Mike Elias had a strategy laid out heading into the 2021 MLB Draft. He kept it close to the vest, and when approached about the matter, he told MASN this.
“I think a big part of being successful with that is being a little cagey about what our strategy is, exactly, in public and keeping the agents and industry on their toes, and we have demonstrated a history here and in Houston with, at times, pursuing that strategy and at times not.”O’s GM Mike Elias
We welcomed Sam Houston State Bearcat OF Colton Cowser in the first round at No. 5 overall. But what was going to happen after? Let’s take a look and see what Elias had hidden up his sleeve after day one!
The Orioles started off Day 2 of the draft by taking East Carolina University second baseman, Connor Norby.
Norby stared off 2021 the same way he ended 2020; by reachihg base in five straight games dating back to last year. His 2021 season started off by hitting in 30 of the Pirates’ first 31 games and leading the nation in hits as a junior. As a right-handed hitter, he has a short, compact, and disciplined approach, which allowed him to hit 15 home runs on top of a .415 batting average. He has improving power and strength, which should translate to a high contact rate.
Measuring in at 5’10 and 187 pounds, Norby possesses average arm strength that will probably keep him rising through the ranks as a second basemen. He finished his career with a .971 fielding percentage and even appeared in two games as a pitcher.
The next pick was OF and second-year freshman, Reed Trimble, out of Southern Mississippi University. Possessing a combination of power and speed, while also being a switch hitter with power, will translate to all fields. Measuring in at 6’0 and 180 pounds. Trimble earned Second Team All-American honors and Third Team Perfect Game/Rawlings honors.
As a hitter, Trimble finished the season second in multi-hit games with 24, tying for the lead, as well as first multi-RBI affairs, tying for the nation’s lead with 72 RBI for the year. He was first on his team with 17 home runs and 12 stolen bases, while tying for the team lead with a .345 batting average. The Golden Eagles were 12-2 when Trimble homered.
University of Kentucky OF John Rhodes was the 76th pick in the draft by the Orioles. As a freshman, Rhodes played third base before moving to left field as a sophomore. What stands out the most is that he led the nation with eight outfield assists, while not committing a single error in 52 games. Capable of playing all outfield positions, he is a durable defender coming out of college. As a sophomore, he slumped a bit, batting .251 on the year, but that is a bit misleading. The Chattanooga, TN, native led his team in runs with 47 and doubles with 15, while helping his on-base percentage by walking 28 times and being hit by 18 pitches.
Despite the down year, Rhodes finished college with a .294 batting average, after hitting .426 in 2020, where he was National Co-Freshman of the Year. The accolades have piled up over his career, but he came into the draft this year as D1 Baseball’s No. 30 ranked prospect and MLB’s No. 32 ranked prospect. With 23 consecutive games reaching base at one point, and finishing the season with 17 straight, the upside for Rhodes is high offensively, as his defense tends to be leading his value right now. He still is regarded as an advanced hitter with average power at his next level of play.
OF Donta’ Williams was taken in the fourth round as pick No. 106 out of Arizona University. Coming out as a fourth year player, Williams’ most impressive stat, next to batting .345, was 50 walks and 17 hit by pitches to his 40 strikeouts. To add to that, he also carried 82 hits, which accounted for an amazing .481 on-base percentage, reaching base in 47 consecutive games at one point. He also turned 26 of those hits into a man in scoring position, as he stole nine bases to go along with 17 doubles.
Profiling more as a fourth outfielder, his instincts in the outfield make him capable of playing all three spots, as he had a .983 fielding percentage and finished his career with eight outfield assists. Another good contact hitter, the Orioles are finding value with each pick so far.
For Oriole fans, the moment most waited for came when University of Texas-Arlington right-handed pitcher, Carlos Tavera, was selected in the fifth round. Possessing a low 90’s fastball and an advanced slider with a plus changeup, Taverna racked up 117 strikeouts over 83 innings and only allowed 33 free passes. Scouts say his delivery is simple and repeatable, making for easing coaching and tweaks. One of Tavera’s biggest accomplishments this year was his part in an 11-inning no hitter, in which he pitched none innings, striking out 11.
