Working the farm

The Kentucky men’s basketball team lost its season-opener to Gardner-Webb by 16 points, at home, and Ashley Judd needs consoling.

Step aside. I’ll take care of it.

If we’ve learned anything about the Orioles during the brief Andy MacPhail era, it’s that their primary focus has shifted to the farm system. The No. 1 order of business is improving communication among the departments, upgrading the instruction and making sure everyone is on the same page. Whatever is being taught at Bluefield better be taught at Triple-A Norfolk, which better be what was implemented during spring training at the major league camp. Bunt plays, cutoffs, whatever.

Players must be drafted and developed properly, with less dependency on the free agent market. This team won’t get out of fourth place until it can dip into Triple-A for roster help each summer, until there’s an abundance of prospects at the upper levels who, because they’re blocked, can be packaged in trades.  

The team slogan for 2008 could be “Grow Your Own.” And it could be printed on tie-dyed T-shirts. Just replace the marijuana leaf with the Oriole Bird.

That’s why the most important move of the off-season might be the hiring of former Pirates farm director Brian Graham as special assignment coach for the minor leagues.

His title might change after the 2008 season, when his Pirates contract runs out. That’s when he’ll really dive into his new job, and I expect him to make quite a splash.


Graham will be working closely with all the managers, coaches and instructors. Every single one. He’ll report to David Stockstill, the director of minor league operations. He’ll take everything the Orioles do in Fort Lauderdale and transport it to Norfolk, Bowie, Frederick, Delmarva, Aberdeen, Bluefield and the Gulf Coast League. And he’ll bridge the gap between the developmental and scouting departments – a gap that seemingly has existed since Brooks Robinson first started trimming the bill of his batting helmet.

At least that’s the idea behind Graham’s hiring. And given his background, he’s the right guy for the job. He’s pretty much done it all. He’s been a minor league manager and major league coach. He’s been a field coordinator and a farm director. He’s a teacher. And he’s got people skills.

“That’s what we’re trying to do, get these kinds of people, like him and John Shelby and Rick Kranitz and Dave Jauss,” manager Dave Trembley said. “He’ll do well. He’ll fit right in.”

Former manager Mike Hargrove brought two coaches with him from Cleveland to the Orioles in 2000 – Graham and Jeff Newman.

“Brian, first of all, is a good baseball man. That’s No. 1,” Hargrove said last night, after finally getting cell service in the Texas Panhandle and returning my call. “No 2, he’s one of the best instructors I’ve ever been around. He’s all the things you need. He’s organized, he’s smart, he’s goal-oriented. He’ll do a good job.”

Hargrove conceded that Graham was “misused” by the Orioles, who made him an eye-in-the-sky and gave him the ridiculous title of “offensive and defensive coordinator” because they were one coach over the limit and couldn’t fulfill the promise of making him first base coach. Graham got a better offer from the Marlins and left after one season, “which I hated to see happen,” Hargrove said.

Here’s an element of Graham’s personality that the Orioles might need the most: “He demands that people do the job right and not take short cuts,” Hargrove said.

“He’s one of the good ones. It was a very good hire.”

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