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Orioles MLB draft preview: How to watch, names to know, and more

Without a season to prepare for and with plenty of emphasis already on the future for the Orioles’ organization, Wednesday’s MLB draft is a welcome respite from the coronavirus shutdown and the uncertainty about a major league season.

Even though the draft is shortened to five rounds from the traditional 40, the Orioles still have a chance to add high-level talent to an organization that still needs plenty of it. The organization will have six picks and $13.89 million in signing bonus slot money to spend on them.

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How those picks and that pool money is allocated will come down to how the Orioles evaluate their board and what strategy they want to choose. But without inside knowledge of that, here’s everything you need to know ahead of Wednesday’s 2020 MLB draft:

The skinny

When MLB moved the draft from its traditional Monday-Wednesday schedule to a midweek date, it was meant to coincide with the College World Series and be held in Omaha, Nebraska, as a part of that event to provide a showcase event for amateur baseball.

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Instead, it will be held remotely, although still beginning at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The draft will be broadcast live on MLB Network and ESPN, and streamed on MLB.com. With the second overall pick, the Orioles’ first selection should be out of the way quickly.

Just the first round and the first set of compensatory picks will be held Wednesday. The Orioles also have the 30th overall pick by virtue of being awarded the first pick of that first sandwich round, which was designed to give revenue-sharing and small-market teams an extra pick.

Last year, the New York Yankees’ pick of Anthony Volpe at No. 30 overall came right about 10:15 p.m., so the Orioles could come back on the clock about then, with a 5-minute break after the first round ends.

The second round begins Thursday at 5 p.m. on MLB Network and ESPN2, with the Orioles picking second in each of those four rounds. On the second day of the draft, those rounds traditionally turn over around every 40 minutes.

Names to know

Elias said on a call Monday that the Orioles were down to five candidates for the top two spots on their board, and consensus among draft experts and analysts have them choosing from a pool of players that includes Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson, Vanderbilt outfielder/third baseman Austin Martin, Florida prep outfielder Zac Veen, New Mexico State infielder Nick Gonzales, Texas A&M left-hander Asa Lacy and Georgia right-hander Emerson Hancock.

With little amateur baseball to scout this spring, those players came into the season as the top tier of talent and largely solidified that in the action they did get in before the coronavirus shutdown.

Torkelson is a prototypical right-handed slugger who is expected to hit for power. Martin combines an ability to hit for average and work a walk with positional versatility and great athleticism. Gonzales is a power-hitting infielder who showed the ability to play shortstop this spring, while Veen has the potential to be a slugging corner outfielder as the top high school player in the draft.

Lacy and Hancock each have shown the durability and pitch mix to be surefire major league starters, a unique value in their own right.

What do the experts think?

While there’s still plenty of time to work the phones, many draft analysts have Torkelson going first overall to the Tigers and Martin going second to the Orioles. Those two are at or near the top of many pre-draft rankings, and Elias said on his Monday call that when there’s such a public consensus around a player going first the way that Torkelson and the Tigers are connected, that’s usually how it plays out. What’s unclear is whether that extends to the growing consensus around the No. 2 pick as well.

What have the Orioles’ picks produced recently?

The second overall pick has hardly been a worthless consolation prize in recent years. This decade alone, the second slot has produced All-Stars such as the Houston Astros’ Alex Bregman in 2015 (drafted by Elias when he was with the Astros leading their amateur scouting operations) and Chicago Cubs star Kris Bryant in 2013. Bryant was the National League Rookie of the Year in 2015 and was that league’s Most Valuable Player in 2016 when Orioles manager Brandon Hyde was on the staff there.

In the 2000s, household names such as Justin Verlander, Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas all went second overall.

There aren’t as many household names to come from pick No. 30, with reliever Adam Ottavino the most successful this century. The last 30th overall pick to make the majors was Orioles right-hander Luis Ortiz, who was a first-round pick of the Texas Rangers in 2014 and debuted in 2018 after being part of the Jonathan Schoop trade to the Milwaukee Brewers.

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Texas slugger Joey Gallo (2012) and longtime starter Lance Lynn (2008) are successful picks at No. 39 overall, with Lynn drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals as Elias and Sig Mejdal were gaining influence in that organization’s scouting department.

The Orioles took left-hander Zac Lowther at No. 74 overall in 2017, and he’s on the cusp of the majors, but pitchers Daniel Norris (2011) and Tyler Chatwood (2008) have carved out the best careers from those spots recently.

At pick 103, the only productive major leaguer from the last quarter-century was one-time Orioles pitcher Russ Ortiz, who was picked there by the San Francisco Giants in 1995. It will be on Orioles prospect Ryan McKenna, who was picked at No. 133 in 2016, to change the relative lack of success from that pick in recent years.

Is there an area the system could use some talent?

The Orioles won’t draft for need at a time like this, but adding a handful of potential impact bats in this abbreviated draft will certainly change the complexion of the Orioles’ farm system. Headed by Adley Rutschman, last year’s draft class provided an injection in possible hitting talent with top picks spent on Gunnar Henderson, Kyle Stowers and Zach Watson, among others. Adding a few more hitters to that mix to work with the team’s impressive new staff of hitting coaches could create a wave in a few years. It would be a bonus if any were college infielders.

As for pitching, a college pitcher with rotation traits at No. 30 or 39 would likely slot beneath former first-round picks Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall but above everyone else on their pitching depth chart. Another college pitcher to join Blaine Knight in that generation of arms can only serve them well.

2020 draft

>>Wednesday, 7 p.m.: Round 1, Competitive Balance Round A; TV: ESPN, MLB Network; Orioles picks: Nos. 2, 30

>>Thursday, 5 p.m.: Rounds 2-5; TV: ESPN2, MLB Network; Orioles picks: Nos. 39, 74, 103, 133

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