When the Orioles prepare to make the third overall selection in Monday night's amateur draft, their decision will probably already have been made for them.
Three players have separated themselves from the rest of the 2010 draft class. Bryce Harper, the hitting phenom from the College of Southern Nevada, will go first overall to the Washington Nationals. At No. 2, the Pirates will have their choice of Texas high school pitcher Jameson Taillon or Florida high school shortstop Manny Machado, with the player Pittsburgh doesn't pick falling to the Orioles at No. 3.
"The Orioles have the easiest decision in the draft," said Jim Callis, executive editor of Baseball America. "There is a clear top three in the draft, and two of those guys are going to go ahead of them."
Orioles director of scouting Joe Jordan, who will preside over his sixth draft with the organization, said the club has one alternative plan but acknowledged there is a "strong likelihood" it will take Taillon or Machado, and be plenty satisfied with either.
"There isn't a consolation prize in this thing. We're going to have a really good option," Jordan said. "We're pretty certain about what we're going to do at this point, but obviously it's not done until we figure out what's going to happen with Pittsburgh's pick. Either way, I feel good about it."
It is believed that the Orioles favor Taillon, although there remains a glaring need in the organization for a gifted, young shortstop. Machado, who attended Brito Private High in South Florida, is projected by scouts to be a future .300 hitter with at least average power, a great arm and solid glove.
Taillon, out of The Woodlands High, is a 6-foot-6, 225-pound right-hander who pairs a mid- to upper-90s fastball with a biting curveball and has drawn comparisons to Josh Beckett, another former Texas high school standout.
"I think the Orioles are fine with either guy," said Keith Law, writer for ESPN.com and the lead baseball analyst for Scouts Inc. "I really couldn't argue with either pick. If Machado stays at shortstop, you have a potential All-Star offensively who is no worse than average with the glove. Taillion is a rare high school talent. You just don't see high school pitchers who throw 93 to 98 [mph] with a chance for a plus-plus slider. As long as he stays healthy, I can't see him being less than a No. 2 starter in the big leagues."
The Orioles also like Mississippi left-hander Drew Pomeranz, Florida Gulf Coast lefty Chris Sale and Cal State Fullerton shortstop Christian Colon, but it's clear that Taillon and Machado top their wish list, and Jordan has met extensively with both.
Taillon is viewed as the pitching prospect with the most upside in the draft, and if there are questions about him, they center on his delivery, which Law said could use some tweaking. Machado's critics point to his average speed and footwork, along with his questionable power potential with a 6-foot-2, 180-pound build.
Additionally, Machado is represented by Scott Boras, though Jordan said that wouldn't stop the Orioles from drafting him or any other player.
"It will be about the player," said Jordan, who is not allowed to comment specifically on Machado or Taillon, represented by the Hendricks brothers. "I don't expect the support that I get to be any different now than it has been in the past as far as resources. We're going to line them up and take them."
The Orioles haven't picked this high since they selected Ben McDonald first overall in the 1989 draft. Asked whether the big league team's current struggles along with how high the Orioles are picking make this draft even more crucial, president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said: "For us every draft is important, not just the first round, but how we do in the later rounds. They are all essential."
The Orioles do not have a second-round pick after signing Type A free-agent reliever Michael Gonzalez this past offseason. So after making the third overall pick of the three-day affair Monday night, the Orioles won't pick again until selecting 85th overall in the third round Tuesday.
The first round and the first compensation round will be televised Monday night on MLB Network. The draft will resume at noon Tuesday and finish Wednesday.
Jordan said the organization will employ the same draft strategy it has had for the past couple of seasons, including taking some risks on potential "signability" picks later in the draft. Last season, the Orioles gave catcher Michael Ohlman, an 11th-round pick, a $995,000 bonus and left-handed pitcher Cameron Coffey, a 22nd-round selection, a $990,000 bonus.
"I think we're always trying to put talent in the system, but I'd like to add some bats that we'd like," Jordan said. "It's obvious that we need to do that. But really, once you get into it a little bit, the draft is going to tell you what you do. Our philosophy is the same. Hopefully, we'll start this thing off with a really good player."