‘We’re gonna have a nice lively debate’

Orioles executive vice president and general manger Mike Elias said Saturday the Orioles’ pool of candidates for the first overall pick in next month’s Major League Baseball draft is down to a group of “five, maybe six, but probably five players.”

He declined to name the candidates, but that tally aligns with much of what has been reported publicly about the Orioles’ thinking. The presumed options are Georgia high school outfielder Druw Jones, Oklahoma high school infielder Jackson Holliday, Florida high school outfielder Elijah Green, Georgia high school infielder Termarr Johnson and Cal Poly shortstop Brooks Lee, with LSU infielder Jacob Berry also considered in the mix.

“I do expect to probably carry that group all the way into the draft meetings,” Elias said. “There’s a lot of information that comes in late leading up to draft, and so it’s not responsible to pare the list down until you get all that, and also, I think we’re gonna have advocates in our scouting department and in our front office for each of those players, so we’re gonna have a nice lively debate.

“It’s a very good group of players. I’m very excited about the candidate pool for the draft this year, but that does not make the decision any easier. In fact, it makes it harder. It’s always a high-stakes decision. A lot of unknowns and luck involved. And it’s a tough thing, but it’s a huge opportunity for us, and I think we’re gonna do well.”

Elias returned to Baltimore late Friday night from the MLB draft combine in San Diego, where several of the draft’s top prospects were participating. Among the 11 years the draft has featured a bonus pool system, this year’s No. 1 pick will mark the ninth time Elias has been involved with a top-five selection, including five first overall picks. With five of the draft’s first 81 picks, the Orioles hold the second-largest pool of any organization since the format’s introduction in 2012.

Elias compared this year’s group of top players to 2019, when he felt there were three serving of being the top selection in a given year in Adley Rutschman, Bobby Witt Jr. and Andrew Vaughn. The Orioles went with Rutschman, who was publicly considered the best of the three and has since become baseball’s top prospect. Jones, son of 10-time Gold Glover Andruw Jones, is regarded as the top prospect this year, but Elias said “there’s not a slam dunk” choice.

In the past two drafts, the Orioles have used their first pick to take players considered early first-round talents slightly higher than they were expected to go, signing them to deals beneath their bonus pool slot and using the savings to sign high-ceiling players to larger bonuses later in the draft. There’s perception that selecting a player other than Jones would allow the Orioles to deploy a similar strategy in 2022.

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“[The bonus pool] comes into play, and we look at maximizing our entire draft,” Elias said. “But ultimately, we’re looking for the right player for us and kind of picking a favorite player that we want to take home, and you only get one of them. You can’t take more than one, and it’s just always a tough decision. But I’m excited that the draft’s coming around and the group that we have to choose from and the group of people that we have working on the draft, very confident about where it’s at.”

>> Top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez, out until at least September with a right lat strain, is undergoing physical therapy in Sarasota, Florida. The Orioles will do further imaging “at some point in the next few weeks,” Elias said, to get a better idea of ​​his timeline going forward.

>> Elias said the Orioles’ choice to option starting pitcher Bruce Zimmermann doesn’t necessarily preclude a promotion for No. 4 prospect DL Hall, who struck out 11 in 4 1/3 innings in a start this week for Triple-A Norfolk. Manager Brandon Hyde said the Orioles are still determining how to fill their open rotation spot, with using Monday’s day off to move up their other starters among the possibilities. Elias did say Hall is “making great progress” in Triple-A.

“It’s at the point where obviously we’re watching these outings very carefully but doing so not just from like a player development standpoint, but from major league relevancy standpoint,” Elias said. “We’re gonna be looking for the right time to possibly see what we got there.”

>> Infielders Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg, the Orioles’ Nos. 3 and 7 prospects according to Baseball America, entered Saturday with an OPS of 1,117 and 1,311, respectively, since being promoted to Triple-A.

“Man, it seems like there’s been no adjustment necessary so far,” Elias said. “I’m sure they’ll cool off. They’re not going to have 1,000 OPSes forever. But that’s awesome to see. Those are two exciting guys. I think it’s really cool to watch them play together basically the whole way up the chain. Never like to get out ahead of myself with guys that are still in the minors, but those two have a very good chance of locking down our infield, I think, for a while. I hope they stay healthy and keep having consistent at-bats. It’s fun to have that so close with the young team that’s out here right now. It’s a good fit.”

>> Right-hander Matt Harvey pitched in a simulated game in Sarasota on Saturday and will pitch for a lower affiliate before becoming “a normal member of the Norfolk rotation” once his suspension for drug distribution is up early next month, Elias said.

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