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Baltimore Orioles

Under contract beyond 2022, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde to get chance to manage prospect-laden club: ‘He deserves that’

During the roughest stretches of the Orioles’ rebuild, manager Brandon Hyde has thought about the past. It propels him to the future.

He’s lived a rebuild before, and he’s seen the results. He served in the Chicago Cubs’ front office and on their coaching staff during their teardown. He was their first base coach in 2016, when that effort paid off with the franchise’s first World Series title in more than a century.

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“I go back to that experience a lot,” Hyde said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun. “I understand that there’s going to be a lot of tough nights, which we’ve had here the last few years. I’ve also seen what it looks like when it’s good.

“That feeling is kind of what drives you every day.”

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The hope is, with members of Baltimore’s top-ranked farm system getting ever-closer to arriving at Camden Yards, Hyde will soon get to experience that again, this time as the Orioles manager. He is under contract beyond 2022, an industry source told The Sun, meaning that with as many as seven of the Orioles’ top 10 prospects positioned to arrive in the majors before the end of next season, Hyde could be the one to manage them.

His most prominent current players believe he’s deserving of that opportunity.

“He’s done a hell of a job,” said Trey Mancini, the longest-tenured Oriole. “No matter what the record might reflect, I think he’s done an incredible job and he’s every bit of a big league manager and a really good one. … I would love to see him stick around here for as long as it takes.”

Said reigning Most Valuable Oriole Cedric Mullins: “I think he’s definitely earned that opportunity. Just given the cards that he was dealt, trying to make the most of it, I feel like we’re right at that cusp of having a turnaround.”

Added outfielder Austin Hays, who once ranked as the club’s top prospect: “To go through what he’s had to go through the last three years in the big leagues, with a lot of losing and a lot of different faces and players every year, when we have those pieces put into place, I think he definitely deserves the right to be able to go out there and manage that group and show what he can do.”

Hyde, too, is looking forward to the chance.

“I’m in this for the long haul,” he said. “I’ve had great support from our front office, and they’ve been extremely patient through this process and backed me the whole way. I’ll be here when we’re winning.”

‘He’s the same guy every day’

Reflecting on his managerial tenure, Hyde has no regrets about the job he’s done beyond the occasional in-game decision that he believes any first-time manager would like a mulligan on. He’s still haunted by his choice in May 2019 to intentionally walk eventual Most Valuable Player José Abreu to create a left-on-right matchup for Yonder Alonso, who promptly hit a walk-off single for the Chicago White Sox.

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That loss is one of the Orioles’ 263 in 400 games under Hyde entering this week’s series against the New York Yankees. In his fourth year with Baltimore, he has one of the five worst winning percentages of any manager in major league history.

But executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias, who personally selected Hyde to lead the Orioles through what was expected to be a handful of difficult seasons, has long been clear he’s judging Hyde on more than wins and losses. The rosters he’s provided him, after all, have had apparent flaws.

Of the nearly 120 players to pitch an inning or take an at-bat for Baltimore under Hyde, almost half joined the organization on waivers or minor league contracts, castoffs who other teams didn’t want on their major league rosters. Even those who didn’t arrive in those circumstances have had little to no major league experience.

That makes the unexpected victories all the more worth celebrating. A series win last week against the Yankees. A sweep of the Washington Nationals, their regional rival, last summer that forced them to sell at the trade deadline. A surprising start to the shortened 2020 season that had Baltimore in playoff contention into the final weeks of the year.

“These guys have nothing to lose,” Hyde said. “We’re the underdog every single night, and we have been for three years. If you watch the ticker, we are the underdog every single night.

“For me, when we have won series, when we have swept teams with three games that we should not have won according to everybody else, for me, that makes me proud.”

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More than perhaps any other aspect of his managerial tenure, Hyde has taken pride in his and his coaches’ ability to make players feel comfortable. They’re doing so in circumstances that could be anything but for young major leaguers, with nightly expectations that the team they’re playing for will lose and pressure on them to change that.

