With the Orioles selecting Sam Houston State outfielder Colton Cowser fifth overall in the 2021 draft, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:
1. Cowser anticipating going in “the early teens” fanned flames of criticism for Mike Elias going under slot for the second straight year. Accusations of being cheap are nonsense if you exhaust your whole bonus pool, but tanking to this extent only to pass on superior talent is worthy of scrutiny.
2. That said, the first round hardly aligned with respected mock drafts, a reminder of how much proprietary information stays out of the public eye. Even if Cowser wasn’t quite the best player available, Kansas City drafting high school pitcher Frank Mozzicato seventh is a more extreme under-slot example.
3. The Heston Kjerstad effect was always going to lead to harsher second-guessing if Elias didn’t take the most popular name available. If Kjerstad were currently raking and knocking on the door to Bowie, few would question taking a college bat. Alas, Kjerstad still hasn’t played professionally due to myocarditis.
4. This marks three straight years the Orioles have used their first-round pick on a very productive college hitter, the kind of prospect typically preferred by models used by analytics-driven front offices like Baltimore’s. Everyone dreams of a Hall of Famer, but don’t dismiss higher floors in such a volatile exercise.
5. Draft pundit Jim Callis of MLB.com called Cowser “the second-best college position player available” behind top overall pick and Louisville catcher Henry Davis and believes he can stick in center field. That last part could be the difference between just an OK pick and a really good one.
6. That point has nothing to do with current All-Star center fielder Cedric Mullins, however. Teams shouldn’t be drafting for need, but the outfielder who can succeed in center can always go to one of the corners and presumably play there at a high level. Depth up the middle is key.
7. Not only did Cowser show improved power and speed this past season, but he walked more than he struck out over 253 plate appearances. We’ll see how that attractive profile in today’s strikeout-heavy game translates against superior competition and velocity moving forward.
8. The Orioles have selected just two pitchers over the first five rounds in three years of Elias drafts. Drafted in the fifth round last year, high school right-hander Carter Baumler underwent Tommy John surgery last fall. It seems pretty evident what the organization’s forecasting models prefer in the draft.
9. With that acknowledged, I’d understand more skepticism about the organization’s pitching plan after watching this disaster of a major league staff in 2021. Placeholders being hammered isn’t surprising, but shouldn’t the “secret sauce” be a little more effective for the likes of Dean Kremer and Keegan Akin?
10. Fans growing impatient with a miserable rebuild and clamoring to draft a high school shortstop in the top five makes for an interesting juxtaposition. I’m not suggesting the Orioles turning the corner is imminent, but wouldn’t drafting college hitters over volatile high schoolers indicate a shorter projected timeline to relevance?
11. Wanting the Orioles to draft decorated Vanderbilt pitcher Kumar Rocker is a different story. Once viewed as a favorite to go first overall, Rocker falling to 10th was surprising. Signability questions aside, we’ll see if Baltimore and the eight other teams passing on him end up regretting it.
12. Just like we’ll monitor shortstop and outfielder Austin Martin after the Orioles instead chose Kjerstad, Jordan Lawlar was regarded as the prep shortstop with the highest ceiling. He’s still more likely to be Tim Beckham than Manny Machado because that’s just the nature of the draft, but who really knows?