Orioles 2019 Draft: Day 1 Summary
Day 1 of the 2019 Rule 4 Draft is in the books. After months of speculation, scouting, and planning, the Orioles made the picks that will define the franchise’s path going forward. Before the draft reconvenes at 1 P.M., let’s look at the first three picks—#1 overall, #42, and #71—that Mike Elias et al made.
#1 Overall: Adley Rutschman, Catcher
All the rumors turned out to be overstated or misdirection. Despite thoughts that Elias and crew would go underslot like the Astros did in 2012—Carlos Correa followed by Lance McCullers—the team went with the best player available.
Adley Rutschman is an incredible prospect with hit tools and power that would play at most any position. Add in the fact that he’s a switch-hitting catcher and you have one of the best draft prospects of the decade. In his Junior year, Rutschman slashed an eye-popping .427/.584/.772 while walking over 28% of the time. He tapped into his power—16 homeruns—while walking nearly twice as often as he struck out. From a scouting perspective, he is generally thought to have grades of 55 or 60 across hitting, raw power, and game power. His framing is very good and he has a strong throwing arm. Other than speed—not exactly essential for a catcher—his card has pluses all across the board.
In the DRAFT model, his scores reflect these assessments. The model gives Rutschman a 99.9% chance of reaching the majors in some playing capacity. Once he reaches there, the model expects that he’ll put up approximately 31 runs above replacement (RAR)—a little over 3 wins above replacement (WAR). All this combine to make a DRAFT Score of 30.953. Comparable draft scores include Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Carlos Correa, a trio of players who have defined Major League Baseball for the past decade.
Rutschman immediately becomes the Orioles’ top prospect by a large margin. Assuming he performs in the minors like evaluators expect him to he will quickly be one of the top prospects in the game—by Future Value (FV) alone, FanGraphs would rank Rutschman (FV 60) somewhere between 7th and 19th on its prospect list. He has the ability to move quickly through the system as well. Assuming his skills translate, it would not be unreasonable to see Rutschman getting his first cup of coffee in September 2021 with regular at bats following in 2022.
#42 Overall: Gunnar Henderson, Shortstop
From the DRAFT model and scouting evaluations, Gunnar Henderson should’ve been off the board ten picks before the Orioles came around at #42. Baseball America had him as the 30th best player in the draft while the DRAFT model ranked him 31st overall.
Henderson is a left-handed batting—right-handed throwing—shortstop who began the year on Baseball America’s Second Team Preseason High School All-American. He faced relatively weak competition in Alabama, so this unsurprisingly led to questions about how good he actually is. He is young for a high school draftee, not turning 18 until later this month, and brings a 6’3″-194 pound frame that has room to add strength. As he stands, he already has above-average raw power with the potential for plus. His hit tool grades out as average currently, with potential for above-average. On defense, while he is listed as a shortstop, there is a decent chance that he’ll shift over to third base where would thrive thanks to his arm and above-average hands.
From a DRAFT Model perspective, Henderson has a 56.2% chance of reaching the majors, appropriate for a late-first round high school position player. If he reaches the majors, he could be expected to put up 11.22 RAR—about 1.3 WAR. His resulting DRAFT score is 4.51, equivalent to a late-first round or Comp A pick score. He should slot in around the tail-end of the top-10 prospects for the Orioles, anywhere between 7 and 10 depending on how likely he is to stick at shortstop and how much conviction you have in his growth potential.
Again, Henderson should have been gone by the time that the Orioles got him. He was the fourth-best player available at the time—trailing only Matthew Allan, Jack Leiter, and very close to Matt Canterino. However, given the likely signability concerns with Allan and Leiter, you could argue that the Orioles got the best player truly available to them.
#71 Overall: Kyle Stowers, Outfielder
There is some disagreement between scouting and the DRAFT model on Stowers. Heck, there’s even differences between evaluators. FanGraphs ranked hime 32nd overall while Baseball America had him at 102nd. Differences that wide will make Stowers a tough player to evaluate, but we will try to do so here.
Stowers is a lefty power threat with some concerns. He is young—21 and 4 months—and can hack it with a career ISO of .209 in college. He has some swing-and-miss in his game, and as such there will be concerns about his hit tool. Defensively, while he has played centerfield, the thought is that he will move out to a corner.
It’s all these concerns that drive Stowers down in the DRAFT Model. Despite lowering his strikeouts each season in college, he still won’t be mistaken for a plate-discipline savant. Being an outfielder—especially in a corner—forces him to have to really hit to retain value. And although he does have power potential, his opponent-adjusted ISO numbers have been slightly above expected at best. All this combines to give him a 29% chance of reaching the majors with a 3.8 expected RAR should he get there. In the end, his DRAFT Score comes out to 0.43.
Stowers is definitely a tools over performance type of player. A .272/.357/.481 slash line in college isn’t the most compelling, especially once you consider that he had a 34-7 K-BB rate in the Cape Cod League last Summer. However, there is the chance that Stowers is able to improve under the Orioles’ Player Development System, as they have generated several players with power-driven profiles. However, it would seem that Elias et al made this pick to save a little money in order to sign Rutschman and Henderson.
Day 2 Possibilites
Going into Day 2, the best players available according to most outlets—including the DRAFT Model—are unsigned high school players. Matthew Allan, Jack Leiter, Hunter Barco, and others are all examples of this, with DRAFT Scores ranging from a high of 7.5 to a low of 1.9. However, all these players are likely unsignable for the Orioles’ Round 3 slot.
There are a few high-ceiling intriguing options available for the Orioles at their first pick. Ryan Zeferjahn—ranked 57th by Baseball America and 46th by the DRAFT Model at 1.67—still remains. Ethan Small (1.44) and Noah Song (0.99) are also reasonable options for the pick as college pitchers. The top—likely signable—hitter available is Florida State 3B Drew Mendoza, with a DRAFT Score of 1.25. While he also has some holes in his swing, he is another power-oriented player on whom the Orioles could concentrate.
It’s hard to say where the Orioles will go with their next 8 picks, but we’ll see starting later today at 1 P.M. The team is off to a good start with their first three picks and hopefully their run will continue.
Dr. Stephen Loftus received his Ph.D. in Statistics from Virginia Tech in 2015 and is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Mathematical Sciences at Sweet Briar College. Prior to that, he worked as an Analyst in Baseball Research and Development for the Tampa Bay Rays, focusing on the Amateur Draft. He currently writes at FanGraphs and Baltimore Sports and Life, with previous work available at Beyond the Box Score. As a lifelong fan of the Orioles, he fondly remembers the playoff teams of 1996-97 and prefers to forget constantly impending doom of Jorge Julio, Albert Belle's contract, and most years between 1998 and 2011.