The 2019 Draft, and its Importance to the Orioles
It has been weeks since the 2018 regular season ended, yet much remains up in the air about the Baltimore Orioles’ future. The team’s split from Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette leaves a leadership vacancy in baseball operations that must be filled, along with the managerial spot previously held by Buck Showalter.
Given those issues—combined with how the ongoing rebuild will shape the major league roster for 2019—there are more questions than answers when it comes to the Orioles future. One certainty for 2019, however, is that the Orioles will hold the number one pick in next June’s draft, and it will amount to one of the most important decisions the club makes during its rebuilding process.
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I will discuss the two strongest contenders for the top pick in a moment, but keep in mind that it is hard to predict with much certainty right now who will go number one in June. For starters, the fluid nature of baseball suggests that players’ stocks will rise and fall over the coming months, so the way they are evaluated now is subject to change. It is also hard to tell how the next person running baseball operations will lead the organization, and how that will affect the process leading up to the draft.
There are a few certainties, however, starting with the fact that the Orioles have to base their decision on talent rather than organizational needs. As it stands, the Orioles have what can probably be described as a mid-tier farm system, one that is solid with outfield depth but does not stand out enough in any one area to leave the organization content going forward. The club still has quite a ways go in building its farm system, and is not at a point where it can cherry-pick players based on their position, but instead has to focus on the best player available.
Another is that, for right now, the number-one draft pick might be the best chance the Orioles have over the coming months to add top-tier talent to their farm system. Their ongoing pursuit of Victor Victor Mesa comes with no guarantees, especially since the Miami Marlins are poised to make a strong run at signing him. The remaining crop of players at the major league level are also unlikely at this stage to bring back a top prospect in a trade.
The thing to remember about the rebuilding process is that July was just the beginning. The Orioles did a lot of work over the trade deadline to stockpile their farm system, but there is still a considerable amount of progress to be made in rebuilding the organization.
The draft will be absolutely essential in that regard, as the number-one pick is one of the few guarantees that the Orioles have right now. Fortunately, for the Orioles, there will be quality options at #1. The two players most often floated as potential top draft choices are Bobby Witt Jr., a shortstop out of Colleyville (Texas) Heritage High, and Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman.
Witt—the son of former MLB pitcher Bobby Witt—has earned high marks for his all-around skillset, and most reports suggest that he could stay at shortstop long-term. He is committed to the University of Oklahoma and, from a signing bonus stand point, may have more leverage as a high-school player, but he looks like a very worthy option as of now to go first overall.
As an up-the-middle player at a premium position, Witt has the chance to offer the combination of offense and defense that most teams covet in a shortstop. An older, more experienced hitter would likely reach the majors faster, but with time Witt might develop into the type of cornerstone player that can help any organization—especially one undertaking as extensive of a rebuild as what the Orioles are launching.
Rutchsman, meanwhile, has been lauded for success at Oregon State. He offers a strong profile offensively for a catcher, and most reports praise his defense, both from a receiving stand point and his throwing arm. In contrast to Witt, Rutschman has the experience at a major Division I college program. If he could provide a solid bat with good glovework behind the plate, he would also fit the bill of a player that can be a major building block for the club going forward.
As far as potential risk, all prospects present their own potential pitfalls, and Witt and Rutschman are no different. High-school hitters are often harder to project than college bats, so that presents one variable that would have to be considered in Witt’s case. Rutschman has the double-edged sword that comes with being a catching prospect: His offensive skillset makes him valuable, but he also plays one of the most challenging positions in terms of development and one that is susceptible to injury risk over the long run.
As I noted earlier, there is a lot that can happen between now and June. By the time the draft rolls around, another player may have risen into the conversation of going number-one overall while Witt and/or Rutschman may see their respective stocks slip. However, they can be penciled in right now as possible top choices. Witt is probably the odds-on-favorite at this stage—and would be my personal preference—but I think either player would certainly give a boost to the Orioles, not just in short-term prospect rankings but in building a competitive major league team down the road.
The status of who goes number one will sort itself out over time, as will the very pressing questions surrounding the Orioles baseball operations staff. What is clear right now, however, is that the Orioles need to make the most of having the number-one selection and have a few worthy options to keep their eye on once the spring rolls around.
A graduate of the University of Massachusetts, and Loyola University; Spedden has previously spent time in the Washington Nationals organization as a videographer for the Hagerstown Suns. As a blogger, Spedden is an Editor / Writer for the Suns fan club. Additionally, he contributes to The Nats Blog as a prospect writer, and Ballpark Digest. For BSL, Spedden covers the Orioles Minor Leagues.