Not long after the Orioles promoted Double-A hitting coach Ryan Fuller to their major league staff, the prospect who offered perhaps the highest praise of him wasn’t one of the hitters he had successfully trained in Baltimore’s system, but a pitcher.
“[Fuller] is a hitting coach that makes just as much of an impact on pitchers as he does position players,” Orioles No. 2 prospect Grayson Rodriguez tweeted. “Can’t count how many conversations we’ve had about what hitters are trying to do or what they’re looking for in certain counts. Somebody who makes everyone better.”
That ability, Orioles director of player development Matt Blood said, isn’t unique to Fuller when it comes to the coaches Baltimore has added to its system in recent years. The organization announced its full minor league coaching and development staffs Wednesday, and in Blood’s eyes, any of those included would be willing to step beyond their role to help an Orioles prospect however they could.
“That’s what occurs organically when you have people who are humble and want to collaborate,” Blood said earlier this month. “They’re not afraid to have their toes stepped on. They’re actually wanting other people’s help and advice. Doesn’t matter where it comes from. If a hitting coach can help a pitching coach or a pitcher with something, then by all means, please help, and vice versa. That’s just sort of the culture that our coaches have created is one of we’re all on the same team.
“That’s pretty much the culture across the board. You’ve probably heard us say before, ‘humility, growth mindset and collaboration.’ That’s kind of what we live and breathe.”
Those three traits — a lack of ego, a desire to improve and a willingness to work together — were targeted as the Orioles built their staffs at each affiliate, in addition to the baseball-related skills needed to develop players once the fourth full season of Baltimore’s rebuild begins. Fuller wasn’t the only coach in the system to receive a promotion, with numerous coaches moving up from one affiliate to the next in the same way the Orioles are advancing the prospects they work with.
Beyond additional strength and conditioning coaches and athletic trainers for their Florida Complex League and Dominican Summer League teams, the staffs at individual affiliates aren’t all that different from the 2021 editions in terms of size, but the Orioles’ player development operation as a whole has grown. In 2021, the team’s news release announcing the minor league coaches noted 15 staff members working under Blood and director of minor league operations Kent Qualls in player development roles. The 2022 announcement featured 25 such roles, with new positions including player development analysts, an international medical coordinator, and various responsibilities in an expanded strength and performance department including a dietician and biomechanist.
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“What we’ve done is just added resources, meaning more staff or coordinators or new titles, new roles, to just provide us with more capacity when it comes to all things player development, and it’s in all areas,” Blood said. “It’s not just focusing on hitting or pitching or conditioning. We looked at all areas and kind of identified what else we could use or what do we need to sort of take us to the next level, and we’ve tried to address that through either hiring or creation of better processes or both.”
The Orioles’ player development efforts have yet to pay major benefits at Camden Yards, but the impact has been evident throughout their minor league system. A hitting program designed around helping players target pitches they can be successful with and then limit their swings to them led to 26 Baltimore prospects with at least 100 plate appearances posting an OPS of .800 or better, twice as many as there were in the last minor league season in 2019. That development is similar to the success the Orioles’ pitching program had in 2019, when three of their affiliates led their respective leagues in ERA.
The Orioles have five prospects Baseball America ranked among the game’s top 100, including the top position player and pitcher in catcher Adley Rutschman and Rodriguez. The system is universally regarded as one of the best in baseball, and these new staffs will work to help that talent develop to a place where it can eventually produce what this rebuild has always been about: creating a sustainable winning team in Baltimore.
“I personally really like our group of people,” Blood said. “They work really well together. They’re humble and intrinsically motivated, and they just communicate and collaborate in a way that’s inspiring to be a part of. I think through that, we’re seeing good things happen, and we’d like to continue that trend. Through that, we’ll continue hopefully having success.”
Final minicamp underway
The Orioles’ last minicamp for prospects in advance of spring training began Tuesday at the team’s Sarasota, Florida, complex. Colton Cowser, Heston Kjerstad and Coby Mayo, three of Baltimore’s top 10 prospects according to Baseball America, are among the participants in the camp, which largely features recent draftees or prospects who otherwise spent 2021 in the low minors.
Other players involved are TT Bowens, Collin Burns, Trendon Craig, Andrew Daschbach, Adam Hall, J.D. Mundy, Connor Norby, Connor Pavolony, César Prieto, John Rhodes, Jacob Teter, Creed Willems and Donta’ Williams, with Joey Ortiz and Ryan Higgins as rehab camp participants.
The camp is scheduled to end Monday. Because none of these players are on the Orioles’ 40-man roster, they are able to participate in team activities amid MLB owners’ lockout of the players.