The Orioles entered this year’s MLB draft in a far better spot than previous seasons. Their recent picks, highlighted by Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson, have worked out nearly perfectly. Last year’s top selection, Jackson Holliday, is quickly climbing the minor league ranks, too.
So how do you improve one of the deepest farm systems in the majors? Director of Draft Operations Brad Ciolek said the draft process was mostly the same as previous years, though they cast a larger net scouting for the No. 17 pick, which they used on Vanderbilt outfielder Enrique Bradfield Jr.
“The biggest difference was the collaboration that we had on multiple fronts with player development,” Ciolek said. “As far as getting our hitting coaches, pitching coaches and strength and conditioning involved, it was a much more efficient collaborative effort than the last few years.”
Baltimore focused on speed early by taking Bradfield, who has 80-grade run and field tools (on a scale of 20 to 80) and recorded 130 stolen bases in his college career. On Day 2, the O’s continued picking players noted for their speed in Arkansas’ Tavian Josenberger and UNC Charlotte’s Jake Cunningham.
“Every one of those guys selected we had plus-run times from our scout side of things,” Ciolek said about the new outfielders. “We want these guys to be able to track the ball down quickly in gaps and get the ball back to the infield as fast as possible.”
The Orioles also focused on right-handed pitchers, taking 12 (out of 22 players total) over the course of three days and 20 rounds. Ciolek said the pitchers in this year’s class stood out with their overall ability, whether that was related to their metrics, velocity or breaking pitches. Florida State’s Jackson Baumeister became the first pitcher selected on Day 1 by the Orioles since Executive Vice President Mike Elias took over in 2018.
“I think the thing that really made us intrigued with Jackson is how the fastball plays,” Ciolek said. “We think that we can maximize his arsenal by having him pitch further up in the zone with his fastball.”
Ciolek emphasized his confidence in the O’s player development staff to add or potentially refine the deliveries of every pitcher in this class. Washington righty Kiefer Lord, the team’s first pick on Day 2, used his fastball more than 70% of the time this past season. Ciolek said they want to have him rely on his slider more often, along with his curveball and changeup.
Another intriguing prospect the Orioles snagged late Monday was Teddy Sharkey, a true reliever from Coastal Carolina. Ciolek said the Orioles pitching coaches were “very bullish” about his delivery.
“It’s a high-energy delivery; he repeats it well,” Ciolek said. “He already has three pitches he throws for strikes. He’s aggressive and goes right at guys.”
Baltimore also stuck to its trend of preferring collegiate talent, taking only two high school prospects for the second straight year. After Day 2, Ciolek said, their concentration on college players was purely due to the data, with the ability to analyze summer league seasons and more third party sources.
Ciolek added the Orioles met with a handful of their selections at the combine. Cunningham was invited to Camden Yards a few weeks ago, where Ciolek said he reached up to 111 mph on exit velocity with a wooden bat.
“[Cunningham] was on our radar last year,” Ciolek said. “To get Jake where we got him, we’re very excited.”
A few other draft picks also worked out in Baltimore, including Oklahoma high schooler Kollin Ritchie. Ciolek said Ritchie has great bat-to-ball skills and a “pristine” eye at the plate. Ritchie broke the state record for walks with 64, which is the third most by any high schooler in the country ever, according to MaxPreps.
The Orioles added two pitchers — Blake Money and Riley Cooper — from NCAA College World Series champion LSU in the 12th and 13th rounds. Ciolek said the Orioles wanted to pounce on any opportunity to add power arms from the SEC.
Ciolek pointed to Money’s strong fastball and slider, hoping to stretch him out a few innings as a starter. Cooper was the only lefty pitcher the O’s selected.
“Because those guys have been on a championship club, the championship pedigree that comes with that, we think that will carry on well over here in our system,” Ciolek said.