Mocks link O's to a SS, OF and, yes, another catcher at No. 5 originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
On Sunday, the Orioles will face the Chicago White Sox in their final game before the All-Star Break begins. While a random July afternoon game doesn’t mean much for a rebuilding club like Baltimore, an event much more important to the team will begin that night: the MLB Draft.
The Orioles hold the No. 5 overall pick after going 25-35 during the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign. It’s their lowest first-round selection in three years after General Manager Mike Elias and Co. drafted Oklahoma State catcher Adley Rutschman No. 1 overall in 2019 and Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad with the second pick last year.
Dating back to his days with the Houston Astros, Elias has built a reputation for taking players willing to sign for under slot value so that he can use that money to entice high-upside high school players to forego their college commitments later on.
The Kjerstad pick is a prime example of that strategy. Baltimore signed him for $5.2 million, well below the slot value of $7.79 million. The club then took a pair of high school players in the fourth round (third baseman Coby Mayo and right-handed pitcher Carter Baumler) and signed them each for more than a million over slot.
It’s for this reason that the Orioles’ pick is one of the tougher selections to predict. With only a few days left before the draft, the consensus among most mock drafts appears to be that the O’s will take a position player.
Both Baseball America and ESPN have the Orioles taking prep shortstop Kahlil Watson, one of four high school shortstops widely expected to be drafted in the top half of the first round. The Athletic and FanGraphs see things differently, each mocking Sam Houston State outfielder Colton Cowser to the Orioles at No. 5. Over at MLB.com and CBS, Baltimore picks Louisville catcher Henry Davis.
Perhaps the most interesting choice is Davis, who would join Rutschman as the second first-round catcher taken by the Orioles in three years. The nature of MLB’s years-long development process allows teams to select the top player available regardless of position and worry about the rest later, but Davis would almost certainly have to switch positions at some point if he’s going to play alongside Rutschman in the majors.
Both Davis and Cowser hit at least .370 with 15 or more home runs last season and scouts consider them to be among the top college hitters in the draft. Cowser made the full-time switch from third base to center field in 2020 and his plus speed bodes well for his ability to stick there long term. The Orioles already have Kjerstad and several other young outfielders in their organization, but that shouldn’t dissuade them from considering Cowser.
Watson represents a longer-term project for the Orioles, entering the draft at 18 years old. With the club still at least two or three years away from contention, now might be the best time to swing big and take a player like Watson — who might not even be available by the time Baltimore’s pick comes around. He has elite speed and above-average grades on all five tools, profiling well to switch positions depending on where he’s needed by the time he reaches MLB.
The Orioles won’t be making much noise this season, on pace to finish with the second-worst record in the majors. However, they do have an opportunity to leave their mark on the draft beginning with the No. 5 pick on Sunday night. Whoever they do pick will instantly become one of their most important pieces in a rebuild still well underway.