While the organization could very likely select Colton Cowser with the fifth overall pick like FanGraphs predicts, other industry favorites believe the Orioles will go in a different direction. In the most recent mock drafts published at MLB Pipeline and Prospects Live, both outlets project Baltimore to take the same player: a member of the prep infielders at the top of prospect rankings across baseball.
MLB Pipeline & Prospects Live – Kahlil Watson, SS, Wake Forest (HS)
After a strong spring, prep shortstop Kahlil Watson shot up draft boards and prospect rankings. According to MLB Pipeline’s draft prospect rankings, Watson is the fourth-best player in the draft, trailing just Marcelo Mayer, Jack Leiter, and Jordan Lawlar. However, in both MLB Pipeline and Prospect Live’s mock drafts, the Orioles pass on Lawlar to select Watson. Prospects Live dives into why Baltimore would make this decision in their explanation of the pick:
"One thing is certain with Mike Elias and the Orioles. They’re a pretty good bet to save some cash with their first round pick. It’s an annual exercise. Watson is believed to be a pretty safe bet to take a deal at the top of the first round."
Going under slot as the Orioles did a year ago with outfielder Heston Kjerstad is a practice the team does in order to leave a larger chunk of their budget available to spend on the players they select in the later rounds of the draft. Doing this allows the team to more thoroughly fill out their farm system with the talent they select. For a team like the Orioles who are in the midst of a rebuild, this is a sound strategy.
However, what is saved in money isn’t lost in talent with Watson. According to Prospects Live, there are a number of scouts who believe Watson to be the best prep hitter in this year’s draft class. Here’s some of what FanGraphs’ THE BOARD has to say about Watson’s skillset:
"Electricity personified, Watson has the best bat speed in the entire 2021 draft class. He has an up-the-middle defensive projection (probably second base) and the potential for star-level power and speed output."
In Prospects Live’s rankings of the top 600 draft prospects, Watson falls in at eighth. In the brief explanation of Watson’s game, his skillset is compared to that of Miami Marlins infielder Jazz Chisholm.
The 2021 MLB Draft is set to begin on Sunday, July 11th following the All-Star Futures Game, which will feature Orioles’ minor leaguers Adley Rutschman and Marcos Diplan.