As of Wednesday morning, the Orioles’ playoff successes of the mid-2010s are officially last decade, and the losing seasons that followed make them feel even farther away. The hope, however, is that some of the changes made in the last year will make for a steadier competitor later this decade as the team looks to build in a more sustained way.
That’s easier said than done for executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias, who has had to remake almost every part of baseball operations to create an infrastructure he felt would work toward that end. There’s a long way to go, however, and nothing that’s happened so far this offseason builds the impression that the coming season will be better than the 115- and 108-loss campaigns that preceded it.
The long-term hope they’re building is meant to, in some ways, obscure that. And the end of this decade included several potential foundational pieces those winners could spring from. Here are three ways the end of the last decade set the Orioles up better for this one.
The Orioles started hitting on draft picks under Dan Duquette and Gary Rajsich
This predates Elias’ hiring last fall, but over the past few years of drafts under former executive vice president Dan Duquette and scouting director Gary Rajsich, the Orioles’ drafts became the most productive they’d been in years. Their last top picks, pitchers Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall, are the best pitching prospects in the organization and are only getting better.
The wave that’s nearing the majors that will hopefully begin the long process of improving the big league pitching staff, including Keegan Akin, Michael Baumann, Alex Wells, Zac Lowther, Bruce Zimmermann and Dean Kremer, were all either drafted or acquired by that front office. And position players Austin Hays and Ryan Mountcastle could be foundational lineup pieces once they get established.
All those players will arrive before any of Elias’ draftees get a chance to make an impact, and if the Orioles jump ahead of schedule in their rebuild, it will be because of that.
All those young pitchers this front office inherited were made better by the methods Elias and Chris Holt, now the director of pitching, brought over from the Houston Astros. By all accounts, the 2019 draft class and the pitchers acquired this offseason have the traits that the Orioles are looking for and are able to quickly build on as well.
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For an organization that has been star-crossed in developing starting pitching for decades, the infrastructure is in place to change that. There’s been widespread acceptance among the young arms in the minors of the new methods and coaching style used for instruction last season. And that will only grow as the front office gets to build up its player development infrastructure and bring the types of data and analytics they want to the field level.
Holt will continue to play a significant role in that, as will newly hired director of baseball development Eve Rosenbaum, who the Orioles have touted as a bridge between all their new growing departments who can ensure everyone is on the same page.
All this could change the fact that when anyone talks about Orioles’ pitching prospects, they speak of the ones who never reached their potential. And that could use some changing.
When Duquette traded Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers in July 2018, he said it heralded a change in how the Orioles did business — and a return to the international market was part of that.
In the ensuing few months before he was dismissed, Duquette’s front office spent nearly $1 million on international amateur free agents. Once the Orioles hired Koby Perez as senior director of international scouting, they spent another $1 million on late bloomers and built a scouting staff with an eye toward future classes.
There are certain areas in the Orioles’ farm system, namely the middle infield, that are woefully thin because of the team’s decision not to spend internationally for the better part of two decades. Perez was part of successful international operations with the Cleveland Indians and Philadelphia Phillies before joining the Orioles, and a few signing periods could help add the athleticism and potential that those markets provide to an Orioles system that hasn’t experienced that in years.