One of the hottest hitters in all of minor league baseball is an Orioles farmhand who, years ago, decided the only way to achieve his big league dream was to leave professional baseball just weeks after he was drafted.
Infielder Pat Dorrian — who has swung the hottest bat on the prospect-laden Double-A Bowie roster and slugged as well as anyone in the minors this season — was a 12th-round pick in the 2014 MLB draft by the Atlanta Braves as a promising 18-year-old out of Kingston, New York, but decided shortly after reporting to rookie ball that he wasn’t ready and walked away.
Seven years later, he’s in the high minors for a team with an ascendant farm system, and nobody has more extra-base hits in the minor leagues than his nine.
“Even when I left, the goal of making it to the big leagues, that never left,” Dorrian said. “It was never, ‘I’m leaving, that means I don’t ever want to play baseball.’ I just needed more time. That’s really all it was. I had my four years of school … and the whole time it was just preparing for pro ball and hoping I’d get that opportunity and controlling what I could control. And here I am now. It’s a crazy story, a long story and all that, but the dream of making it to the big leagues never wavered. That never went away.”
Having taken such a circuitous path to where he is now, Dorrian said he lives by the motto of you never know what’s going to happen. A betting man would guess that when he gets in the box for the Baysox, extra-bases are in the cards.
Dorrian’s season with Bowie has been among the most productive in the minors. He has fewer singles (three) than home runs (five) or doubles (four), and even with an 0-for-2 with two walks Saturday, he’s batting .363 with a 1.513 OPS. When he hit a grand slam Friday, he turned to the dugout and shrugged on his way to first.
“I thought, ‘Man, things are going my way right now,’” Dorrian said.
The game made him wait for such fortune. Dorrian caught the eye of a local Braves scout in high school and thought he could be drafted after his senior year, but he didn’t expect to be taken in the 12th round. He was still 17 years old when he was selected and signed, and was still waiting to graduate high school. He wasn’t there for long once he got to Florida.
“It just kind of felt like, ‘How could I say no to this?’ ” he said. “I went down there and, I don’t know, it’s not that I didn’t want to do it. I just didn’t feel like I was ready and I just didn’t feel like I was prepared. Being a 17-, 18-year-old kid, that’s just a big jump, you know what I mean? Especially without college and everything. It was just a lot and I thought about it and, at the time, that was the best decision.”
Having signed as a professional limited his college options because of NCAA eligibility rules. Dorrian played two years at Herkimer County Community College in upstate New York before transferring to Division II Lynn University, where as a senior he hit 17 home runs while batting .394 with a 1.269 OPS to earn All-America honors while being named conference Player of the Year.
Because he’d already been drafted and signed, though, he wasn’t eligible to be selected again.
Dorrian worked out with the Astros as a potential undrafted free agent while now-Orioles general manager Mike Elias was running amateur scouting for Houston and, though they didn’t sign him, he was fresh on their minds when the Pittsburgh Pirates called to trade for right-hander Yefry Ramirez after the Orioles designated him for assignment in May 2019.
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A month later, Dorrian was the player sent to the Orioles to complete the trade as they tried to improve a threadbare minor league infield depth chart with any talent they could find. Dorrian wasn’t this kind of hitter in that half-season at High-A Frederick, though.
Back home in New York, he bought weights to work out in his garage and hit with Detroit Tigers infielder Zack Short, a close friend.
“Thank God I had him there, too, so we could pick each other’s brains, take swings for hours and hours — especially during the [coronavirus] pandemic because we couldn’t really do anything else,” Dorrian said. “We kept ourselves busy and I had everything I needed which I was thankful for. It was great. I feel like I got a lot better.”
That improvement hasn’t subsided at Bowie, where hitting coach Ryan Fuller challenges Dorrian and the rest of the hitters each day with pregame scenarios that make the games come a bit easier. Dorrian has thrived with such a setup, saying he “couldn’t be more locked in” come first pitch because of the work they do.
“Fuller’s throwing heat, he’s throwing curveballs, he’s throwing changeups,” Dorrian said. “He’s trying to get you out in batting practice. If that doesn’t prepare you for a game, I don’t know what will.”
The drill work prepares him for games. His college years equipped him for the ups and downs of the game, which he felt would have been too difficult to learn to manage as a professional. And at age 25 in Double-A, he might be a little behind schedule of his development had he stayed in pro ball after he was drafted. But he said his decision was the best one he could have made at the time in part because of where it’s allowed him to go since.
“I’ll stick to that until the day I die,” Dorrian said. “I learned a lot. I got four years of school, I got my education, and here I am now.”