After taking one of the most productive college hitters in the country with their first pick in this year’s MLB draft, the Orioles kicked off the second day of the draft by selecting East Carolina second baseman Connor Norby with the No. 41 overall pick Monday.
The NCAA hits leader with 102 this spring was the first of eight college hitters selected with the Orioles’ 10 picks Monday, a trend domestic scouting supervisor Brad Ciolek said was no coincidence.
“Bottom line is we were looking to take the best available player, and granted, there is a lot of data and analytic insights with the college bat demographic that we feel very strongly and comfortable with,” Ciolek said after the 10th round completed. “We went ahead and made sure to target those guys early and often.”
Norby was the first of several players targeted for that reason, having climbed draft boards thanks to a standout junior year. He hit .415 with a 1.143 OPS and exploded for 15 doubles and 15 home runs after not hitting for much power earlier in his career.
Baseball America, which ranked him as the 43rd-best prospect in the draft, noted that Norby had an OPS over 1.000 against all types of pitches as a junior in a season that had him named the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year and a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award, given to the nation’s top college player. MLB.com had Norby rated 58th.
Norby was the first of 10 picks the Orioles will make Monday in the shortened 2021 draft, which will have 20 rounds instead of the traditional 40. They took only one pitcher, fifth-round right-hander Carlos Tavera, and one high school player, eighth-round catcher Creed Willems.
The lack of pitching should come as no surprise after the Orioles took just two in the first 10 rounds in 2019 before loading up later in the draft.
“It’s one of those things where we always have pitchers lined up, up and down our board,” Ciolek said. “Ultimately we have to make a decision, take the risk into account. But we will be looking extensively at some arms tomorrow.”
For their picks within the first 10 rounds, the Orioles have a signing bonus pool of $11,829,300 that can be spread. Though each pick has a recommended slot value — Cowser’s was $6.18 million — the team can sign players for more or less than that assigned amount, provided they stay within the bonus pool.
Here are the Orioles’ picks Monday:
Round 2 (No. 41 overall): Connor Norby, 2B, East Carolina
Skinny: The Orioles’ lean toward college hitters who show improvement while on campus and post big numbers as juniors continued with the 5-foot-11 Norby, who hit 30 extra-base hits and stole 18 bases in 2021 while walking 34 times against 33 walks.
Ciolek’s take: “Norby has tremendous feel for the barrel, he has the ability to adjust well, both from the fastball to breaking ball to off-speed stuff. It’s a lightning-quick bat. If you guys had an opportunity to tune in during the [NCAA regional] against Vanderbilt, he matched up very well. Stood in there against two of the better arms in Kumar Rocker and [Jack] Leiter. We really like what we’re getting here in terms of the offensive potential, and he’s a very athletic kid. We’re excited we were able to get him in the second round.”
Recommended bonus slot: $1.81 million
Competitive balance round B (No. 65 overall): Reed Trimble, OF, Southern Mississippi
Skinny: Trimble was a second-year freshman — essentially making him a draft-eligible sophomore for the Eagles and got off to a slow start in his first full college season before rebounding to bat .345 with a 1.052 OPS and 17 home runs while stealing 12 bases.
He was tied for the NCAA lead with 72 RBIs, and had a standout weekend during the NCAA regional in Oxford, Mississippi, hitting three home runs and driving in 14 runs over five games. Baseball America rated Trimble as their 104th-best draft prospect, while MLB.com rated Trimble No. 148.
Ciolek’s take: “Trimble is a very athletic kid, switch-hitter with plus bat speed from both sides of the plate. He moves around extremely well in center and he has played some second base and some shortstop. We will kick the tires on that potentially but we did draft him first and foremost as a center fielder. The key thing is we do like guys who are versatile and he fit that mold as well.”
Recommended bonus slot: $1.03 million
Round 3 (No. 76 overall): John Rhodes, OF, Kentucky
Skinny: When the draft moved from June to July, Rhodes became a draft-eligible sophomore and thus got put into the spotlight as a possible first-day pick. He struggled some this year, batting .251 with a .905 OPS, but led the country in outfield assists with eight.
Rhodes was rated the 173rd-best prospect by Baseball America, with MLB.com slotting him at No. 134.
