“Obviously, it’s a very important night,” Mike Elias said five years ago this morning.

He had spent the days and weeks leading up to his first draft in charge of the Orioles — the 2019 draft in which the team picked first overall — managing expectations for the future impact of the player they’d take at No. 1. He also attempted to mitigate the hype surrounded overall draft success that could be expected from a front office hired specifically for its scouting and player development prowess — while also acknowledging the magnitude of the opportunity in front of him and the Orioles at that point.

“Important” has proven to be an understatement. Adley Rutschman, taken first overall, is the franchise cornerstone they envisioned he’d be on both sides of the ball. A player who was worth at least five wins above replacement (WAR) in his first two seasons and is on pace to replicate that in his third fits that bill, and would be enough to declare any draft an incredible success.

That their next pick was Gunnar Henderson, the reigning AL Rookie of the Year and a contender to be the league’s MVP this year in his age-23 season, makes the Orioles’ haul that year downright transformational. There were 199 days between Elias’ official hire atop the team’s baseball operations department and the first day of the 2019 draft. His decisions on June 3, 2019, and draft preferences the Orioles revealed that day and overnight, are the genesis of so much of what’s gone well in recent years in this organization.

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To the extent a draftee can be considered safe, Rutschman fit that mold. The Orioles had a handful of choices for 1-1 that year, chiefly Rutschman and high school shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., but they elected the potential understated greatness of Rutschman over the youth and dynamic upside of Witt — and ultimately got all of that in Henderson with their next pick.

Adley Rutschman was the top overall pick in the 2019 Major League Baseball draft. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Henderson’s signing bonus demands took a player who ranked 30th in Baseball America’s predraft rankings and dropped him to the Orioles’ pick at No. 42 overall, and there was a lot to like. Elias described him then as a “very athletic” player with “plus power” who can hit well — all true — and perhaps most appealing was that Henderson hadn’t even turned 18 yet.

The Orioles’ player development apparatus has shown it can improve players of all stripes. But in addition to the physical traits they seek — a discerning eye, consistent hard contact and the ability to find the barrel at good angles — youth is an ingredient that is often overlooked. Given how they challenge players with aggressive affiliate assignments and the kind of drills they use to improve hitters, doing so at a younger age when bodies and neural patterns are still developing can have compounding value.

Henderson was a prime example of that, and a similar train of thought has influenced the developmental path of Jackson Holliday — a recent top pick in Henderson’s mold. Henderson’s inherent talents and the environment he was developed in have created a player with the potential to be a generational talent. That both he and Rutschman were the result of a draft where the Orioles had to rush to stand up systems and processes in a matter of months just to be able to operate how they wanted to is a testament to the skill of their top decision-makers — and also the result of a bit of good fortune.

The rest of the draft breadcrumbed what the Orioles would look for — and succeed in identifying and developing — for years to come. Their preference was for college players, on whom there was much more data available, and they homed in on specific traits. Kyle Stowers, a slugging corner outfield they took at No. 71 overall, was described to me that year by a member of another club’s amateur scouting department as a “TrackMan darling” — referring to the prevalent data collection and tracking system in college baseball — with “big exit velocity” that was in the “top 5% of college hitters.”

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That preference for players who could hit the ball hard has endured throughout all of the drafts under Elias and this front office, as has the ability to put the barrel on the ball and not whiff (a trait that another player selected in that fateful draft, fourth-round pick Joey Ortiz, boasted.)

Stowers seems on the cusp of breaking through as a regular major leaguer with the Orioles — he has an .893 OPS in 23 plate appearances this year — while Ortiz helped the team land ace Corbin Burnes in an offseason trade with the Milwaukee Brewers. Ortiz is now the Brewers’ everyday shortstop and was the NL Rookie of the Month in May.

It can take years to properly evaluate a draft in baseball, given the years of development time in the minors and how long it can take for players to sink or swim in the majors. This 2019 Orioles draft has looked great for a long time, and its impact as both a Rosetta stone and cornerstone for how this team would be built going forward has the potential to endure long after the players do.

Ballpark chatter

“Seeing how he keeps his training fresh and continues to try and push himself, it’s pretty awesome.”

— Orioles Director of Player Development Anthony Villa on Connor Norby

— Orioles Director of Player Development Anthony Villa on Connor Norby

Villa uttered these words Sunday evening, after spending a few days with Norby. He was marveling that a player who’d been in Triple-A for quite a long time continued to work so diligently while waiting for a call-up. That chance came Monday. It’s a proud moment for the player, of course, but also all those along the way who helped Norby get where he is. He worked with a laundry list of hitting instructors in his nearly three years in the organization — Villa, Zach Cole, Branden Becker, Brink Ambler, Mike Montville, Patrick Jones and Sherman Johnson — and had others hit him thousands of fungoes before that. All they ask is for a player who’s willing to work, and Norby has always been that. Norby continuing to push himself without any idea when he’d finally receive his major league debut demonstrates the extent of that.

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📫 Have a question? Write to me here.



That’s how many baserunners Craig Kimbrel has given up since he was temporarily moved out of the closer’s role following a rocky spell at the end of April and into early May. It was a hit-by-pitch on May 11 against the Arizona Diamondbacks, and he’s retired the last 18 batters he’s faced.

That means for the season, Kimbrel has allowed 20 baserunners in 21 innings, striking out 31 with a 3.00 ERA that’s in-line with expected results. He’s converted 13 of 16 save opportunities. I am not interested in dying on any hills for Kimbrel, but I am comfortable living on said hill. This is a pitcher who has demonstrated over a very long career that, over the course of a six-month season, he’s going to deliver what’s expected of him.

The Talent Pipeline

Samuel Basallo, the Orioles’ 19-year-old catching phenom, entered this week tied for eighth in home runs in the Double-A Eastern League. It’s been interesting to see his progression and production swing up as he’s gotten back to full baseball activity after a spring training elbow issue kept him from catching early in the season. He had a .479 OPS in eight games in the DH-only phase to begin his season, then homered in his first game playing first base on April 16. Basallo had two weeks of first base time with an .804 OPS and three home runs in that span before he got behind the plate for the first time, and has five home runs with an .878 OPS in 27 games since he returned to catching.

Further reading

🫡 Orioles manager Brandon Hyde and coach Tim Cossins lost their mentor, Sam Gomes, to ALS. On Lou Gehrig Day, Danielle Allentuck had a great story on how he impacted the pair and how they planned to honor him.

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💨 Using MLB’s new swing tracking data, David Adler broke down how Henderson’s unique combination of swing speed and a short swing are helping him chase a home run crown this year. I’ve done some asking around with Orioles players and coaches regarding this swing tracking data, trying to figure out what to make of it, but haven’t gotten a strong sense of how much it’s used or considered in the organization. Anyone with an orioles.com suffix to their email address can feel free to reach out and educate me if they’d like, though. You also probably have my numbers.

🚀 Andy Kostka checked in with Jackson Holliday down in Norfolk and came away with some interesting insights on the progression of his adjustments since being demoted in April. Once the dust settled and he returned to Norfolk, it was always likely that Holliday would work his way back as a better player. But it’s still fascinating to study the work that could make that happen.