The Orioles hit what they felt to be a home run with the first overall pick in the MLB draft Sunday, but executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias focused on the concept of adding another “wave” to the already highly ranked farm system Baltimore possesses.
To do that, they followed the selection of high school shortstop Jackson Holliday first overall with Cal junior outfielder Dylan Beavers with the 33rd overall pick in the Competitive Balance A round. Beavers, who Baseball America considered the 26th-best prospect in the draft, is 6 feet 4 and figures to play a corner outfield position.
To open the second round at pick No. 42, Baltimore selected Clemson sophomore third baseman Max Wagner, opting to stick with high-upside batters. And with their final pick of the first day, the Orioles took Florida junior outfielder Jud Fabian with the 67th pick of the Competitive Balance B round, a selection acquired from the Marlins as part of the trade that sent relievers Tanner Scott and Cole Sulser to Miami.
“We’re really happy with our return this evening,” said Orioles director of draft operations Brad Ciolek, noting the unique combination of power and plate discipline for all four picks. “We’re gonna get back at it early” for rounds three through 10 on Monday.
In 56 games for the Golden Bears this past season, Beavers, who is from Paso Robles, California, hit .291 with a 1.060 OPS, clubbing 17 home runs and driving in 50 runs. He drew 51 walks to his 54 strikeouts, and like Holliday, Beavers is a left-handed hitter. He was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection each of the past two seasons, and he displayed a propensity to reach base in 2022, doing so safely in 51 of Cal’s 56 games, including a streak of 23 consecutive.
Ciolek said the organization is “really intrigued” by Beavers’ power and speed combination, and he believes “there’s more power in the tank there.” His contact rate can also still improve, Ciolek figured.
Wagner, a 20-year-old from Green Bay, Wisconsin, had just 99 plate appearances as a freshman before breaking out this past spring and earning the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year award. He hit 27 homers for the Tigers, tied for the third most in college baseball, including 17 in his final 24 games.
The right-handed slugger held a strong walk-to-strikeout ratio (45 to 51) and posted a 1.348 OPS as a sophomore.
In a Zoom video call with Wagner, what stood out most to Ciolek and the rest of the Orioles’ brain trust was how Wagner navigated through the adversity of his freshman season. Wagner discovered the need for daily consistency with his training and approach at the plate.
“Obviously, it translated really well across the board, not only with the home run numbers and performance at the plate but in the field as well,” Ciolek said. “We always kind of look for guys who ultimately have gone through adversity or struggled a little bit, because we think that translates really well at the next level.”
Fabian was selected 40th overall in the second round of last year’s draft by the Boston Red Sox but opted not to sign, leaving him available for the Orioles this year — which made Ciolek feel “ecstatic.”
Fabian returned to Florida for his junior year, where he improved his power numbers, even as his batting average fell to .239. The 21-year-old posted a 1.013 OPS with 24 homers with 55 RBIs, and he can play all three outfield positions, although his defensive ability lends itself to center field. He had more walks (62) than hits (56) this past spring with the Gators, and more than 60% of his hits went for extra bases.
“Not concerned as far as the batting average concerns,” Ciolek said. “He did cut down on his strikeout rate this past year, so we’re really excited he was able to do, and he’s always been able to draw walks and get on base. The unique combination of on-base skills, drawing walks, power and the ability to play center field is what really excites us about him.”
In the first round of the draft, 21 of the 30 players selected were position players, perhaps a side effect of a rash of injuries to many of the top college pitchers. In the buildup to the draft, Elias said “it’s kind of a blowout year [for pitchers], largely ‘cause of that.” But he didn’t rule out the possibility that Baltimore would select an injured pitcher, especially if it’s “kind of a garden-variety Tommy John rehab.”
But Elias has largely avoided drafting pitchers highly in the draft, and he did so again Sunday. Baltimore went with one infielder and one outfielder with its first two picks for the third year in a row. In 2021, the Orioles selected outfielder Colton Cowser first with the fifth overall pick followed by infielder Connor Norby 41st overall. In 2020, it was outfielder Heston Kjerstad with the No. 2 overall selection followed by infielder Jordan Westburg 30th overall.
With Baltimore’s first four picks all position players, Elias ensured for the fourth straight year that the Orioles didn’t take a pitcher before at least their fifth pick. In 2019, they waited until their ninth pick before taking right-hander Griffin McLarty. The Orioles took a pitcher with their fifth selection in 2020 and 2021 — right-handers Carter Baumler and Carlos Tavera, respectively.
“I know you guys are probably not going to believe me, but we did have a couple pitchers who were actually picked right before throughout the evening, and I am telling the truth there,” Ciolek said. “That’s unfortunately the way the ball bounces. … Bottom line, we’re looking for the best player available, regardless of position.”
Holliday, the son of seven-time All-Star Matt Holliday, was chosen out of a group many narrowed to five options. The Orioles added Beavers, Wagner and Fabian, the latter two whom Baseball American considered the 70th- and 61st-best prospects in the draft, respectively. And on Monday, the Orioles have eight more players to add to the talent pipeline Elias is building.