SECAUCUS, N.J. (AP) — Adley Rutschman heard the chatter for months that he’d be the top pick in the Major League Baseball draft.
The switch-hitting Oregon State catcher just kept slugging at the plate and throwing out would-be basestealers all season from behind it — making it an easy call for the Baltimore Orioles on Monday.
“It’s unbelievable,” Rutschman said from Goss Stadium in Corvallis, Oregon, shortly after becoming the top pick. “Just to look back on how I was as a kid and seeing what my expectations were, how far I’ve come from there. It’s special.”
The announcement by Commissioner Rob Manfred at MLB Network studios marked the second time the Orioles led off the draft — they took LSU pitcher Ben McDonald in 1989.
“I met with all the teams over the course of the year and knew the Orioles were going to be the first overall,” said Rutschman, a 40th-round pick by Seattle three years ago. “As the year progressed and went along, it looked like it was a possibility more and more. It just worked out that way.”
The Miami Marlins drafted Vanderbilt outfielder J.J. Bleday at No. 4. Bleday played youth baseball and his freshman and sophomore varsity seasons at Titusville High School before moving to Florida. The Southeastern Conference player of the year has a quick, left-handed swing and leads Division I players in home runs with a school-record 26. A finalist for the Golden Spikes Award, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Bleday is hitting .351 and brings a 42-game on-base streak into next weekend’s super regionals round of the NCAA Tournament.
With the No. 2 choice, the Kansas City Royals grabbed Texas high school shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., the son of former big league pitcher Bobby Witt.
The younger Witt has draft-day bragging rights on his father, who won 142 games over 16 seasons after being selected No. 3 overall in 1985.
“Now I’ve got him beat,” Bobby Witt Jr. said.
The Witts became the highest-drafted father-son duo, topping Tom Grieve (No. 6, 1966) and Ben Grieve (No. 2, 1994). They are the seventh father-son combination of first-rounders, and first since Delino DeShields (1987) and Delino DeShields Jr. (2010).
“The dreams are kind of turning into reality,” the younger Witt said.
The 21-year-old Rutschman had been the favorite to go first overall since he led Oregon State to the College World Series championship last year and was selected the most outstanding player. He followed that up with a dominant junior season at the plate — and behind it. He hit .411 with a career-best 17 homers to go with 58 RBIs and a school-record 76 walks, and threw out 13 of 27 runners attempting to steal.
Rutschman, a native of Sherwood, Oregon, is a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award given to the country’s top college player. He was also the Pac-12 player of the year for the Beavers and the conference’s co-defensive player of year.
His selection marks the seventh time a player drafted as a catcher was taken with the top pick, and first since Minnesota tabbed Joe Mauer in 2001.
The 6-foot, 180-pound Witt Jr., considered a five-tool prospect, turns 19 next Friday. The Colleyville Heritage High School star has impressive power while making consistent contact with a smooth right-handed swing.
University of California slugging first baseman Andrew Vaughn went to the Chicago White Sox with the third pick.
Vaughn batted .381 this season with 15 homers, 50 RBIs and a .544 on-base percentage that ranks among the national leaders. He also showed a terrific eye at the plate and struck out just 74 times in three college seasons.
The 6-foot, 214-pound Vaughn is also looking to become the first repeat winner of the Golden Spikes Award after earning the honor as a sophomore last year.
With the fifth pick, the Detroit Tigers took Florida high school outfielder Riley Greene. Gatorade’s Florida state player of year hit .422 with eight homers, 27 RBIs and 38 runs as arguably the country’s top prep outfielder. He has a smooth left-handed swing that produces consistent line drives.
More draft history was made when the San Diego Padres selected speedy Georgia high school shortstop CJ Abrams at No. 6, marking the first time no pitchers were taken within the first six picks.
The lefty-hitting Abrams was considered by many to be the fastest player in the draft. The Blessed Trinity Catholic High School star batted .418 with eight home runs and 100 RBIs in his high school career.
TCU left-hander Nick Lodolo ended the run on position players, going seventh overall to the Cincinnati Reds.
Generally regarded as the top pitching prospect in this year’s class, Lodolo went 6-6 with a 2.36 ERA and struck out 131 while walking just 25 in 103 innings for the Horned Frogs. He was the 41st overall pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2016 — the highest selection to go unsigned that year.
Speaking of the Pirates, they selected Cary-Gorve (Ill.) High School pitcher Quinn Priester with the 18th overall pick. Priester is the first Illinois high school pitcher taken in the first round since the Houston Astros drafted Mike Foltynewicz 19th overall in 2010. The right-hander has good life on his 97 mph four-seam fastball, but his heavy two-seamer in the low 90s might be his best pitch. Add in a good curve with tight spin, and its easy to see why Priester had little use for a change-up. With good athleticism, intelligence and a 6-foot-3 build, Priester has the strength for durability and a high upside.
Another local fan favorite also went for help on the mound. The Cleveland Indians used the No. 24 pick in the first round on Georgia Premier Academy right-handed pitcher Daniel Espinoza. Born in Panama, Espinoza moved to the United States his sophomore year of high school (2016) with a mid-80s fastball. But over the last two years, Espinoza has developed into the hardest thrower in the 2019 prep class, repeatedly reaching the upper 90s on the showcase circuit last summer, as well as breaking Hunter Greene’s Under Armour All-America Game record with a fastball clocked at 99 mph. He may have been a first rounder just on his fastball alone, but his sharp low-80s slider and upper-70s curveball made him a lock. He needs work on control and consistency, and that force him to move to the bullpen.