The MLB draft may sneak up on Orioles fans this year. What used to be the highlight of a foundering season is now a blip on the radar. The Orioles are having their best season under general manager and Vice President Mike Elias, and last year’s 83-79 record landed them a No. 17 pick, the lowest spot they’ve held since 2017.

This front office has produced several prolific draft classes, and the start of the draft Sunday provides another opportunity to add to the best farm system in the game.

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We have a good idea of what Director of Draft Operations Brad Ciolek’s “flavor” is: collegiate hitters who bat from the left side. He also prefers players who are expected to sign below their given slot value, providing the team flexibility to take chances in the later rounds.

Using what we know about the Orioles regime, here are five players they could select with the No. 17 pick.

SS Jacob Gonzalez, Mississippi

Gonzalez typifies what the Orioles look for in a first-round pick: He’s a lefty-hitting college standout with a patient approach, good bat-to-ball skills and the ability to play a premium defensive position. The 21-year-old was a major piece of Ole Miss’ 2022 College World Series championship team and boasts a .988 OPS in three seasons in Oxford.

But a deeper dive into Gonzalez’s profile might raise flags in the Orioles’ draft room. Baseball America gives Gonzalez just a 30-grade run tool, and his home run total dipped from 18 in 2022 to 10 in 2023. Still, you can see similarities between Gonzalez and a few Orioles draftees of the recent past, such as Jordan Westburg and Joey Ortiz.

3B Aidan Miller, Mitchell High School (Florida)

There are a couple of reasons taking a high school bat might be attractive to Elias. First, the upper levels of the farm system are loaded with talented hitters, so the Orioles may prefer to stash a younger player in Delmarva and Aberdeen for the next few seasons. Second, high school draftees reach Rule 5 draft eligibility a year after their collegiate counterparts, meaning their teams can wait longer before adding them to the 40-man roster.

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If Baltimore goes the prep hitter route, Miller would make a lot of sense. The Arkansas commit has “thunderous bat speed, a sound approach, advanced understanding of the strike zone and plus raw power projections” from the right side of the plate, per Baseball America. Talk about a player after Elias’ own heart.

SS Colin Houck, Parkview High School (Georgia)

When the Orioles took Westburg out of Mississippi State in 2020, the shortstop was described as a jack-of-all-trades; a player who didn’t have one standout tool but who relied on a well-rounded game.

Houck is built in a similar mold. Baseball America gives the 18-year-old 55 grades across the board. A righty batter, Houck “showed impact ability as a hitter, runner and defender on the left side of the infield” this summer. Heck, he’s even a Mississippi State commit.

Miller and Houck have been lumped together in several mock drafts, but Houck’s defensive upside could put him higher on the Orioles’ board.

RHP Hurston Waldrep, Florida

On the pitching side, top hurlers Paul Skenes, Rhett Lowder, Chase Dollander and Noble Meyer should intrigue the Orioles, but all are expected to be off the board by the time they pick.

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Waldrep is a 21-year-old with a middling 4.16 ERA but a fastball that sits 95-96, according to Baseball America. A transfer from Southern Mississippi, Waldrep walked far too many batters at Florida (57 in 101 2/3 innings) but has a devastating split-changeup that has earned high marks from scouts.

The Orioles haven’t taken a pitcher with a first-, second- or competitive balance round pick since Elias took over. The selection of Waldrep would signify a break from their typical strategy of grabbing bats early and waiting on arms.

3B Brayden Taylor, Texas Christian

One factor that helped push Jackson Holliday over the top a year ago was his strike zone discipline, which was hailed as uncommon for a player his age. It’s a trait the Orioles search for in prospects and one they emphasize in development.

Taylor “possesses one of the most keen batting eyes in the 2023 draft class, and is a savvy hitter with plenty of contact ability and on-base skill,” per Baseball America. The stats bear that out: The Utah native hit .315 with 48 homers in three collegiate seasons.

Taylor also performed well in the Cape Cod Baseball League — a premier wood-bat summer league — and projects to play third or second base at the next level.

paul.mancano@thebaltimorebanner.com

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