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Stanford Cardinal, Kyle Stowers during an NCAA college baseball game, Tuesday, April 2, 2019, in Stanford, Calif.
Stanford Cardinal, Kyle Stowers during an NCAA college baseball game, Tuesday, April 2, 2019, in Stanford, Calif. (Tomas Ovalle / AP)

When they speak honestly, people in Mike Elias' job running Major League Baseball draft rooms will admonish drafting for need the way the first-year Orioles' executive vice president/general manager did Monday.

The only exception is the one that applies to the Orioles' circumstance Monday night: Their need was talent, and that's exactly what they drafted.

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In first overall pick Adley Rutschman, shortstop Gunnar Henderson at No. 42 and center fielder Kyle Stowers, the Orioles made selections that require no qualifiers, no explanations and raise no eyebrows.

After taking Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman No. 1, the Orioles drafted Alabama prep shortstop Gunner Henderson 42nd and Stanford's Kyle Stowers 71st.

They're just really talented players, Rutschman especially, with Henderson and Stowers showing the potential to be the same.

"I think it ended up being a little bit of a diverse group — No. 1, Rutschman being the polished college catcher, and then following that up with the 17-year-old high-school shortstop from the deep south with some upside in Gunnar Henderson, and a really well-rounded outfielder with Kyle Stowers,” Elias said. “It's a good blend, and this is just the start of our draft. Obviously, it's a very important night."

That's not to say the first day of the draft hasn't been productive for the Orioles in recent years. DJ Stewart and Ryan Mountcastle are two of the system's most advanced hitters. A bounce-back year from right-hander Cody Sedlock and the imminent major league arrival of left-hander Keegan Akin make the 2016 first day interesting. Left-hander DL Hall appears to be a stud atop the 2017 draft class, and two different front offices have been impressed with the progress of shortstop Adam Hall and left-hander Zac Lowther. And last year's first-round pick, right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, has been dominant this season. Rutschman's former Oregon State teammate, Cadyn Grenier — selected in Competitive Balance Round A last year — is making progress as well.

Orioles select catcher Adley Rutschman No. 1 in MLB draft.

But think back to those draft days, and questions persisted. Where will Mountcastle play? Did the Orioles really take three pitchers from the upper Midwest in Sedlock, Akin and Matthias Dietz? Why did DL Hall fall to them when he was considered the best left-handed pitching prospect in the draft? Was Rodriguez for real? Will Grenier ever hit?

Part of the reason those questions were asked at all was because decades of draft misfires and player development woes required them. There are no such questions with these picks.

Rutschman was the undisputed top pick, and the only real question is how quickly the Orioles can get him to the majors. Henderson is supremely athletic with power potential from the left side, and the glove to at least stick on the infield. Stowers is a well-rounded college player with some pop, and comes from a program where hitters tend to unlock even more of it once they go pro.

The picks speak to the situation Elias inherited with the Orioles' farm system, good and bad, plus the realities of this draft and how his old organization, the Houston Astros, was with pitchers. On the latter two, Elias said it's a hitter-heavy draft, but given how data-driven their pitching operation is, they also know what they want on that front and might not have to go with a quantity-based approach considering the track record of what works and what doesn't.

From an internal standpoint, no organization can have enough pitching, but there's a lot to like from the past few drafts of pitching-heavy early rounds that there's really no need to force the issue the way the Orioles might have in the past.

"The guiding principle is we're just trying to take the best players that we can. I think that the scouts have done a great job with this, but this year they've been asked to organize their scouting information a little differently," Elias said. "We've had different reports. We've been spending more time on certain types of players, spending less time on other types of players, in terms of the amount of time that the scouts spend watching them in person, or types of players that we feel we're more apt to draft or want to draft.

"For a new front office coming in, this scouting staff has done a terrific job getting up to speed quickly. We're not looking — we don't go into the draft looking for certain types of players, but we want to have as best a process as we can, and I think we got that rolling in a good player this year and it resulted in what I feel like is a really good first day."

Such assessments aren't foreign in any of the 30 front offices, and have certainly been heaped on the Orioles in years past. The difference, of course, is who's making the selections, and how that influences the assessments of them.

If there are dissenters to the picks in the organization, they won't be loud ones. If there are busts among them, there won't be any internal history to look back on and explain why another pick would have been safer.

And if this ends up being the kind of draft class that transforms the farm system in the short term and the organization in the long run, it will be just the first marker laid down by an executive who has claimed the overall talent level in the organization needs to grow in a major way.

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These three players are a start.

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