The last time the Orioles drafted a switch-hitting catcher in the first round of the MLB Draft, it turned out pretty well for them: Matt Wieters was the fifth overall pick in the 2007 draft and developed in to the O’s stalwart backstop for eight seasons. He appeared on the American League All-Star team four times and won two Gold Gloves in the process.
But times change, and with Wieters now in St. Louis, Baltimore finds itself deep in a massive rebuild. With the departure of Adam Jones to Arizona this offseason, they’re in need of a new franchise player, and they’ll be looking for just that with the first pick in the 2019 MLB Draft.
Check out the top five prospects in this year’s draft as determined by MLB.com and see if you can pick out who will be the next big thing:
Adley Rutschman, Catcher, Oregon State
No one in this draft class looks more Major League-ready than the Beavers junior backstop. Having already led OSU to the College World Series title as a sophomore, Rutschman – previously known as a gap hitter – added a power element to his game this season. Through 179 at-bats, he’s mashed 17 home runs, topping his previous high of 9 in his sophomore season.
Bobby Witt Jr., Shortstop, Colleyville Heritage HS (Texas)
The son of the former big league hurler with the same name, Witt takes an aggressive approach at the plate, which could lead to a plethora of K’s early in his career. But scouts believe with a little patience, he could eventually develop in to a 20/20 player. If nothing else, with a mid-90s fastball, Witt could always take after his dad and head to the mound. After all, there was at least one Hall of Fame pitcher that was originally drafted as a shortstop.
Andrew Vaughn, First Base, Cal
Vaughn hasn’t let being an undersized first baseman at 6’0” and 214 pounds deter him from mashing baseballs. Viewed by scouts as a middle-of-the-order run producer, Vaughn should move quickly through the minor league system. His only drawback is that other than a few innings on the mound for the Golden Bears, Vaughn only plays first base. If his path to the show ends up blocked, he may need to spend an additional season or two down on the farm to learn a new position.
CJ Abrams, Shortsop, Blessed Trinity Catholic HS (Georgia)
With game-changing speed, Abrams profiles a bit like current speedster Dee Gordon, although most scouts believe that if he fills out his 178-pound frame, Abrams could be a consistent 15-homer-a-year threat.
JJ Bleday, Outfield, Vanderbilt
The Commodores might as well change their nickname to “Outfielder U,” having three outfielders go early in the draft in three of the last four years. Bleday profiles as the best of the bunch though, with an above-average arm in right field, as well as the ability to hit to all fields. Like Rutschman, he’s also added a power to his game, hitting 26 dingers this season, after topping out at four in his sophomore season.
Beyond the Draft
The draft will have an effect beyond the prep and collegiate elite. Just ask Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel.
Many have their theories as to why the two veteran hurlers have generated less interest than your Tinder profile. Of course, we’re all aware that the pair’s shocking availability is thanks to the new free agency compensation rules that state if a player turns down a qualifying offer from his former team, the new team will need to forfeit a draft pick in order to sign that player. The funny thing is, though, that not one person in front offices across baseball has come out and said that.
On June 2 when the draft penalty won’t be attached anymore, GMs across the league will trip over each other like tourists racing to snap a selfie with an Easter Island statue for a chance to sign the 31-year-old flame throwers.
If Kimbrel were to ink a deal, he could realistically be ready to go by early July, meaning that contenders in need of relief help (and with deep pockets) would likely be in the market for the right-hander. Philadelphia appears as a likely landing spot, as back-end guys David Robertson and Pat Neshek are currently on the Injured List. Kimbrel also represents a significant upgrade over current Phillies closer Hector Neris. While Neris is off to a strong start this year, he’s been mostly inconsistent throughout his six years in the big leagues.
Keuchel, however, represents an interesting case, as starters would typically need more time to get up to game speed. But Keuchel has been throwing a simulated game every five days, and his agent, Scott Boras, recently said his client could be ready to go within a week of signing.
Scott Boras told me tonight he believes Dallas Keuchel could be ready to pitch at the @MLB level within roughly one week after signing, if that is what his team desires. Boras said Keuchel has thrown 7 simulated games of 95 to 104 pitches, every five days. @MLBNetwork— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) May 31, 2019
Potential employers may want to proceed with caution though, as inserting a starter who hasn’t pitched in a live game since last October in to a rotation in the midst of a pennant race could yield disastrous results. More than likely, Keuchel’s new team will have him embark on a quick journey through the minors, having him ready to roll shortly after the All-Star break.
The Yankees are linked heavily to the pursuit of Keuchel, but then again, when are the Yankees not included in the list of teams after a top free agent? Colorado may be suitor for Keuchel, though. The Rockies suddenly find themselves a yearly postseason contender, but their rotation has struggled so far this season, none more so than Kyle Freeland, who’s looked nothing like the guy that won 17 games last season. A former Cy Young-winner in Keuchel could be a great addition to a rotation that lacked big-game experience in a division series sweep at the hands of Milwaukee last season.
Watch the first round of the 2019 MLB Draft on Monday, June 3rd at 7 p.m. on MLB Network.