)

The 132nd-ranked prospect on MLB Pipeline’s Draft board, Mayo was a sophomore at Parkland’s Stoneman Douglas High when a gunman opened fire in February 2018, killing 17. He grew into a 6-foot-5, 210-pound third baseman with plus power and one of the best arms in this year’s Draft. The University of Florida commit draws comparisons to the Braves’ Austin Riley, given his size, frame and talent for driving the ball particularly to the pull-side. There are questions about whether he’ll hit enough for it to translate into games, and whether Mayo stays at third base long term or shifts to first or possibly left field. How good is the arm? It’s been clocked at 94 mph.

Ciolek: “Extremely interesting. He is a strong, athletic 6-4 kid with a double-plus arm at third base. He moves well for a bigger guy and shows 70 raw power in BP. We think he’ll be able to tap into that down the road. He has an extremely high ceiling.

Round 5, 133rd overall: Carter Baumler, RHP, Dowling Catholic High School (Iowa)

A dual sport athlete at Dowling Catholic, Baumler moonlighted as the kicker/punter for the school’s state champion football team. He is also considered Iowa’s best prep pitcher since Pirates righty Mitch Keller, who Pittsburgh made a second-round pick in 2014. Baumler might’ve gone that high had it not been for signability concerns, or the limited exposure he received as both a junior (due to mononucleosis) and a senior (the coronavirus pandemic) this spring. As it was, he was still the 102nd-ranked prospect on MLB Pipeline’s Draft board.

Ciolek: “Excellent athlete with a quick arm. His velo in the summer was 90-92 and now it’s ticked up to 92-94. He has a curveball that has 11-5 shape and we think it’ll profile as a plus offering for him. His changeup has made tremendous strides as well.”