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Orioles pitching coach Chris Holt says major league staff will be top focus after overseeing turnaround in farm system

Chris Holt rose to prominence in the Orioles organization working as the minor league pitching coordinator and later the director of pitching. But he made it clear Wednesday upon his announcement as major league pitching coach that his priority was going to be the daily work with the big league staff, even though he’d continue in his oversight role with the minors.

“My primary job is the major league pitching staff,” Holt said. “The goal of remaining director of pitching is to have a top-down approach and make sure there’s continuity from the minor league system. We have a great minor league staff and outreach to every coach on the minor league side. As far as maintaining the director role, it’s really about continuity.”

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Holt said his role last season with the major and minor league staffs was a good learning experience, helping both the players and coaches who report to him better understand what it takes to debut and stick in the majors.

“A major part of last year was trying to oversee smooth transitions for our arriving prospects,” Holt said. “And as far as being able to be in the big leagues last year and develop relationships with players on the big league staff, the big league coaching staff, and being able to oversee some transitions, I felt like it was really valuable — at least to me.

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“And then, also, being able to kind of oversee how we can better prepare the minor league pitchers, being able to see day in, day out, what it takes to get to the big leagues and stay and be able to go back and describe what it is that actually goes on for players and for coaches, that can help that expedite development. It’s a great resource.”

Holt, who was the only Houston Astros employee that executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and assistant general manager Sig Mejdal brought when they took over the Orioles, was credited with overhauling the Orioles’ minor league pitching program in 2019. Four affiliates — Double-A Bowie, Low-A Delmarva, Short-A Aberdeen and the Gulf Coast League Orioles — were among their league’s best pitching groups as strikeout numbers climbed and walk rates lowered for their young arms.

In 2020, several pitchers who contributed to that success made their major league debuts, including Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer and Bruce Zimmermann. Others are nearing the big leagues and were added to the major league roster this offseason, such as Michael Baumann, Alexander Wells and Zac Lowther.

That group will likely start at Triple-A under pitching coach Kennie Steenstra, with top prospects such as DL Hall a level below at Double-A working with pitching coach Justin Ramsey. Those two coaches will be part of what Holt called a “direct pipeline” to the minor league level, with Holt focusing on helping the major league team.

At the major league level, Akin and Kremer could be part of a rotation topped by John Means and Alex Cobb. A bullpen that improved thanks to larger roles for Tanner Scott, Paul Fry and Dillon Tate, plus contributions from Shawn Armstrong and Cesar Valdez, could face higher expectations.

The man shepherding them will be Holt, who from his first spring training has been a presence for the major league staff and has a relationship with several of the young arms who will populate the Orioles’ staff. He doesn’t feel any pressure that could come with his prominent role in the organization facing big league-level scrutiny.

“The important thing to remember here is the priority is our major league pitchers and our major league team, and winning as many games as we can in 2021 is our goal,” he said. “I have the ability to bring in the skill set that I have, that I’ve been working with since I’ve developed as a coach, and I’ve grown with some of these things. Again, the goal is always to be approaching players, approaching the game with a sense of balance between data, numbers, information, and feel for the player and situation, and feel for the game.”

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