The Orioles have undoubtedly had noncompetitive stretches under Hyde; last year, they became the first team since 1935 to have multiple losing streaks of at least 14 games. But an upbeat energy remained even during the latter, which stretched 19 contests. Players grew out or shaved their facial hair to change team mojo. Mancini, who shaved everything but his mustache, went around with other players burning sage before what proved to be a streak-ending victory.

“I think our clubhouse culture could not be better in the situation we’re in, since the day I got here,” Hyde said. “I don’t think anybody that’s walked in our clubhouse feels like they’re walking into a team that hasn’t won many games.”

Left-handed reliever Paul Fry, the Orioles’ longest-tenured pitcher, described the state of the Orioles’ clubhouse as “modern,” with a focus on ensuring young players feel as if they’re part of the team. Players traced that mindset to Hyde, who believes he’s handled the struggles of the past few seasons “as well as I possibly could.” He prides himself on his consistency.

“He’s the same guy every day,” Mancini said. “He manages to win every single game, no matter if we’ve won several games in a row or lost several games in a row. Last year, we had a couple of those streaks where it was tough for us, but you would never know just by seeing him when you walk in that day that it was weighing on him.

“We’ve had to rebuild the organization, as we all know, and I think he’s done a really, really great job under the circumstances.”

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‘I’m so thankful that I’ve gotten to play for him’

When Mancini arrived in Sarasota, Florida, for his first spring training with Hyde in 2019, he worried how the new front office and coaching staff would view his disappointing 2018 season, a sophomore year in which he watched the Orioles trade away many of their experienced players.

But Hyde quickly assured him that he believed in his talent, with Mancini saying he was treated as a 10-year veteran rather than a player with a pair of full major league seasons. Mancini responded by finishing the year as one of four majors leaguers with 35 home runs, 35 doubles and an .899 OPS, narrowly missing an All-Star selection.

“I came in wanting to prove myself to the new regime that had come in, but just the way that he was then and still is now, his demeanor, it just relaxed me a little bit and it brought out the best in me,” Mancini said. “That’s what he’s always done for me throughout my whole career, so I’m so thankful that I’ve gotten to play for him, and I think the world of him. I really do.”

The next spring brought challenges. A routine blood test revealed Mancini had low iron levels, which soon led to the discovery of a cancerous tumor in his colon. Hyde helped to assure him everything would be all right.

“The day I was diagnosed, he was amazing,” Mancini said. “I know a lot of people wouldn’t know what to do in that situation. But he was really, really helpful, made me feel better under the circumstances. There was a lot of uncertainty at that point about my baseball future, about my life, but he was really, really good that day, and that’s something that I’ll never forget.”

Hyde passes all credit to Mancini.

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“I fed off his strength,” Hyde said. “I just wanted to be there, someone that he could talk to, but it turned out to be the other way around.

“Somebody that you care about, you want to do anything you can to help him, but he was helping me throughout the process.”

The experience bonded two men who might not share an organization much longer. Even if Hyde continues as the Orioles’ manager, he will possibly have to do so without Mancini, who, as a pending free agent, could be traded this summer. That won’t halt their friendship, Mancini said.

“When you retire, you think about who you played with, the relationships you developed, the friends that you get for life, the managers that you played for, and that’s the stuff that sticks with you,” Mancini said. “Rather than any particular moment in a game or something like that, you just remember what it was like to be around certain people and the relationships you build with them, and he’s somebody that I’m always gonna talk to. No matter what happens, I’m going to definitely keep in great touch with Hyder.”

‘He’s a players’ coach’

The same day Mancini underwent surgery, Major League Baseball canceled the rest of spring training and delayed the start of the regular season because of the coronavirus pandemic. When play resumed, teams had a limited 60-game schedule. Although they spent much of the 2020 season in reach of a playoff spot, the Orioles finished 25-35, the fifth-worst record in the majors. In their other two seasons under Hyde, they lost at least 108 games.

“That was almost kind of a breath of fresh air for the organization,” Hays said, “because it was a lot less games.”

