Some like chocolate ice cream. Others, strawberry. I go for Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food.
The Orioles prefer hitters. Especially collegiate ones who bat from the left side.
“I know that’s obviously been our flavor the last few years here,” Brad Ciolek said.
Ciolek has been the Orioles’ director of draft operations since November 2021, but his tenure in the organization predates the arrival of executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias. Which means Ciolek was around the last time the O’s selected a pitcher in the first round.
That player was Grayson Rodriguez, and the year was 2018. Baltimore drafted the 6-foot-5-inch right-hander one year after grabbing DL Hall, a high school lefty, with the 21st overall pick.
In the four drafts since, the Orioles haven’t selected a single pitcher with a first-, second- or competitive balance round pick.
One is an anomaly, two is a coincidence, three is a trend. Four is just laying it on thick.
“I know you guys probably aren’t gonna believe me, but we actually did have a couple pitchers that were picked right before [us] throughout the evening,” Ciolek said with a wry smile after Day 1 of last year’s draft went by without the Orioles selecting a pitcher.
The highest-drafted hurler under Elias was Oklahoma State right-hander Nolan McLean in 2022, and even he was viewed as a two-way player. (Unrelatedly, the Orioles declined to sign McLean, reportedly because of concerns over a post-draft MRI.)
The O’s 2019 class featured a whopping 11 position players drafted in the first two days. The club took just one pitcher, righty Carter Baumler, in the abbreviated 2020 draft. Talk about a selective palate.
Ciolek, Elias and the rest of the Orioles’ brass insist they are always looking to pick the best players available. But their models clearly favor hitters over pitchers and college players over high schoolers.
“There is a lot of data and analytic insights with the college bat demographic that we feel very strongly and comfortable with,” Ciolek admitted during the 2021 draft.
Hitters also tend to be safer picks than pitchers, so the Orioles swing for doubles instead of home runs with their early-round selections, before taking low-probability swings on pitchers later in the draft, like fifth-rounders Carlos Tavera (2021) and Trace Bright (2022).
To the frustration of Elias’ detractors, the strategy has worked. Adley Rutschman, Heston Kjerstad, Colton Cowser and Jackson Holliday are proof the Orioles’ favorite flavor, though sometimes humdrum, reliably hits the spot.
But for the first time since he accepted the job in Baltimore, Elias won’t be picking in the top five.
The No. 17 pick doesn’t provide the same franchise-altering upside, meaning the Orioles could take a risk on a high-upside arm with a less valuable pick. Whiffing on a pick in the teens isn’t nearly as costly as missing on a No. 1 or No. 2 pick.
Pitching depth is also still a long-term need for the Orioles, even with their top-ranked farm system. Baltimore has just one pitcher (Hall, No. 9) in their top-10 prospect list, according to MLB Pipeline. Meanwhile, their minor league affiliates are overstuffed with talented hitters, making it hard to imagine how another draft class of infielders and outfielders could possibly fit.
“It is kind of in the back of your mind,” Ciolek acknowledged. “There is a little bit of a, I don’t want to say a bottleneck, but there are a lot of qualified guys up at Double-A and Triple-A that a lot of clubs, looking at our system, would love to have in their system.”
There should be plenty of attractive pitching prospects available for the O’s to take with their first selection. Florida right-hander Hurston Waldrep, high school lefty Thomas White have both been projected to go in the 10-20 range.
“I think we always keep our mind open,” Ciolek said. “You guys kind of have a scouting report in terms of what we look for in terms of our first-round selection. But there are some pretty intriguing arms. There are a few college arms. There are also a couple high school arms that have our attention.
“We typically do lean the college demographic, but we are open to all possible scenarios in this case.”
But Elias is nothing if not consistent, and another solid left-handed bat like Mississippi’s Jacob Gonzalez or Texas Christian’s Brayden Taylor may be too tempting to pass up.
Still, could this finally be the year the Orioles go off menu and take a first-round pitcher Sunday night?
Eh, probably not.