MLB Prospect Watch: Orioles draft strategy preview for No. 1 overall draft pick

The Major League Baseball amateur draft won’t begin until July 17, but that hasn’t stopped the rumor mill from starting when it comes to the Baltimore Orioles and their preferred strategy with the No. 1 pick. Last week, Baseball America reported on the industry’s belief that the Orioles were “targeting” Louisiana State third baseman Jacob Berry (listed by CBS Sports as the eighth-best prospect in that class in the spring) “for a sub-slot deal” before Berry broke a finger during batting practice. (He has since stayed away, although his return this season has not been ruled out.)

While it’s unclear if or how the injury will affect Baltimore’s plans, no one should be surprised if the Orioles select anyone other than Georgia prep outfielder Druw Jones, now widely considered the best class player. After all, the Orioles are usually led by Mike Elias, one of the architects of the “portfolio approach.” Let’s break down what this entails and how it might impact the top of the project.

The short version goes like this. Since MLB introduced stricter rules on draft spending, teams have placed more emphasis on the zero-sum nature of the process. This has led some teams, including those Elias has been part of in Baltimore and Houston, to question whether the standard approach — taking top talent regardless of financial demand — is the optimal approach. In turn, these teams have experimented with taking a less good (if still good) player upfront with the understanding that said player will need a lower signing bonus, giving the team additional funds to use later. .

For an example of this practice at work, consider the 2012 draft. That’s when the Astros took Carlos Correa over Byron Buxton with the No. 1 pick. Correa signed for $1.2 million less than Buxton. , allowing the Astros to funnel the difference into the following picks, including right-hander Lance McCullers Jr., third baseman Rio Ruiz and outfielder Brett Phillips. Correa and McCullers became centerpieces for the Astros, while Ruiz and Phillips served the organization as outgoing trades parts.

Now, that’s just one data point, and it doesn’t mean the portfolio approach is the right decision in all situations. (The Astros would have been fine had they taken Buxton and accommodated his request.) You can understand, however, why teams would take the portfolio approach when there is no clear talent gap between a given set of players. You can also see why clubs that lean heavily on probabilistic analysis, or view the draft as a game of luck, would favor the wallet route. To put it in basketball terms, a team using the wallet approach will take the same number of shots as a team that isn’t; the former, however, thinks he’s taking higher percentage shots, making him more likely to rack up a higher point total.

So what does all of this mean for the next project? We think Elias’ approach to his first three classes in Baltimore offers some clues. Below is a table that includes the following information: who the Orioles took and when; how much they spent overall in the draft; and what percentage of that was given to their first choice:

If the industry speculation reported by Baseball America turns out to be correct and the Orioles use the No. 1 pick in a sub-slot deal, it looks like they’ll be targeting around 40% of their bonus budget. for this player. Given the amount of their statutory pool, that would equate to a signing bonus of around $7 million; the slot value of pick #1, for reference, is almost $9 million. As such, the Orioles would have an additional $2 million to use throughout the rest of the draft.

It remains to be seen who the Orioles end up with, but you don’t have to go far back in history to see a well-executed portfolio approach at the top of the draft. Last summer, after selecting Henry Davis with the first pick and handing him the fifth-highest first-round signing bonus, the Pittsburgh Pirates redistributed the savings to land Anthony Solometo, Lonnie White and Bubba Chandler – each of them ranked in CBS Sports Top 50 before the draft.

There’s no guarantee the Orioles will land a similar run, or that their picks will end up being better than Jones. But then there is rarely a certain amount in the draft; most of the time you just play the odds.

Neal T. Doss