As Zach Britton made his way up through the Orioles’ minor league system and started to make real progress as a pitcher, there always seemed to be one guy there to help him.
Britton worked with several pitching coaches on the O’s farm that helped him along the way, but the person that was there for most of it was current Bowie Baysox pitching coach Kennie Steenstra.
As Britton moved from Delmarva in 2008 to Frederick in 2009 and began last year at Double-A Bowie, Steenstra moved as well. They worked together for most of three seasons.
And Britton will quickly point out that Steenstra’s tutelage was instrumental in getting him to the major leagues.
“I think I wouldn’t be lying if I said he’s probably the reason I’m here, for sure,” Britton told me in the O’s clubhouse. “He had me since I was 19 years old all the way to last year. He’s not only helped me develop as a baseball player, but as a person. He’s like someone I can talk to about anything and he is a big part of who I am as a player and person.”
Steenstra, who has been a pitching coach on the O’s farm since 2005, was Britton’s pitching coach for 65 of his 103 minor league starts and for 70 percent of his career minor league innings.
As he looks back now on his minor league career, which began after the O’s drafted him out of a Texas high school in round three in 2006, Britton said the O’s coaches served him well on the farm.
“I think they prepared me well,” Britton said. “Whether I moved fast or slow, I think I moved slow. There are times I felt like I deserved to be a higher level. But I’m here now and that is all that matters.
“But I am a product of the Orioles’ system. I am, not necessarily the poster child, but something like what Andy (MacPhail) is trying to do, develop arms. I’ve gone through every single level to come to the big leagues. Hopefully I am a good example of what we are tying to do, grow the arms.”
As for Steenstra, he is, of course, pretty proud to see Britton, a player he first worked with at Delmarva three years ago, now in the show.
“It’s very rewarding,” Steenstra said. “It’s always about the player, it’s not about us. But at the same time, you put a lot of time into guys and it’s rewarding to see them meet their fruition of what they’ve been trying to achieve for years.”
It’s nice when a plan works. The O’s drafted Britton with the plan to develop him into a pitcher that could have big league success. Now, that day is at hand.
By the way, one amazing thing about Britton’s first start last Sunday, when he held Tampa to one run over six innings, was the fact he didn’t have his good sinker during that game. After spending five seasons in the minors developing one of the best sinking fastballs in the game, that pitch just wasn’t working for him in that game. He and Matt Wieters basically decided to stop throwing it and go more with four-seam fastballs.
Britton said he could not remember a single minor league start where he seldom threw his sinker.
“I can’t think of one, not really,” he said. “There are days I didn’t have great command of it, but I had the sink. The other day I didn’t have command or sink, it was really flattening out which was real surprising.”
Maybe what was not surprising is that Britton, one of baseball’s best prospects, is now having big league success.
It’s nice that Britton realizes all of that didn’t happen overnight and that several coaches helped him along the way. Guys like Kennie Steenstra.
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