Despite picking from their lowest slot in three years, the Orioles are in a much better position for the MLB Draft than in previous seasons
The first round of the 2021 MLB Draft is this Sunday, and the Baltimore Orioles have the fifth pick. That slot is lower than last year’s second pick, but it puts the Orioles in a better position.
A lower selection is obviously less desirable, but GM Mike Elias and the front office do not have quite as difficult a decision to make this year. Unlike in 2019 and 2020, there is no clear-cut number one player. There are currently five or six players in the mix for the first overall pick.
Sitting at number five, the Orioles can go two different routes. They could get the best available player at slot value and be content with their selection. The player picked in this scenario would likely be one who could arguably have been drafted higher, so the Orioles might get one of the draft pool’s best talents at five, a great value. The names to know here are Louisville catcher Henry Davis, high school shortstops Jordan Lawlar, Kahlil Watson, and Brady House, and Vanderbilt pitcher Jack Leiter if he falls.
The other option for Elias and company is to cut an under-slot deal like they did last year. They shocked the industry by taking Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad, who was expected to go in the seven-ten range. This allowed the O’s to draft and sign a couple of high schoolers later that many teams thought were unsignable.
The early returns are not good, but that is due entirely to some horrible luck. Kjerstad has a heart condition preventing him from making his pro debut, and Carter Baumler, the fifth-round pick, had Tommy John surgery last year. Despite the slow start, it is way too soon to say the Orioles’ strategy failed.
The under-slot strategy would make more sense this year because there is a smaller difference between the fifth and tenth pick compared to last year’s second and seventh. We know Elias likes college hitters, so look for him to keep his eye on Sam Houston State outfielder Colton Cowser or Boston College outfielder Sal Frelick.
Whoever the team goes with will certainly be the player they feel most comfortable selecting, so fans should feel good too, given that we will not know for years whether they made the correct decision. That said, I have my own preferences.
I also prefer college players, but I think it makes sense to draft a pitcher this year. Most of the Orioles’ top pitching prospects are at the upper levels of the minors, so they could use a restock at the lower levels. Leiter would be ideal, but teammate Kumar Rocker and high schooler Jackson Jobe are both options. They are riskier prospects, but both have amazing stuff.
The number one rule of the MLB Draft is not to draft for need, so if the front office likes a hitter better than a pitcher, that is who they should go with. Regardless, the Orioles will get a quality player at a good value in the first round.