Putting Orioles staff together worth the wait for Showalter

In constructing his 2011 coaching staff, Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he was looking for committed individuals who would both mesh together easily and serve the needs of the club's young players.

What he has built is a group of six men with varied talents and impressive baseball resumes — with all but one having at least six years of major league coaching or managerial experience.

What Showalter doesn't have, however, is a primarily Spanish-speaking coach or a former Orioles player, two areas he was hoping to address when the offseason began. Those eventually took a backseat to hiring the best available coaches.

"It was very [important]," Showalter said in a Wednesday morning teleconference to introduce his new staff. "It was kind of like, this is a quality coach that really fits our needs and he also happens to speak Spanish — you put your priorities in order — and he happens to have a background in Orioles' ties."

Assuming the staff stays as it is today — Rick Adair (bullpen), Mark Connor (pitching), Wayne Kirby (first base/outfielders), Jim Presley (hitting), Willie Randolph (bench/infielders) and John Russell (third base/catchers) — next April will be the first time since 1963 that the club didn't reach Opening Day with at least one former Oriole serving as a coach.

There have been myriad former Orioles employed as coaches on the big league level over the years. From 1964 to 2010, there were three former Orioles who have overlapped on staff: Billy Hunter (1964-77), Elrod Hendricks (1978-2005), Terry Crowley (1985-88, 1999-2010).

Technically, the franchise's streak of hiring former players goes back to before the Orioles came to Baltimore. Harry "The Cat" Brecheen was the Orioles' first pitching coach in their inaugural 1954 season and he remained with the team until 1967. Brecheen never pitched for the Orioles, but he did play for the St. Louis Browns, the Orioles' predecessor, in 1953.

Showalter said he talked to several former Orioles about potential coaching opportunities, but "some of them weren't quite ready to make that commitment, quite frankly. And I appreciate that they understood the commitment it takes."

Bringing in someone with Orioles ties is something Showalter said he will continue to consider. Options include current minor league coordinator Mike Bordick as well as B.J. Surhoff and Brady Anderson, who helped in informal capacities last season.

"The first place I'll look was from within our organization and I'll continue to do that. But I have to be careful about robbing Peter to pay Paul," Showalter said. "They've done a good job, [player development director] John Stockstill and the organization, of putting together a real good quality minor league development staff and I have to be careful not messing with that too much."

That said, Showalter admitted he is considering adding a seventh coach — only six are allowed in uniform during games — to help with other duties. He wouldn't specify whether it would be an "eye in the sky" type that travels with the team and observes games from a skybox, but said he and Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail have discussed several possibilities.

"We may not be through completely with some of the assets we're using on the coaching staff," he said. "We've got some time before we go to camp to possibly add something that has yet to be seen with the construction of our club."

It's possible that the seventh spot, if created, would be filled by a Spanish speaker. Showalter originally thought he had that goal filled when he offered the third-base coaching position to former interim manager Juan Samuel. But Samuel and MacPhail could not agree to terms and Samuel took a job with the Philadelphia Phillies.

With Samuel on the big league staff for the past four seasons and Hendricks coaching from 1978 until 2005, the Orioles have had just one season since 1977 without a full-time, Spanish-speaking coach.

"There are some ways that we can bridge that gap between now and February that Andy and I have talked about," Showalter said. "But the important thing is I really have a lot of confidence in the experience level of communicating with Hispanic players with this coaching staff. It is not something they haven't been challenged with before."

The other challenges faced by the staff are typical of any new regime. First and foremost, the group has to become acclimated with its players. Connor, the new pitching coach, and Adair, the bullpen coach, already have tapes of many of the Orioles' young pitchers.

"I've gone through just about everybody … and it's quite impressive," said Connor, who specifically mentioned starters Jeremy Guthrie, Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz and top prospect Zach Britton. "I have watched quite a bit of these guys, and some of the relievers. Seeing them on film is one thing and seeing them in person is another, and I really look forward to the time we have in spring training."

Presley, the new hitting coach, has spoken about the incumbent hitters with his predecessor, Terry Crowley, who will remain in the organization as an offensive evaluator. Presley was not on the conference call, but Showalter said he expects him to build on "the very good things" that Crowley brought to the offense.

"The bottom line is the players are going to have to embrace it and have the pride and the want to try and bridge the gap between where we are and where we want to be offensively," Showalter said. "We have to get better as players and we have to do a good job of surrounding ourselves with people who have the potential to be taught and be better."

Russell has been charged with working with Matt Wieters, the club's young and talented catcher. And, as a former big league backstop, Russell is looking forward to the opportunity.

"From all the indications I've gotten … the kid really wants to be a good catcher and I think that's important," Russell, the former Pittsburgh Pirates manager, said. "If they have that, you can really feed off of that. If they don't, you've got to try and instill that in a young catcher. He's got to have that passion to be back there and it sounds like Matt really has that."

Three of the six new coaches have worked on a big league staff under Showalter previously. Randolph, who was Showalter's third base coach with the New York Yankees and eventually received his own managerial job with the New York Mets, said his manager is extremely well prepared and expects the same from his assistants.

"The main thing to me is you are going to have a guy that is going to be professional and organized," Randolph said. "And he is going to make sure that we understand our goals and our jobs and go out there and bust out butts every day."

Showalter originally expected to have a decision on his coaching staff within days of the end of the season. Instead, with multiple managerial openings causing instability throughout the coaching ranks, it took Showalter nearly two months. He now believes it was worth the wait.

"We were very adamant about trying to target certain people that we want to add and thought would be a good fit for where we are and what we are going to try and do and the way we need to go about it," Showalter said. "It was probably a little longer than I had hoped or thought, but as we got into the process, I knew that with all the managerial changes and the all the changes that went on in baseball this offseason that there was going to have to be some patience on our part."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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