With less than a day to go before the 2019 amateur draft, the Orioles seem to still be exploring their options with the first overall pick. Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman has long been considered the top talent in this year’s draft class by scouts and pundits, though according to MLB.com’s Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo, the Orioles are also looking at Cal first baseman Andrew Vaughn and Vanderbilt outfielder J.J. Bleday as “the top two alternatives” if Rutschman doesn’t end up being the pick (plus, high schooler Bobby Witt Jr. also might be a possibility).
Two scouts on rival teams have told Mayo that the Orioles won’t select Rutschman, though Mayo notes, this could also be some of the gamesmanship every team deploys to create uncertainty about their selections. Still, Baltimore’s front office hasn’t given any indication about their plans in Mike Elias’ first draft as the team’s GM, and the linking of Rutschman to the O’s was more based on Rutschman’s high profile than it was on any reports coming out of Camden Yards.
A wealth of factors go into any draft pick, of course, especially one as important and potentially franchise-altering as a 1-1 selection. It’s worth remember that Elias was the Astros’ director of amateur scouting when the team made the then-surprising move to select Carlos Correa with the first overall pick of the 2012 draft. Mark Appel was widely tabbed as the top prospect of the 2012 class, though since Correa was willing to sign for a lesser bonus than the recommended slot price attached to the first overall pick, Correa ended up being the choice, giving the Astros more space in their draft pool to sign Lance McCullers Jr. for a larger bonus in the supplemental first round (41st overall).
We haven’t heard much about what Rutschman or some of this year’s top prospects are seeking in their first contracts, though if Vaughn or Bleday are willing to sign for less than the first overall pick’s recommended $8,415,300 slot price, that certainly be a point in their favor should Elias again look to spread his bonus pool money around on several top prospects.
Beyond just finances, of course, the O’s could also simply prefer Vaughn, Bleday, Witt, or another player to Rutschman for pure baseball reasons. The Astros received some criticism for being cheap when they took Correa over Appel, though time has clearly vindicated Houston’s strategy in that draft.
If Rutschman isn’t the top pick, it could greatly shake up the remainder of the first round. As a matter of due diligence, teams scout virtually all of the top prospects to prepare for just such an unexpected scenario, plus other teams could also be preparing to make outside-the-box situations. Callis and Mayo cite a number of interesting prospects within their piece, including an item on how high school third baseman Brett Baty’s stock could be on the rise, potentially to the Rangers (who have the #8 pick) or even the White Sox with the third overall choice. Vaughn, Baty, Bleday, and high schooler CJ Abrams have all been mentioned as being on Chicago’s radar, though these plans could again change should Rutschman or Witt be available when the White Sox are on the clock.