Shortly after 7 p.m. Monday, Mike Elias will make the selection that will rank among the most important decisions in his tenure as Orioles executive vice president/general manager.
The first overall pick in Monday's Major League Baseball draft, which the Orioles earned before Elias was hired in November, by virtue of baseball's worst record last season, represents the clearest way yet for the team’s new baseball executive to put his mark on the club and farm system he inherited.
It's a selection Elias and assistant general manager Sig Mejdal, another import from the Houston Astros organization, have plenty of experience with, in an area they've said was their expertise since they arrived.
But with only about six months to build something resembling the vast databases of player information and streamlined technology they used for a decade with the St. Louis Cardinals and Astros, Elias and Mejdal think they can still replicate their previous success in this draft even without the infrastructure finished.
"We got in here basically in late November, December," Elias said. "The scouting season starts late January, early February, so it's impossible to build out the ideal infrastructure that we want or are going to have — having a unified database to house reports and video, having a draft model, having infrastructure for the scouts to communicate well and schedule themselves well, all of that. But there were some minimal viable products that we needed in order to do reasonably well by our standards this week."
Both Elias and Mejdal had similar thoughts on what those priorities were, and how they've been brought to the Orioles.
"One of those is getting projections for the college players, hitters and pitchers, and then also utilizing college TrackMan [pitch- and motion-tracking data] in a little bit more of a systematic way," Elias said. "We're doing that. We're doing that a little more manually than we'd really like."
"It's well-known that in St. Louis, we were one of the first teams to really incorporate [that data] into our decisions to significantly [evaluate] player performance," Mejdal said. "We couldn't be without that, but the vast majority of teams are not without that either. It's really just table stakes now. We couldn't be without that, and then the other data that's available, whether it's TrackMan data or high-speed video or different trackers, body trackers, or bat trackers, sensors. We've done as much as we can with that, too."
In essence, the Orioles have all the information that's available to every team that subscribes to the various data systems, such as TrackMan and video services, but haven't synced it all in one place for easy analysis.
"We're able to reproduce it, albeit in a less efficient way," Mejdal said. "So, a lot of manual syncing or creating name-checks and double-checking on your own instead of having an automated system doing it is one example of that."
"We're really having to dive into the weeds in each player, but the important thing is that info has a voice, even if we're combining it in our heads a little bit more than we want to be," Elias said. "We think it'll improve our draft selections relative to where the Orioles were in the past."
Such processes are more important for the later rounds than the first overall pick, where the Orioles are trying to determine if they should select one of the clear top two — Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman or Texas high school shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. — or someone from the next tier, such as California first baseman Andrew Vaughn, Vanderbilt outfielder JJ Bleday, or Georgia prep shortstop C.J. Abrams
The Orioles have the first pick in the second round (No. 42) and a selection in Competitive Balance Round B (No. 71) before beginning Tuesday’s second day with the first pick of the third round (No. 79). They’ll pick first in every round after that, ending with the 40th round Wednesday.
Former Colorado Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd, who will be part of Monday's draft coverage on MLB Network, said he thinks Elias has set things up well by essentially serving as the Orioles scouting director to make things as simple as possible for a staff he largely inherited.
"I think the hardest thing is just separating the white noise," O'Dowd said. "Taking the position so late, it's hard to emulate what took place for them in their time with the Astros, because that took a number of years to put together. So, when you take a job that late into the offseason, it's just really difficult philosophically to implement a consistent thought process for how you want to evaluate players, because you haven't been together for a long enough period of time to be able to do that. To me, that's the biggest challenge that they have going into this year's draft. That type of stuff doesn't happen overnight. That takes time for that to happen.
Baltimore Orioles Insider
"I think it's not as problematic with the [No. 1 overall] pick, or maybe even their second pick. I think it becomes more challenging as you go deeper in the draft, and you necessarily weren't in the middle of seeing all those other players because you just can't. The job responsibilities don't allow you to do that."
Elias credited his Orioles staff with doing a good job under previous scouting director Gary Rajsich and having a good level of curiosity for what worked well with the Astros and Cardinals. In order to simplify things for them, Elias said they've shortened up some of the scouting reports and asked different questions than in years past.
He brought the whole scouting staff together in January for meetings, and said they told him it was the first time they'd all been in the same room in a long time. Elias explained they'd be "asking scouts to express their feelings from different questions” that had the potential to “start to change their thinking.”
"I think the changes that we've made so far have really simplified things," said Elias, a former scout. "This is a job that I've done personally, and I like to get right to the point and not have a lot of busywork. So we try to simplify the reports, ask very pointed questions that are really going to steer our decision-making, and the rest of it, that's why we bring scouts to the draft room. They can talk, they can express their feelings. To hear scouts describe the report-writing process was faster and simpler this year, and that encourages guys to write more reports and to update their reports. I think that's good."
The senior scouting staff was in Baltimore beginning early last week, with the area scouts getting in Friday to spend the draft together. Elias said that was the first time that's happened with the Orioles.
It's all with the hope that the first draft of this new era of Orioles baseball is as productive as the ones the new front office was a part of in St. Louis and Houston.
"I think that our staff has done a really good job preparing, and we're still preparing," Elias said. "We're putting together as much information and expertise as we can, to do as well as we can on every pick. I know that our process and our tools and our infrastructure will improve vastly over the next year as we build it out, so next draft, we're going to be even more well-equipped. That doesn't mean we're not going to do great this time around. It's very important to us."