The Orioles decided to forgo pitching in the first four rounds of the 2021 MLB Draft, instead opting to select several hitters who can potentially add some pop to the lineup down the road.
Baltimore selected Sam Houston State outfielder Colton Cowser with the fifth overall pick July 11. Orioles general manager Mike Elias decided not to select a top pitcher who was linked to the club — Vanderbilt right-hander Kumar Rocker, who eventually was drafted by the New York Mets at No. 10 overall.
The approximate pick value for Cowser is $6.18 million.
“This has been analyzed and written about as a good draft class, but rather bunched up in talent from one all the way to 10 and 12 in the draft, a lot of similarities in different rankings across different teams of those players,” Elias said in a Zoom call with the media. “Cowser is a guy we were very, very high on, especially as the spring got going and the surge in power that he was showing and the consistency at the plate.”
Cowser, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound center fielder, hit .354 with 24 home runs and a 1.068 OPS from the left side of the plate in three seasons at Sam Houston State. Cowser earned the distinction as the No. 7 draft prospect by FanGraphs, No. 10 by ESPN and MLB.com and No. 11 by Baseball America.
It’s the second year in a row the club selected an outfielder. The Orioles took Heston Kjerstad out of the University of Arkansas with the second overall pick in 2020. Kjerstad is still unable to play due to a serious bout with myocarditis.
Elias envisions Cowser as having the capability to play center field. Cedric Mullins is having a breakout year for the big-league club at that position, earning a spot in the American League All-Star team.
“Obviously, we have a really good center fielder on the team right now, but the beauty of that position and any up-the-middle position is you can slide around if needed, and you can’t have too many center fielders,” Elias said. “He’s a great defensive player in all three outfield spots, but he can play center and that’s a big part of his skill set.”
“We don’t draft for need,” Elias added. “The baseball draft is very challenging. We just try to make a good pick. That’s what our goal is. We want, hopefully, an impact player, and the draft is fraught with a lot of risk, so we’re trying to get value out of these picks as much as possible.”
For Cowser, he is just excited to begin his professional career after thriving at the collegiate level. This past season, he hit .374/.490/.680 with 10 doubles, two triples, 16 homers, 17 steals, 61 runs and 52 RBIs.
“I’ve dreamed about this and my family’s invested a lot into me,” Cowser said. “You know they’ve sacrificed all the time. Just to be able to spend it with friends and family means the world to me.”
The Orioles added more depth to their position-player stable by selecting East Carolina second baseman Connor Norby with the No. 41 overall pick July 12. The junior was one of the best hitters in Division I baseball this year, batting .415 with 15 doubles and 15 home runs. He also led the nation with 102 hits and was rated as the 43rd-best prospect in the draft by Baseball America.
The approximate pick value for Norby is $1.81 million.
Here’s a rundown of the other players the Orioles took in the draft …
Competitive Balance Round B: Reed Trimble, OF, Southern Mississippi
The Orioles took Trimble with the 65th overall pick. The sophomore-eligible draftee started in 59 games for Southern Miss. He batted .345 with 17 home runs and 72 RBIs this year, with the latter two marks being team bests. Trimble also had a team-high 12 steals. His season included a walk-off grand slam against Louisiana-Lafayette.
The approximate pick value for Trimble is $1.025 million.
Round 3: John Rhodes, OF, Kentucky
The Orioles selected Rhodes with the 76th overall pick. The sophomore-eligible draftee batted .251 with 11 home runs and 36 RBIs this year. Rhodes led the Wildcats in runs (47), doubles (15) and walks (28). Defensively, he led the nation in outfield assists with eight and did not make an error the entire season.
In 2020, he was named the National Co-Freshman of the Year by Collegiate Baseball News when hit .426 in 61 at-bats with 11 runs, 26 hits, 10 doubles, a triple, a home run and 19 RBIs. He slugged .672 as part of a 1.157 OPS during the shortened season.
The approximate pick value for Rhodes is $818,000.
Round 4: Donta’ Williams, OF, Arizona
In the fourth round, the Orioles took another outfielder in Williams, widely considered one of the best center fielders in the country this past year, when he hit .342 with 28 extra-base hits. He posted a .302 batting average with 181 runs scored, 56 extra-base hits and 108 RBIs during a four-year career at Arizona. In his junior year (2020), he batted .348 with a .527 OBP that was tied for the team lead with first-round draft pick Austin Wells.
The approximate pick value for Williams is $549,000.
Round 5: Carlos Tavera, RHP, University of Texas at Arlington
The Orioles finally took a pitcher in the fifth round with Tavera. The right-hander appeared in 15 games (14 starts) and started every series-opening game for the Mavericks this past year. He finished with a 3-4 record and 3.04 ERA with 33 walks and 117 strikeouts (83.0 innings). He ended the season tied for 26th in Division I ball in strikeouts.
The approximate pick value for Tavera is $406,000.
Round 6: Collin Burns, SS, Tulane
Burns was the only player on Tulane to start in all 55 games this past year. The redshirt sophomore led the team offensively in hits (84), runs scored (55), doubles (20), triples (4), total bases (136) and stolen bases (20). He finished second on the team in home runs (8) and batting average (.353).
Round 7: Connor Pavolony, C, Tennessee
Pavolony was named to the 2021 NCAA Knoxville All-Regional Team, SEC All-Tournament Team, USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award Preseason Watch List, Buster Posey National Collegiate Catcher of the Year Watch List and was a D1Baseball.com Preseason Second Team All-American. Pavolony hit .259 with 13 homers in 105 career games (91 starts) from 2019-2021.
Round 8: Creed Willems, C, Aledo (Texas) High School
Willems was the first high school player taken by the Orioles. At 6-foot-1 and 185-pounds, Willems was the No. 454 player in the Baseball America top 500. He has a commitment to Texas Christian University.
Round 9: Ryan Higgins, 3B, Fresno State
Higgins appeared in all 45 games for the Bulldogs this past year. The junior made 44 starts with starts at four positions: left field (17), designated hitter (14), first base (7) and third base (6). He led the team and ranked 15th in the Mountain West with a .352 batting average and led the team in hits (58), runs (45), doubles (13), triples (3), home runs (11), RBIs (41) and total bases (110).
Round 10: Billy Cook, OF, Pepperdine
Round 11: Dylan Heid, RHP, University of Pittsburgh Johnstown
Round 12: Justin Armbruester, RHP, New Mexico
Round 13: Jacob Teter, INF, Florida Southern College
Round 14: Daniel Lloyd, RHP, South Carolina
Round 15: Keagan Gillies, RHP, Tulane
Round 16: Peter Van Loon, RHP, University of California Irvine
Round 17: Ryan Long, RHP, Pomona-Pitzer College (CA)
Round 18: Conor Grady, RHP, Florida State
Round 19: Alex Pham, RHP, University of San Francisco
Round 20: Trendon Craig, OF, Louisburg College (NC)
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sam Houston Athletics