New Orioles minor league pitching coordinator has many approaches in his arsenal

Facing the daunting task of reversing the perception that the Orioles' pitching program was broken, new minor league pitching coordinator John Wasdin acknowledges that pitching development looks different to every player.

Wasdin is using his own long path through the game and all the voices that he's encountered along the way to realize the best way to grow young pitchers throughout the organization is to not have just one way to do it.


"When I made my pitch, as you will, to the Orioles, I've come from a lot of different teams," Wasdin said in the final week of spring training in Sarasota, Fla. "Ten organizations. I've heard a lot of things. I've been around. I wasn't a very good player, but an average player. I had a chance to play a long time, hear a lot of things, see a lot of different ways to do things. But honestly, if you're to break it all down, I'm sure every coach I had, they had a way to do it. But there were 10 different ways to say it, to get the same result. I think that's what these players are gravitating to — there's more ways to do something."

Wasdin's experiences certainly bear that out. He debuted in the majors with the Oakland Athletics in 1995, and had stops at eight major league teams — including the Orioles in 2001 — and two in Japan. His coaching career began in 2011 in Oakland's farm system, and his breadth of experience made him the Orioles' chosen candidate to replace the departed Rick Peterson, whose contract as director of pitching development was not renewed.


Early returns have been positive. He spent the offseason and spring training getting to know the pitching coaches who are his emissaries on the ground at the minor league affiliates, and the young hurlers whose progress will ultimately be his responsibility.

Kennie Steenstra, a longtime Orioles minor league pitching coach who this year returns to Double-A Bowie, said it's been a pleasant transition.

"We've really enjoyed John so far," Steenstra said. "He brings a tremendous work ethic. He's very engaged and very enthusiastic in meetings and with the guys. The program isn't really anything that none of us have ever done before. The throwing program is very good, and we're just working day-to-day to try to get guys better.

"The biggest thing is we're trying to individualize for each guy what they're doing. We're really trying to avoid anything that's, 'Hey, everybody's got to do this.' It's more trying to find out what's best for each guy."

Wasdin stressed this often during spring training. He saw a pitcher's comfort in his routine and schedule as paramount to performance. A good feeling that extended from everything to playing catch and taking bullpens could, in a sense, make commanding a fastball on the mound in a game feel like a game of catch itself.

"Your body might be different from my body," Wasdin said. "My body might be something different than someone else's. We want to maximize the player's potential for each individual guy, so as we get into our throwing they get comfortable with that. … We're maximizing each individual's potential, and with that vision, that being said, there's a lot of different ways to do that same thing, and I think that allows the player to be a little more free and easy and also be themselves, who they were designed to be, who they were created to be in the talents they do have."

In the short term, that means no blanket declarations on which side of the rubber all pitchers should throw from or dictations about what their arsenal should look like. The Orioles will always value ground ball pitchers, but there's a comfort Wasdin is seeking for them all. To instill that, Wasdin subscribes to a philosophy also shared by major league pitching coach Roger McDowell and former pitching coach Dave Wallace: Pitchers don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.

"You're not going to be able to feed them until they know you really care about them," Wasdin said.


Keegan Akin, the team's second-round pick in the 2016 MLB draft, said that's become evident quickly.

"He puts that out there, and he knows everybody is different," Akin said. "We all have success in different ways and he realizes that. We all pitch in different ways, and he knows that. He's trying to adapt to us, and we're trying to adapt to him."

Wasdin stressed that anyone who puts on the uniform is a prospect, but acknowledged that Akin and the rest of the 2016 draft class, along with the 2015 corps of relievers the team selected, are paramount to changing perceptions about how the Orioles develop pitchers.

The major league team boasts Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman as drafted-and-developed starters, plus Zach Britton, Mychal Givens and Donnie Hart as established relievers, to say nothing of the likes of Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright as part of a core of pitchers trying to establish themselves still. Manager Buck Showalter says just as important as developing their drafted pitchers is refining and making useful the myriad of waiver claims and minor trades the team uses to stock arms.

But the last two drafts, headlined by first-rounder Cody Sedlock, Akin and Mathias Dietz in 2016, plus relievers Garrett Cleavinger and Ryan Meisinger of the 2015 haul, represent a chance to start chipping away at years of trade losses, injuries and flameouts that have haunted the system.

"That group, our last year's draft and the year before that, there's your kind of foundation," Wasdin said. "I don't want to call it a new way of thinking. I think it's just they're being fed. Their upside is big. Their upside is huge. Now, that's with anybody, because as long as you get a chance to put on that uniform, you should be considered a 'prospect.' A chance to pitch in the big leagues. As long as you're wearing this jersey you have a chance, so you pour that into them. But that group of guys, that's the future of the Baltimore Orioles."