Teams picking behind Baltimore in the 2021 MLB Draft are convinced the Orioles are going to take a college player with the No. 5 overall pick, according to MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis, who says the Orioles could cut an under-slot deal with a college hitter if Vanderbilt right-hander Jack Leiter and Louisville catcher Henry Davis are both off the board at No. 5.

Callis had Boston College’s Sal Frelick going to the Orioles in his most recent mock draft. (Leiter and Davis were off the board at No. 5.) Frelick, a 5-foot-9, 175-pound outfielder, hit .359/.443/.559 with nearly as many walks (27) as strikeouts (28) in 48 games for the Eagles this spring.

“He’s one of the best pure hitters in college baseball. He’s one of the few college hitters who had a good year,” Callis said of Frelick on Glenn Clark Radio June 15. “He’s one of the fastest players in college baseball this year. He’s probably a 70 runner on the 20-to-80 scale. He can play center field. So you’d be getting a polished bat that’s a definite center fielder, can really run, really controls the strike zone. Not big power — I think you’d be talking like a 15-home-run type. He’s a very good player.”

Callis said he thinks the top tier in this year’s draft consists of eight players, with Frelick landing toward the top of the second tier of players that extends from about 9 to 15. If the Orioles were to take Frelick — or another player in that second tier — the idea would likely be execute something similar to what they did last year.

The Orioles’ bonus pool allotment in 2020 was about $13.9 million, with the slot value of the No. 2 pick being about $7.8 million. The Orioles decided to take Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad, who signed for an under-slot bonus of $5.2 million. That left room for over-slot bonuses for high school right-hander Carter Baumler and high school infielder Coby Mayo later in the draft.

The expectation from other teams is that the Orioles will do something like that again this year should top college talents Leiter and Davis not be available at No. 5, according to Callis. Baltimore’s bonus pool is about $11.8 million this year, with the slot value of the fifth pick being about $6.2 million.

“The teams behind the Orioles are convinced they’re going to go college, and if Jack Leiter and Henry Davis are gone, then they’ll still go college and cut a deal and that plays into, ‘Hey, look what they did with Kjerstad last year,'” Callis said. “I think they legitimately liked Kjerstad. I don’t know if they necessarily had Kjerstad as the No. 2 guy in the draft, but I think they felt that he was on par with the other guys at that selection and used that opportunity to save money and stockpile it for later picks.”

Callis isn’t the only one who believes the under-slot path is possible for the Orioles when the draft takes place July 11-13. FanGraphs national writer Kevin Goldstein sees Frelick and Sam Houston State outfielder Colton Cowser as options at No. 5. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Cowser hit .374/.490/.680 with 16 homers in 55 games for the Bearkats this spring.

FanGraphs’ first mock draft — written by Goldstein and Eric Longenhagen — had the Orioles taking Davis at No. 5 but mentioned that Baltimore GM Mike Elias has scouted Frelick and Cowser this spring.

“These are college outfielders with track records who can really hit,” Goldstein said on Glenn Clark Radio June 4. “Talent-wise, they’re probably more 10 to 15, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Baltimore look at those kinds of guys, save a little bit of money and find another guy who’s a first-round talent with their next pick [at No. 41].”

With all that being said, there are several high school players who could possibly fit at No. 5 as well, including shortstops Jordan Lawlar, Marcelo Mayer, Kahlil Watson and Brady House. None of those players are expected to take an under-slot deal at No. 5; all are off the board within the first nine picks in Callis’ mock.

One high school player who might be an under-slot option for the Orioles is Atlanta-area catcher Harry Ford, considered one of the best athletes in the draft. Callis has Ford going to the Miami Marlins at No. 16 in his mock draft but mentioned the catcher as high as No. 5 with the Orioles.

“If you somehow had the consensus of all 30 teams, Harry Ford would go, I don’t know, 12 to 18, somewhere in that range,” Callis said. “So yes, you could go under-slot. If Harry Ford’s looking to turn pro, which I believe he is because he’s going to go in the first round somewhere, and let’s say 13th is the highest he’s going to go without doing a deal, then it makes sense for him to cut a deal somewhere over the 13th slot and below the fifth slot.”

Ultimately, there’s still plenty of time for things to shake out.

“As we get closer, I hope to get a better sense of what the Orioles are actually going to do,” Callis said. “We’re still kind of in the speculative stage of mock drafts right now.”

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

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

Photo Credit: BC Athletics

Luke Jackson

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