Recommended bonus slot: $818,200
Round 4 (No. 106 overall): Donta Williams, OF, Arizona
Skinny: Williams is coming off a strong 2021 season where he played 62 games and supported a .342 batting average with eight home runs and 49 RBIs. Williams was named to the Pac-12 All-Conference Team this past season while helping Arizona to a 45-18 record. Williams received Pac-12 All-Defensive Team honors in 2021 and in 2019.
Recommended bonus slot: $549,000
Round 5 (No. 137 overall): Carlos Tavera, P, University of Texas-Arlington
Skinny: Tavera appeared in 15 games (started in 14) for the Mavericks in 2021. Tavera, who was named the Sun Belt Conference Pitcher of the Week twice, was 3-4 with a 3.04 ERA and held opponents to a .177 batting average. He recorded 117 strikeouts and 33 walks in 83 innings pitched. Before his junior season getting cut short due to the pandemic, Tavera recorded a 1.71 ERA in four games.
Ciolek’s take: “This year, was up to 96 [mph], settling around 92-94 with feel for a slider and a plus changeup. Seeing, in addition to what our scouts saw in the seats at UT-Arlington and also having the data to kind of cement those findings that we had with our scouting reports, we feel really happy about the overall stuff in that package there that we have with Carlos.”
Recommended bonus slot: $406,000
Round 6 (No. 167 overall): Collin Burns, SS, Tulane
Skinny: Burns had a breakout sophomore season, as he recorded a .353 batting average with eight home runs and 50 RBIs . Burns was named First Team All-American Athletic Conference, Third Team Collegiate Baseball All-America, First Team American Baseball Coaches Association South All-Region, and Second Team NCBWA All-America. The 5-foot-11 shortstop was a finalist for the Brooks Wallace Shortstop of the Year Award and was the only Tulane player to start in all 55 games this season.
Ciolek’s take: “We took a lot of guys that have the ability to move well laterally in the outfield, and also some guys that have some versatility. Collin Burns is an excellent example of that. He moves very well in the dirt, has excellent instincts and a big-league clock.”
Recommended bonus slot: $304,200
Round 7 (No. 197 overall): Connor Pavolony, C, Tennessee
Skinny: Pavolony was named to the NCAA Knoxville All-Regional Team and the SEC All-Tournament Team. The right-handed catcher started in 46 games for the Volunteers, registering a .260 batting average with seven home runs and 26 RBIs in 154 plate appearances. In Tennessee’s NCAA Regional victory over Wright State on June 4, Pavolony drove in a pair of runs on three hits, including a home run.
Recommended bonus slot: $237,000
Round 8 (No. 227 overall): Creed Willems, C, Aledo High School (TX)
Skinny: Willems, a TCU commit, is ranked the ninth best catcher in the country and 130rd overall player by perfectgame.org. Willems, who also plays first and third base, stands at 6-foot-1 and weighs 220 pounds coming out of high school. Perfect Game describes Willems as an athletic player who uses his strong lower half to generate speed and has good raw arm strength.
Ciolek’s take: “Creed is a baseball player. When he shows up to the field, everyone knows that he’s there to have fun and enjoy himself. But we will look to develop him as a catcher. We actually had him here at Camden Yards and he hit about three to four balls onto Eutaw Street. He has prodigious raw power and we’re really excited about that.”
Recommended bonus slot: $187,700
Round 9 (No. 257 overall): Ryan Higgins, 3B, Fresno State
Skinny: Higgins started in 44 games for the Bulldogs during his junior season and showcased his versatility by playing left field, third base, first base while contributing as designated hitter. Higgins was solid at the plate, registering a .352 batting average with 11 home runs and 41 RBIs.
Recommended bonus slot: $159,700
Round 10 (No. 287 overall): Billy Cook, OF, Pepperdine
Skinny: Cook, who was named First Team All-West Coast Conference, finished off his senior season at Pepperdine with a .298 batting average with 17 home runs and 42 RBIs in 131 plate appearances. One of Cook’s best games of the season came against BYU on May 22 when he belted three home runs and four RBIs. Cook had a .344 batting average during a shortened 2020 season.
Recommended bonus slot: $148,200