Yesterday, we began our series of stories around this All-Star break on the Orioles minor league system and how well - or not - it is performing.
After getting Andy MacPhail’s take, today we solicit an outside and independent, but very well informed, opinion.
I interviewed Baseball America’s Will Lingo, who has followed the O’s minors closely for years and who puts together the publication’s Orioles top prospects list every year.
How are the O’s doing on the farm right now at the All-Star break?
“I think it is in decent shape. It’s producing a pretty good amount of pitching, which, that seems to be the new approach - That they want to go for pitching very heavily,” Lingo said.
“They see that as the way to turn the organization around. So far it looks like they are doing a good job with that. They need more position players. They have a pretty good core of young Major Leaguers. They just need to add to it and need more impact bats.”
After sending several players to the Majors over the last year or two, have the O’s turned it around on the farm?
“Yes, they are definitely in better shape than they have been. Ultimately, it doesn’t add up to anything unless you start winning in the big leagues. But, they at least seem to be moving in the right direction now.
“The problem is they had that period where, after their last Major League success, where it seemed like they were caught in between. They couldn’t decide whether to do a full rebuild or keep trying to contend.
“They made some bad decisions in the draft and in the big leagues. It just took them so long to get out of that quagmire that it’s taken a while to rebuild things.
“They are at least on the right path now, but I’m sure fans are frustrated because there were some wasted years in the middle of the process I think.”
Outside of Zach Britton, there doesn’t appear to be any elite prospects in the Orioles minor leagues right now, but Lingo said that is not a knock against the O’s system.
“I think that just sort of goes in cycles when you are trying to build at the big leagues. Once you have a good big league team in place you can go slower with guys and you can build up a stockpile of premium talent.
“They’ve had a lot of premium talent and they sent it to the big leagues to try to become better there. It sort of goes in cycles for most teams. It’s rare to have a team that produces premium talent every year. Even the Braves recently have gone through sort of a down cycle, that happens to all teams.”
Is there any way to rate how the Orioles do in player development?
“The actual development process is really hard to put your finger on. All you can do is see what an organization has produced and whether you attribute that to good or bad drafting or good or bad development.
“That almost has to come down to people either in the organization or that have been in the organization to tell you whether they thought the organization has done a good job.
“I know sort of before this current generation of scouting and player development people, it did seem like there was a disconnect between the scouting and player development departments. But I think that has been pretty much resolved, as far as I can tell.
“I guess that was what, the late 90’s, early 2000s when you had that group in the administration. Either the player development people didn’t think they were getting good enough players from the scouting department or the scouts thought we are drafting guys that are not being developed the right way. But I think that has been resolved,” Lingo said.
Lingo said the O’s have good key decision makers to run their minor league and player development systems.
“We have a lot of respect for all those guys. Andy MacPhail, obviously, his track record with the Twins was very good. The Twins were a retraction candidate a while back and now they are a perennial playoff contender. I think that is what the Orioles are pursuing.
“We think Joe Jordan does a really solid job as scouting director. If you go back an administration to see some of the decisions that were made in the draft before he got the job, there were some pretty disastrous drafts there.
“Either they had a lot of picks or they had an early pick and they didn’t use them well. It takes organizations years to bounce back from things like that.
“John Stockstill is a guy we’ve always respected. I don’t know much about what he has done as farm director so far, but he is a guy we’ve always liked.”
I asked Lingo what are the factors for an organization to do a good job in developing their players.
“Probably the most notable thing we see is just a cohesive approach, where everybody in the organization is pulling on the same rope, in the same direction and believes in what they are doing.
“When you talk to people with clubs that are not doing well, like I said the Orioles five or ten years ago, it did seem like there were different agendas. Just things where everyone doesn’t believe in something you are doing. That can cause bad results.
“Having everyone working from the same playbook, that is probably the most basic building block of having a successful organization. Everyone knows about the Oriole Way. That is what the organization used to be and it seems like that is what they are trying to get back to.
“With the current administration, it seems like things are moving much more in that direction, where everybody is on the same page and wants the same kinds of players and they are being taught consistently. They seem much more cohesive now.
“I think they should just continue to work in young guys. I think they went too long relying on older guys and free agents. Now that you are starting to move into a younger generation, just go all in with that approach.”
A criticism of the Orioles at the Major League level this year has been that some young players seemed to regress or at least not take the next step forward as a player.
“At some point, if those guys don’t perform, you will have to say maybe we were wrong in our evaluations of those guys,” Lingo said. “But it’s not the Orioles saying Matt Wieters was a special talent, that’s pretty much everybody in the industry that was saying that. If the Orioles were wrong about Matt Wieters, then everyone was wrong about Wieters.
“I think a lot of that is probably just frustration from Orioles fans, being so bad for so long. You’ve probably seen guys come through that were touted. But I do think they can put more stock in this generation of players. For the most part, I think these are legit guys.
“I wouldn’t panic about those guys right now.”
Coming later today: Where does Baseball America rank the O’s minor league system?
Tomorrow: A question and answer session with O’s director of player development, John Stockstill.