Now, more of my recent conversation with Orioles manager Buck Showalter about the team’s minor league system and player development.
Showalter said the minors are where a coach and manager can have a real significant impact on a player.
“It’s a fun and gratifying job where you can see a return for your work quicker,” Showalter said. “In the minors, you can see day-to-day improvement and such an eagerness to learn. I can get jealous of the impact those guys have, not only in their careers, but in their lives. You are the voice of reality and they’ve always been told how great they are.
“The first time they meet failure, it’s a shock to them. Manny Machado has never been 0-for-5 two days in a row. That is when your job becomes important. Sometimes you need to be bad cop and have support from everybody, pulling on the same page.
“You can’t have a sympathetic ear on something that is not best for the Orioles. I don’t want him (a player) to go to a coach after the manager said something. After a while they have to look in the mirror. Ain’t good enough. Maybe somewhere else, but not here. You have to hold yourself to a high standard and not give in.”
So what are the keys to having a top player development system?
“You have to be consistent,” Showalter said. “You are not going from one level to the next and getting a whole different set of defined expectations of players. That is not the way we do things, that is not good enough and it starts from Day One.
“Shame on us if a guy comes through the system and we have to teach him how to hold runners and not be 1.7 (seconds) to the plate. Shame on us if a guy doesn’t know where to be on cutoffs and relays or doesn’t know how to take a lead properly.
“Guys might hit third and fourth their whole career then come up here and hit seventh or eighth. They are supposed to be able to play another game. Some of these guys come up and they haven’t bunted since high school. That is our fault, not theirs. You have to simulate situations they are going to be faced with here.”
Showalter said he is happy to lend any support he can to the minor league coaches and managers. Since taking the O’s job, he has been to Double-A Bowie, short-season Single-A Aberdeen, and most recently Single-A Frederick to see games on Orioles’ off-days.
“I think I am trying to provide, maybe morale, whether I show up in Bowie or Frederick one night on our off-day. That’s more to say hello to (Keys manager) Orlando (Gomez) and those guys and let them know we are all pulling in the same direction and is their anything I can do to help them. I have been in their shoes. That is a very, very important thing we are doing. We have to get that right,” Showalter added.
I asked Showalter if he feels it is important for the players to get uniform instruction in the minors, in places like Aberdeen and Frederick, as they make their way toward Baltimore.
“To a point. Not every player is a robot. You have to let some guys have their individualism to a point. But it’s got to be what’s best for the Baltimore Orioles,” he said. “That is what you ask every day when you are developing players. It’s about creating cache for the major league club. And, being able to project when a guy can get here and help our club.
“We all have ideas we have developed but every player is different. You just don’t throw a blanket over all of them and say they all will develop at the same time.”
Showalter knows how hard it is to draft players that will make the major leagues and that most draft picks never make it.
He has often asked reporters a question: If you could guarantee that your first-round pick would be a star, would you forfeit the other 49 picks? He knows producing marquee talent through the draft is difficult.
“If you take a (David) Price, (an Evan) Longoria, a (Matt) Wieters every year and then you can supplement that with a trade and once you get it going, it can snowball. That is what happened with Tampa. They have a real definition of who they are and the type of players they have to bring in.”
So while an organization needs to produce that middle of the order hitter and top of the rotation starter, it also needs to produce players that fill out the 25-man roster. Showalter knows on a given minor league team there may only be a few players with a real shot to make the majors. You still try to find a diamond in the rough, if you can.
“Tell you what, a scout told me once, ‘Never overlook an orchid when looking for a rose.’ I kept that in mind,” Showalter said. “It didn’t take some super sleuth to know Derek Jeter was going to be a good player, but he made 50 or 60 errors in the South Atlantic League and there are so many experiences like that.
“You don’t assume. Billy Martin used to tell me, ‘Try as you may, you can’t screw up the good ones.’ Their talent level will overcome about anything. But it’s the other ones that make or break you.”
Showalter said he talked about just that recently with scouting director Joe Jordan.
“Joe and I talk. There is a major league player in every round of that draft sitting there somewhere. He asked me about my philosophy about the draft,” Showalter said.
“For us to bridge the gap, where do they kick us? They always kick us with that one or two starter. I would always lean, instead of that safe guy, we need someone front and center to match up with a (CC) Sabathia, Price or (Josh) Beckett.
“Not that we don’t and that Jake (Arrieta), (Brian) Matusz or (Zach) Britton won’t become that, but this is a work in progress for them. I always want to take the (potentially) impactful guy.”