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Orioles pick Vanderbilt outfielder Enrique Bradfield Jr. 17th overall in 2023 MLB draft

The past four drafts have represented hope for the Orioles, the organization’s most effective way of constructing the “elite talent pipeline” executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias promised when he was hired. 2023′s presented an opportunity to restock.

“We’re promoting so many of these guys, I’m starting to worry about our farm system rankings,” Elias quipped Sunday night after the Orioles picked outside of the top five MLB draft for the first time in his tenure.

That change didn’t stop Baltimore from using its first-round pick in a familiar way. The Orioles opened their draft with a position player for the fifth straight year, taking Vanderbilt outfielder Enrique Bradfield Jr. with the 17th overall pick. Should he sign, Bradfield will join a farm system considered baseball’s best, one that sent two of its five best prospects, infielder Jordan Westburg and outfielder Colton Cowser, to the majors in the past two weeks.

Choosing later in the draft thanks to 2022′s winning season, Baltimore selected a player who forecasts to remain in center field and hit .411/.426/.447 from the left side with 15 home runs and 130 steals in 143 tries across three college seasons. Baseball America ranked Bradfield as the No. 16 prospect in this draft, while MLB Pipeline had him 21st.

The Orioles had Bradfield higher on their board than where they took him, Elias said, noting his “absolutely electric” center field defense, his speed and top-of-the-order potential, all displayed while facing Southeastern Conference competition. Baseball America gave Bradfield a grade of 80, the highest on the scouting scale, for his defense and speed.

“Really, I think for us one of the better realistic outcomes for the night,” Elias said on a Zoom call. “He is a premium college player from the most premium conference there is from the most premium program that there is, and he’s been excellent for three years there.”

Baseball America had Bradfield ranked as the No. 66 prospect in the 2020 draft class out of a Florida high school. Elias said that year, when much of the amateur season was canceled and the draft was shortened amid the coronavirus pandemic, created a deeper draft class in 2023, when many high school players who might have been taken in a longer 2020 draft became eligible again for the first time.

“Ordinarily, I think a guy like Enrique goes in the top 15 picks, if not higher than that,” Elias said. “The way he controls the zone, he can spray the ball around to all fields, he’s got enough power for his profile. I think there’s still offensive ceiling to be had if he can continue to make improvements with his mechanics and just fine-tune his approach. If we’re correct that he’s a plus-plus center fielder, and there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of controversy about that, that’s a really nice defensive profile to help carry through the minors and into the major leagues.”

Baltimore would do well if Bradfield follows a similar path as his four precedents among its first-round selections under Elias, though it’s unfair to ask him to match a quartet taken at least a dozen picks earlier than him. Catcher Adley Rutschman, 2019′s first overall pick, will play in his first All-Star Game on Tuesday. Taken fifth in 2021, Cowser made his major league debut last week, and outfielder/first baseman Heston Kjerstad could soon join him, with 2020′s No. 2 pick appearing in the Futures Game on Saturday while slugging away in Triple-A. Chosen atop 2022′s draft, infielder Jackson Holliday already leads at least one publication’s list of baseball’s top prospects and has quickly jumped to Double-A at 19 years old.

After taking Rutschman, a switch-hitter, in 2019, Baltimore’s next four first-round picks have batted left-handed.

Bradfield, who will speak with Baltimore media Monday morning, adds another young bat to a system loaded with them as its byproducts have already helped push Baltimore to the American League’s second-best first-half record. The focus on hitters has extended beyond the first round, with the Orioles also netting infielders Gunnar Henderson, Westburg and Joey Ortiz and outfielder Kyle Stowers — all of whom have appeared in the majors this season — in the early rounds of the past four drafts. Henderson, taken 42nd overall in 2019, developed into baseball’s top prospect entering this season, and although he has since graduated from that status, 11 of Baltimore’s top 14 prospects are hitters, according to Baseball America. Bradfield will make it 12 of 15, should he sign.

That group also includes third baseman Coby Mayo, Baltimore’s 2020 fourth-round pick who was promoted to Triple-A Norfolk on Sunday. Mayo, the organization’s No. 9 prospect, shared a photo of him and Bradfield on the same Florida youth team a decade ago on social media, welcoming him to the organization.

In their first four drafts under Elias, the Orioles took only one pitcher before the fifth round, failing to sign 2022 third-rounder Nolan McLean. As compensation for not signing McLean, the Orioles received an extra pick after this year’s third round, with Bradfield the first of five selections they will make within the draft’s first 100 picks.

Baltimore’s bonus pool, based on the assigned slot value of its picks through the first 10 of the draft’s 20 rounds, is slightly above $10.53 million. The No. 17 pick comes with a slot of just under $4.17 million, more than $4 million below the franchise record bonus of $8.19 million they gave Holliday to sign out of an Oklahoma high school last summer. Individual draftees can sign for above or below slot value, so long as the team’s collective bonuses, including anything above $150,000 given to a player taken in the final 10 rounds, do not exceed its total pool.

The Orioles signed each of their previous five top picks, including 2018 11th overall pick Grayson Rodriguez, for under their respective slot values — Kjerstad by more than $2.5 million and Cowser by over $1 million — and devoted the savings toward other prospects later in those drafts, other high school draftees such as Henderson and Mayo.

Regardless of how much Bradfield signs for, the Orioles selected him because they viewed him as the best player available after 16 other teams’ selections. They will take the same approach with their remaining 21 picks, including their other two Sunday, when they pick in the second round at 52nd overall and in the competitive balance B round at 63rd overall.

“We just think he profiles very well and has skills that tend to scale well up the ladder in professional baseball,” Elias said. “He seems like a terrific kid from all the work that we’ve done and all the conversations that we’ve had. I think he’s very high energy, very high work ethic, very high character. You don’t get a better experience than you do at a place like Vanderbilt to help mold you. We’re very happy we have him, we’re adding him to what’s the top system in baseball, and he’s a big part of it now.”

This story will be updated.

MLB draft

At Seattle’s Lumen Field

Rounds 1–2: Sunday, 7 p.m.

Rounds 3–10: Monday, 2 p.m.

Rounds 11–20: Tuesday, 2 p.m.

TV/Stream: ESPN (Round 1), MLB Network, ESPN+


Source: Berkshire mont

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