There’s a different feeling around the Orioles draft room this year. After entering the 2022 MLB draft with the No. 1 overall pick, the unknowns are far more pronounced heading into the 2023 edition.
Last year, Baltimore wound up with infielder Jackson Holliday. He’s turned into a fast riser in the farm system, raking for High-A Aberdeen already at just 19 years of age. He’s hitting .300 and walked off Friday night’s game with a two-run homer.
Finding a player of that ability with the No. 17 pick is unlikely, but Orioles Director of Draft Operations Brad Ciolek outlined some of the variables ahead of the draft, which begins July 9 and finishes July 11. Even though the Orioles are picking later — because of the newfound success at the major league level — Ciolek is confident of finding players who can positively impact the team in Baltimore in the years to come.
“We believe in our process,” Ciolek said. “It’s worked so far — knock on wood, obviously. And, as I always say, just put your best foot forward, do your homework, do your due diligence on all fronts and do the best you can to take the player. Ultimately, it’s up to them and how quickly they ascend.”
Here are three takeaways from Ciolek’s Saturday session with the media.
A ‘wider net’
As owners of the first pick in 2022, the Orioles had a tighter draft board. They seriously thought about six to 10 players. This year, Ciolek said, Baltimore has expanded to 20 to 22 players who might be available at the No. 17 pick. Ciolek has seen them all in person.
“Definitely have to cast a wider net,” Ciolek said. “It’s going to be a little bit of a different kind of anxiety. Instead of the stress of the buildup, leading things off, we have to wait for 16 teams to go in front of us to make our pick.”
That’s part of the reason the Orioles have targeted a broader spread of players — they don’t know who will be available to select with the 17th pick. Ciolek said Baltimore has kept all of its options open.
He referenced several of the power arms that were on showcase in Omaha, Nebraska, during the College World Series. The Orioles have tended to favor college hitters, but Ciolek also pointed to ample infielders who are “very polished high school hitters, in terms of plate discipline.”
Since general manager and Executive Vice President Mike Elias took over the Orioles ahead of the 2019 draft, Baltimore hasn’t chosen a pitcher before the fifth round.
Much of the time, the Orioles have opted to draft college hitters, such as Adley Rutschman, Kyle Stowers, Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad. There have been the exceptions, with Holliday last year and Gunnar Henderson in 2019, both high schoolers with fast development trajectories.
The trend could come down to how the Orioles view pitching prospects, who are often harder to predict than hitters.
With the No. 17 pick, though, Ciolek didn’t rule out looking at a pitcher. He referenced several college arms, including Florida right-hander Hurston Waldrep.
“Waldrep is a unique talent. It’s fun to watch him,” Ciolek said. “He’s a very intriguing starting pitching prospect, and we’ll definitely be discussing him and some other guys as well. So, curious to see where he goes.”
Ciolek added: “There are some pretty intriguing arms. There’s a few college arms; there’s also a couple high school arms who have our attention.”
Since the use of analytics broke through to modern baseball front offices, finding the balance between the new and traditional has been at the forefront of considerations. When Elias began as a scout for the St. Louis Cardinals, he gained experience in working with analytics. He hasn’t dropped that approach in Baltimore.
“It’s no secret that the framework of our entire organization is quantitatively driven,” Ciolek said.
But part of amateur scouting still comes down to a gut feeling, which is where more traditional scouts show their value.
“I like to say I have a GPS, so to speak, of guys our analytics department really likes, and I kind of push our scouts toward those guys,” Ciolek said. “On the flip side, I think we do a tremendous job of weighing not only quantitative data but qualitative data, whether that’s makeup, feedback, just talking to the players. We went out to the combine a few days ago and met with about 50 players to see how they would fit with us in terms of the culture fit.”