At 6’1″ and 195 pounds, Tavera still has a lot of upside in growth at only 21 years of age. He was named Sun-Belt All Conference and All Tournament Team during his 2021 junior season. He led his team and conference in strikeouts, finishing with 158 across 118.1 innings, while only allowing opponents to bat .181 against him.
Of course, no draft is ever complete without a shortstop, as they are usually the most athletic and easy to move. For the Orioles, their pick was 5’11”, 187-pound Collin Burns out of Tulane University, also signing rather quickly after being drafted.
Burns led Tulane with a .353 batting average, while also leading the team with 84 hits, 55 runs, and 20 stolen bases. He hit 20 doubles to lead the AAC, while earning First Team for the conference. But it’s not his bat that shows the only value, as he had only five errors for a .975 fielding percentage.
Burns finished his career with only 11 errors over 99 games, while also accumulating 209 assists. Another big stat for the young infielder was a .410 on-base percentage for 2021, finishing his career with a .398 OBP. The upside is his across the board tools that include speed, which allowed him to have an 80% conversion rate.
One thing the Orioles have always held in esteem is the position of catcher, as they used picks 197 and 227 on the catcher position.
Connor Pavolony out of Tennessee is regarded as a defensive-minded catcher with a strong arm. He helped lead the Vols back to the College World Series, despite having a broken bone in his throwing hand. Despite a .259 average over his college career, he still managed a .378 on-base percentage. He has upside, as he hit tape measure home runs that caught scouts’ eyes. He hit 13 home runs with 55 RBI over the course of 105 games.
Catcher Creed Willems, from Aledo (Texas) High School, is an 18-year-old converted pitcher, who reached 95 mph on the mound. During a workout at Camden Yards, the young catcher knocked a few balls onto Eutaw Street, showing raw power at his young age. Batting from the left side, he has a lot of growth potential.
Though committed to Texas Christian University, the Orioles love his raw power and look to develop him as a catcher. He is the top ranked catcher in the the state of Texas and ninth ranked overall coming out of high school. He can also play first and third base, and at 6’1″, 225 pounds, he has a body build that makes him powerful as a hitter, with a strong arm behind the plate. He has loose, strong hands and has an open stance, using his lower half to generate bat speed.
Ryan Higgins was Baltimore’s second to last pick. Though regarded as a third baseman, his defense may require a switch to left field during his move through the minor leagues, though his strong arm may allow him to focus on playing the hot corner.
Coming out of Fresno State, Higgins bulked up and tapped into his power potential his junior year. He batted .352 with 11 home runs, while driving in 41. His 6’1″, 200-pound frame, had him hit almost three times as many home runs in 2021 as his previous two seasons combined, playing in three extra games. He generated a .453 on-base percentage, while slugging .667 on a team that was five games under .500. He hit for average and power this past season and graded out at 55 as a hitter, as his confidence took a big step forward.
The final pick of the day went to Pepperdine third baseman, Billy Cook. A power hitter who hit 26 home runs across four years of college, he maxed out at 17 this past season, as he led the West Coast Conference. Though he has a tendency to get swing happy, 43 strikeouts in 33 games, he did slug .556 across his college career, while finishing with a .286 batting average. He had an on-base percentage of .382 for his career, as he showed a tendency to find ways to get on base. He only grounded into five double plays across his college career.
Over Cook’s last two seasons, he committed no errors across 48 games, ending with a .985 fielding percentage, as he played five different positions across his collegiate career.
The flock shows a lot of upside and very strong potential, as each player excels in key offensive categories, as well as defensive aspects. Without knowing whom these players are, many fans might be disappointed, but once informed, the positives outweigh the negatives!
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