MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis On Orioles’ Options With No. 5 Pick In 2021 MLB Draft

It’s very possible that one of Vanderbilt’s star pitchers — Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker — will be available when the Orioles are on the clock in the 2021 MLB Draft, but it’s also possible that the Orioles would pass on either one if that scenario were to play out, according to MLB Pipeline senior writer Jim Callis.

Leiter and Rocker have been viewed as two of the top prospects in the 2021 draft for about two years. Leiter was considered one of the top high school arms in the 2019 draft but wasn’t taken until the 20th round because of a strong commitment to Vanderbilt, where he’d be eligible for the draft again in 2021. Rocker exploded on to the college baseball scene as a freshman in 2019.

Callis says there are six players a cut above the rest at this point: Leiter, Rocker, Louisville catcher Henry Davis and high school shortstops Jordan Lawlar, Marcelo Mayer and Brady House. The Orioles will pick fifth when the draft rolls around in July, the third straight year they have had a top-five pick.

“Those guys are good, but I think there’s this public perception that it’s them and everybody else, and that’s not the case,” Callis said on Glenn Clark Radio May 14 regarding Leiter and Rocker. “In fact, if I had to guess today, I would bet that at least one of those guys would be on the board for the Orioles when they pick at five.”

“I could even see a scenario where you’d pass on one of those guys at five if you like [one of the other six players] better,” Callis added.

Callis explained that there are several reasons for this, starting with the fact that although Leiter and Rocker have had solid results in 2021, both have stumbled a bit lately. Leiter, for example, gave up seven runs against Florida May 1 and was skipped in the rotation the weekend of May 7-9 to manage his workload, raising some eyebrows.

Between his 6-foot-1, 205-pound frame and light workload — he threw just 15.2 innings in the shortened season last year — there are some questions about how he’ll hold up in pro ball. Still, Leiter has posted a 2.05 ERA, 119 strikeouts and 32 walks in 70.1 innings this year and was viewed as the favorite to go No. 1 to the Pittsburgh Pirates until recently.

Leiter pitched six innings and struck out 13 against Ole Miss May 15 in his first start back from the weekend off.

“If he comes back and he pitches great for the next six weeks, then he’ll be fine,” Callis said. “But if he comes back and it’s the Jack Leiter we saw the past couple weeks where he’s getting hit around some, then it’s a question.”

The concern with the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Rocker is more about the fluctuation of his stuff, according to Callis. He’s had starts in which his fastball sits at 90-92 mph, and he gave up six runs against Alabama May 7 because of shaky command. Regardless, Rocker has a 2.44 ERA, 118 strikeouts and 25 walks in 81 innings this year, and he’s already shown what he can do when he’s on his game:

“When Kumar Rocker’s at his best like we saw in the [2019] College World Series and with the 19-strikeout no-hitter against Duke in the Super Regionals, he looks great,” Callis said. “But there are days where Kumar Rocker doesn’t get a lot of swings and misses in the strike zone, and if guys don’t chase his slider, what exactly do you have?”

There are financial considerations, too. Baltimore’s bonus pool for the top 10 rounds this year is about $11.8 million and the slot value of the No. 5 pick is about $6.2 million, according to Baseball America. Last year, the Orioles opted to go the under-slot route with the No. 2 overall pick, using the savings from picking Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad to pay high school infielder Coby Mayo and high school right-hander Carter Baumler over-slot bonuses.

That won’t be possible if Baltimore pops Leiter or Rocker at No. 5, according to Callis.

“Even if you’re not looking to save money at five, you’d like to know what it’s going to cost you so you can plan the rest of your draft,” Callis said. “It may be tough to pin one of those guys down as to what exactly they’re going to sign for at five, and then it ties up your bonus pool all summer and leaves you scrambling at the deadline a little bit.”

Callis had the Orioles taking Brady House, a high school shortstop out of Georgia, in his latest mock draft. Callis said the 6-foot-3, 210-pound House might have to eventually move to third base, but he runs well for his size and has huge arm strength and raw power. There’s a chance House turns into a more athletic version of Joey Gallo with a little less power but a better hit tool, according to Callis.

“I don’t know which one would play short or if one of them would stay at short, but Brady House and Gunnar Henderson on the left side of the infield, that would be pretty exciting,” Callis said.

Another potential option for Baltimore could be Henry Davis, the power-hitting catcher out of Louisville. Teams don’t draft for need like in the NBA or NFL, typically opting for the best possible player regardless of position. Thus, the Orioles will consider Davis at No. 5 even though they took catcher Adley Rutschman with the top overall pick in 2019.

Callis noted that although Davis has a cannon arm, he only projects to be an adequate defensive catcher — unlike Rutschman, who has a chance to be a Gold Glove defender. Callis said the Orioles could try the “reasonably athletic” Davis at third base but that he’d definitely fit in an outfield corner.

Baltimore has taken college bats with top-five picks the past two years under GM Mike Elias. Davis is hitting .372/.493/.646 in 45 games this spring.

“This could be a .280, 25-home run guy if he’s playing every day and not getting beat up behind the plate,” Callis said. “It’s better hit and maybe a touch less power than Heston Kjerstad, but you’re getting a guy who’s performed at the highest level in one of the best college conferences in the country.”

For more from Callis, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox

Luke Jackson

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