With Major League Baseball's annual draft taking place tonight, all eyes are on the Baltimore Orioles who own the first overall pick. This will be just the second time in 54 years that the Orioles are selecting first overall and the first time since 1989 when they selected right-hander Ben McDonald. The Orioles are in the early stages of a rebuild after shipping off several of their core players in the past few seasons and finishing last year with a league-worst 47-115 record. This year's draft will be the first chance for new GM Mike Elias and assistant GM Sig Mejdal to get the team moving in the right direction since coming over this past winter from the Houston Astros. Thanks to strong draft picks like Carlos Correa in 2012 and Alex Bregman in 2015, Elias and Mejdal helped build the Astros into the perennial contenders they are today after the team struggled throughout the earlier part of this decade. Orioles fans can only hope that the pair brings the same success to a Baltimore team that hasn't won a World Series since 1983 and only has one Division title in the past 20 years.
For their first overall selection, the Orioles will most likely be going with catcher Adley Rutschman out of Oregon State. Rutschman is the consensus top-rated prospect in the draft class who earned Most Outstanding Player at last year's College World Series. Many experts are saying he is one of the best draft prospects to enter the league since Bryce Harper in 2010. Through 55 games this season at Oregon State, Rutschman is hitting .419 with 17 home runs and 57 RBIs. Aside from his offensive prowess, Rutschman is also excellent behind the plate and shared Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors with Stanford's Maverick Handley last season. On top of his two-way upside, Rutschman is also known to be a leader in the clubhouse with an outgoing personality and willingness to talk to teammates, coaches, and fans. He appears to be the franchise-altering type of talent that a struggling team like the Orioles needs to get back on track. Rutschman would be the first catcher selected with the top overall pick since the Twins took Joe Mauer first overall in 2001. Other top prospects that have gotten consideration but will most likely fall short of the top overall spot include shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. out of Colleyville Heritage HS, shortstop CJ Abrams out of Blessed Trinity Catholic HS, first baseman Andrew Vaughn out of the University of California, outfielder Riley Greene out of Hagerty HS, and outfielder JJ Bleday out of Vanderbilt University.
In honor of tonight's draft, we decided to take a look back at some of the most promising Ironbirds prospects from the past several years and see where they are today. The first player we looked at is left-handed pitcher John Means. He was selected by the Orioles in the 11th round of the 2014 MLB Draft and has come a long way since then. The left-hander played 10 games for the Ironbirds in 2014, going 1-3 with a 3.41 ERA. Means has improved tremendously over the last few seasons and has been a bright spot in an otherwise struggling starting rotation for the Orioles in 2019. In 13 appearances, Means is 5-4 with a 2.80 ERA. That is good enough for the lowest ERA amongst rookie starting pitchers in the American League and Means could garner American League Rookie of the Year consideration if he keeps pitching this effectively.
The next former Ironbird we looked at is outfielder DJ Stewart. He was chosen 25th overall by the Orioles in the first round of the 2015 draft and played 62 games for the Ironbirds in 2015, hitting .218 with 6 HRs and 24 RBIs. Since then, Stewart has made terrific progress in his game and made his major-league debut last season in which he appeared in 17 games and batted .250 with 3 HRs and 10 RBIs. This season with the AAA Norfolk Tides has been his best yet, hitting .316 with 8 HRs and 35 RBIs in 43 games before getting called up to the majors. In his first major league game of the season on May 28, Stewart started in right field and went 3-for-4 with a stolen base. As the season moves forward, the Orioles will look for him to continue his stellar hitting from AAA.
Trey Mancini is another former IronBirds star that is finding a great deal of success today. Drafted by the Orioles in the 8th round of the 2013 draft, Mancini played 68 games for the Ironbirds that summer and hit for a terrific .328 batting average with 3 HRs and 35 RBIs. Since getting called up to the majors late in 2016, Mancini has been a regular part of the Orioles starting lineup; primarily starting in the outfield but also seeing time at first base. He looks like a borderline All-Star in 2019, hitting .295 with 10 HRs and 26 RBIs through 53 games and leading the team in batting average, hits, and on-base percentage. Nicknamed "Boom Boom Mancini" after former boxer Ray Mancini, the 27-year old has a bright future with the Orioles and will look to continue improving in the years to come.
Infielder Ryan Mountcastle, who was drafted 36th overall by the Orioles in the first round of the 2015 draft. He appeared in just 10 games with the Ironbirds in 2015, hitting .212 with 1 HR and 5 RBIs before getting demoted to the GCL Orioles for the remainder of that season. While he is still awaiting a call-up to the majors, Mountcastle has improved significantly over the past few seasons. This year with the AAA Norfolk Tides has been his best yet, hitting .326 with 7 HRs and 33 RBIs through the first 43 games of the season. Look for Mountcastle to receive the major-league nod from the Orioles sometime in the near future.
Stevie Wilkerson is the final former IronBird that we took a look at. Wilkerson was selected by the Orioles in the 8th round of the 2014 draft and played in 60 games with the Ironbirds that summer, hitting .190 with 2 HRs and 15 RBIs. Despite the slow start with the Ironbirds, Wilkerson improved steadily throughout the next few seasons and made his MLB debut in 2018. After starting the 2019 season in AAA, he was called up on April 22 and has appeared in 33 games for the Orioles this season, batting .250 with 5 HRs and 14 RBIs. While not yet a permanent member of the Orioles starting lineup, Wilkerson has only been getting better and is yet another young bright spot for Baltimore.
Despite having a farm system ranked in the lower third of baseball, the Orioles still have plenty of promising young talent to build upon moving forward. Tonight's draft is a chance for a huge step in the right direction and will likely be remembered as an important date in the franchise's future.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.