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But Hays appreciated how the circumstances gave him a look at how Hyde managed in those situations, and he liked what he saw. Fry noted Hyde’s improvement over the years in handling a bullpen, trusting his inexperienced relievers in high-leverage spots and seeing how they handle them.

Hyde also has a knack for helping players when they’re struggling, Fry said, sitting down with them and delivering the message they need to hear. As Fry’s numbers collapsed late in the 2021 season, Hyde checked in with him regularly and did his best to ease him into this year, trying to keep him comfortable.

“I love playing for him,” Fry said. “And I love having his trust, too.”

Mullins, Hays and Ryan Mountcastle all endured troubling stretches early in their major league careers. Mullins took the Orioles’ first at-bat under Hyde, batting leadoff in his first opening day lineup in 2019. Less than a month later, he was in the minors, ending the season at Double-A. During their brief time together, Hyde continually worked to get Mullins to relax and take pressure off himself.

“I think he saw more of what I didn’t see in myself at that time,” Mullins said.

Mullins was again Baltimore’s leadoff hitter to begin last year. Amid a season in which he became the first Oriole with 30 home runs and 30 steals, he represented the club in the All-Star Game.

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Hays has battled injuries often, and partway through 2021, he had seemingly been reduced to a platoon role. But in praising Hyde for his skills as a communicator, he said the manager was always clear about where and how he felt Hays could improve and grow into his potential. 2021 was his first 20-homer season.

“I definitely would say that he’s a players’ coach,” Hays said. “I think his communication with the players builds a good relationship and a lot of trust. And I think that’s all you can really ask for from your manager.”

Mountcastle lived up to his pedigree as a top-five prospect in the organization in a monthlong major league stint in 2020, but he had troubles on both sides of the ball opening 2021, extreme enough that Hyde had to sit him down to say that a demotion to the minors might be needed. An inspired Mountcastle ended the year with 33 home runs, most on the team and a franchise record for a rookie.

“He just knows how to talk to certain guys and what motivates them,” Mountcastle said. “He’s done a great job with what he’s been handed. We’re rebuilding still, and we’re getting a little better each year. I think once we get a good team up here, he’s going to be the guy to run it, and I’m excited for him.”

‘I love this job’

The Orioles’ players are aware of the process the organization is going through. It’s not because Hyde has told them about it.

“I don’t talk to the players about the rebuild,” Hyde said. “I talk to them about competing every single night and trying to get better every day.”

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It’s his job, he said, to help the players he has now, regardless of whether they have established themselves as part of the future. Still, he operates with “a big picture” in mind, aware of where the Orioles are and where he believes they’re headed.

Mullins, Mountcastle and Hays are all under team control for at least three more seasons. Top prospects Adley Rutschman and Kyle Stowers should join them in Hyde’s lineup sometime this summer. Baltimore’s three best minor league pitchers — Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall and Kyle Bradish — are also on track to debut. The Orioles will remain young and inexperienced, but also more talented than they ever have been under Hyde.

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“You can really start creating a winning team culture when you have a group of guys that you know are going to be here long term and that are playing next to each other and care about each other,” Hyde said. “I’m looking forward to that day.”

He’s positioned to be around for it, though it’s unclear exactly how long he remains under contract for; the industry source declined to provide further details beyond his contract extending past 2022.

Speaking before the season, Elias, the Orioles’ general manager, said Hyde has been an integral piece of what Baltimore is building.

“He’s been a terrific part of our organization and in my mind, our front office,” Elias said. “This was a big project. It continues to be a big project. We need somebody at the major league level that is pulling in the same direction as the rest of the organization.

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“There’s a lot that goes into this, and Brandon is a big part of it. I think that the improvement that we’ve seen organizational-wide since he and I have gotten here has been because of his contributions to this effort and this organization.”

His players echo that, having learned plenty about being in the major leagues in their time under Hyde. He’s taken away lessons, too.

“I’ve learned that I love this job,” Hyde said, “and this is something that I was made to do.”


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