When Jordan Westburg walked onto the field at Camden Yards two weeks ago for his first pregame work as a big leaguer, he was greeted by a group of minor league hitting coaches whose presence at Camden Yards wasn’t actually owed to his much-anticipated debut.

They were in town to help break down hitters for the upcoming draft, giving their thoughts on the players who would be available when the Orioles’ early picks came around and offering insights on how they’d work with them should they be the pick.

That’s long been a tenet of this front office’s collaborative approach to drafting and developing players, but it feels particularly meaningful after Sunday’s haul of three draft picks — college outfielders Enrique Bradfield Jr. and Mac Horvath, and right-hander Jackson Baumeister — who represent the next wave of highly touted prospects to enter a farm system widely recognized as the best in the game.

When you pick near the top, you’re choosing among players whose flaws are minimal, if they have any at all. As the first round progresses there’s plenty of talent available, but the teams who get the most value and sustain the success that kept them out of the top half of the draft are the ones who get the most out of their players.

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The Orioles’ belief in what they’ve built on the hitting side since the 2020 season is well earned. Now, and probably going forward, it will be relied upon to keep the talent pipeline productive with high-level major league hitters without high first-round picks. Nothing happens in a silo with the Orioles anymore, and everyone being on the same page with these picks is “monumentally important,” Director of Draft Operations Brad Ciolek said.

“That’s one thing we’ve always tried to do — make sure we continue to get [the coaches’] input and see if they have any concerns or, in this case, if they really like what they see on film, what they can do as far as tweaking and helping these guys get a little better, whether it’s maybe increasing some power production or maybe helping them ultimately with swing decisions,” Ciolek said. “But so far it’s been an instrumental part of our process. And so far, so good — knock on wood, obviously.”

When the Orioles were picking at the top of the draft, general manager and Executive Vice President Mike Elias described the goal at that stage as trying to bring in an aircraft carrier — a top-of-the-lineup staple you can build upon. To extend the metaphor for him, Bradfield seems almost like a fighter jet. He has potentially elite major league weapons in his speed and defense, and he boasts the offensive skill set in his plate discipline that the Orioles always believe they can build on. He walked 14.6% of the time in college and struck out 13.4% of the time, and most of the public scouting reports say it’s a contact-oriented swing capable of line drives.

“I think, whenever you have a player that comes out of the SEC and walks more than he strikes out for three consecutive years, that’s the type of guy you want hitting at the top of your lineup,” Ciolek said. “The fact that he’s very disciplined, has elite contact skills and 80-grade speed to go with it — I know in the past few drafts we’ve taken a lot of guys that have some power production, and this is a little bit different look, but having that guy at the top of the lineup to wreak havoc on the basepaths and play a double-plus defensive grade in center field really makes you feel good.”

The Jorge Mateo experience has shown that all the speed and defensive ability in the world need to be accompanied by some level of offensive production, and the Orioles believe the potential is there for Bradfield give them that.

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“The way he controls the zone, he can spray the ball around to all fields,” Elias said. “He’s got enough power in his profile. I think there’s still offensive ceiling to be had, and he can continue to make improvements with his mechanics and just fine-tune his approach.”

Reading what’s available about Horvath, a right-handed bat from North Carolina taken No. 53 overall, tells of a player with an impressive collegiate track record of hitting for power and drawing walks but questions about how much quality contact he’ll make as he moves forward. That’s a profile the Orioles are uniquely suited to work with and have plenty of experience with. It takes the right kind of player to enter this system, embrace the work hitters are asked to do and end up improving from it. Horvath seems to have the skill set the Orioles’ coaches in that meeting — hitting coordinator Anthony Villa and affiliate coaches Sherman Johnson, Zach Cole and Josh Bunselmeyer — might have thought they could work with.

“Over 20 doubles, 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases — that just kind of goes to show you the kind of athlete that we’re getting here,” Ciolek said. “We’re really excited to add him here to our farm system.”

Baumeister, a draft-eligible sophomore out of Florida State, has a handful of attractive traits to the Orioles. One is a hoppy fastball, one that got up to 97 mph in his first year as a starter this season. The other is that he’s still 20 years old. Considering the previous high pick on the pitching side — Nolan McLean at No. 81 last year — was also a draft-eligible sophomore, we might have gained insight here into what can push a pitcher up their model-driven draft board: youth.

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The velocity and the four-seam that stays on a high plane will intrigue them, for sure. Ciolek said they believe it can play better if he uses it more in the upper reaches of the strike zone. They’ll also be intrigued by the fact that he can throw multiple breaking balls — one of them a sweepy slider. In the past, draft personnel in the organization have said they view multiple breaking balls as a sign of aptitude that they can manipulate the baseball and learn more pitches. (Expect him to be throwing a cutter and a splitter by next year in Aberdeen, if history holds.)

As with the other picks from the first day, there’s talent there. These selections are a bet on a flourishing farm system and the ability of the coaches to get the best out of them so the talent pipeline doesn’t dry up.


Jon Meoli is the Baltimore Banner's Orioles columnist and head women's ice hockey coach at Loyola University Maryland.

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